The village of Zhostovo outside Moscow has
become a symbol of unique Russian folk art. For more than 150
years many of its inhabitants have been developing the skill
of decorating trays. Their skillful hands have turned this household
utensil into a work of art.
or garden and field flowers strewn against the black background
adorn these trays, giving people joie-de-vivre and awakening
admiration over the beauty and diversity of nature. Every
human being shares these feelings, and therefore few people
remain indifferent to the Zhostovo craft, which has long become
Zhostovo wares belong to the family of Russian
lacquers, whose history goes back to the emergence of miniature
lacquer painting on papier-mache in the village of Danilkovo
near Fedoskino in the Moscow Region, in the late 18th century.
The tray as a household utensil had been known
since times immemorial, but in the 19th century the demand
for trays rose as a result of the growth of cities and the
expansion of the network of hotels, eateries and bars, where
trays were used both for their immediate purpose and as interior
decorations. It was that new market that enabled the Zhostovo
masters to establish themselves as a distinctive tray-making
Every tray was usually handled by three craftsmen
- a smith, who produced shapes, a spatler, who covered the
tray with a layer of ground, and a painter, who did the painting.
After the tray was dried, the ground-worker covered it with
lacquer. In the beginning the workshop master and members
of his family worked on a par with other employees.
As the Zhostovo craftsmen expanded production,
they took account of and absorbed the experience of other
tray-makers. They were prompted the idea of replacing papier-mache
with metal, which was hardier, by trays from Nizhny Tagil,
which had become a well-known production in the 17th century.
Those masters were making large trays painted from original
canvasses or engravings.
The Zhostovo masters admired the virtuoso mastery
of St. Petersburg trays and learned from them the art of decorative
still life, also adapting it to fit their own wares. Along
with absorbing some of the techniques of other tray-makers,
the Zhostovo craftsmen primarily tried to develop their own
style of decorative floral compositions. Local artistic traditions
and the creative development of the main accomplishments of
other crafts enabled Zhostovo craftsmen to evolve their original
style and a unique system of the local craft that are manifest
in every piece dating to that period.
The Zhostovo masters painted their trays on
colored and golden backgrounds as well as on black and white
ones. The surface of the tray was prepared with bronze or
aluminum dust which, showing through lacquer, shone like gold
and resembled the famous Khokhloma wares. The colors looked
especially vibrant against the golden background and the tray
seemed a really precious item.
In the 1910s, Zhostovo tray-making, like many
other folk crafts, was hit by a crisis. The demand for trays
had slumped, and production was shrinking. Painters and smiths
were leaving their workshops for farming or seasonal work.
It was only in the 1920s, with the overall revival of folk
crafts and the rebirth of artels across the country that they
remerged around Zhostovo.
In 1940, the Fedoskino vocational school opened
a department of Zhostovo painting to train young craftsmen.
Two remarkable Zhostovo painters, P.Plakhov and V.Dyuzhayev,
taught there for many years, the activity that was responsible
for their emergence as original masters. They trained several
generations of young craftsmen, who developed in their own
way the Zhostovo painting traditions, and themselves represented
two different, highly dissimilar aspects of the local craft.
Another stage in the history of Zhostovo craft
started in the 1960s and continues to our day. Overcoming
tendencies leaning toward easel painting and natural is in,
tray painting has been gaining in prestige and popularity
not only owing to large-scale output of serial works, but
also owing to unique items that increasingly attracted public
attention at numerous exhibitions both at home and abroad.
Zhostovo craft has been developed by several
generations of craftsmen, who formed painter dynasties. Their
works are stored as a national treasury and exhibited by major
Constantly perfecting their craftsmanship,
Zhostovo painters give free rein to improvisation, demonstrating
diverse styles and techniques.
Modern Zhostovo craftsmen are increasingly
turning the tray from a household object into a work of art,
and decorative Zhostovo painting is elevated to the level
of an independent genre capable of addressing directly people's
thoughts and feelings.
Zhostovo trays have transformed from a household
object into full-fledged decorative panels in the course of
their history, and the craft, which served as an auxiliary
source of income for farmers, has acquired the status of a
unique Russian folk art.