Sergei the Matryoshka-Maker

WE FIRST MET Sergei Koblov on 10th June 2006 at the Ismailovsky market (also known as Vernisazh market), Moscow.

This is a huge market brimmed with Russian crafts and souvenirs. Items small and big – keychains, fridge magnets, napkin rings, Faberge eggs, amber jewelleries, matryoskha, lacquer boxes, gzhel and crystal ornaments, clothings, artworks, paintings, antiques, DVDs (to name some stuff that we’ve gotten) can be found here. While some are locally-crafted, many are also China-made products!

Rows and rows of wooden stalls sell the same items but at prices that could vary quite a bit (rather, I should say a LOT). While it is a known tourist haven, it can also be a nightmare (especially for a first timer) to shop for good bargains, not knowing if the next stall (or the next, or the one after that) might offer an even lower price. Speaking from experience, I’ve bargained for an item priced at Rb4,000 (RM540) down to Rb3,000 (RM405) and happily purchased it, only to find another stall offering the SAME item for Rb2,000 (RM270) even before bargaining! I wanted to kick myself for days!!!

Sergei’s stall stood out from the rest because I found his wares pretty unique.  Among others, he sells unpainted wooden matryoshka dolls carved out in different designs that came complete with a set of paint and brush; ready to paint your own matryoshka! Sergei himself stood out – he speaks English and wears a smile on his face 🙂

I got M a set of 5-piece Christmas-themed matryoshka, crafted into Ded Moroz, Sneguruskha, a snowman, a tree and a gift-box.

Meeting Sergei for the first time at Ismailovsky market; M painting the matryoshka at home days later.

Meeting Sergei for the first time at Ismailovsky market; M painting the matryoshka dolls at home two weeks later.

Ismailovsky market is such a colourful and lively place, come whatever season. We went back numerous times during our stay in Moscow, by which time we had earmarked a few favourite stalls.

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We also learnt that Sergei is one of the local artists featured in a book “The Art of the Russian Matryoshka” (by Rett Ertl and Rick Hibberd, Vernissage Press, 2003). He was featured on pages 165-167.

The Art of the Russian Matroyshka; the page that featured Sergei which he autographed on.

The book cover of “The Art of the Russian Matroyshka”; Page 165 that featured Sergei which he autographed on.

“He graduated from the prestigious Bauman Higher Technical School in Moscow as an electrical engineer. Unable to find work after graduation, Sergei remembered how his father had taught him to carve, so he returned home to try to make a living using his childhood hobby. He began to carve and paint a series of designs.” (page 165)

The authors credited Sergei’s matroyshki as “some of the most original in Russia. There are a few other artists who carve matroyshki but most of them carve only superficially, adding lines to beards or faces. Sergei carves the actual figures into the wood, thereby creating a completely different effect.” (page 165)

Like many folk artists, Sergei is proud of his techniques. He makes his own carving tools. He also makes his own paints which are non-toxic and harmless to the environment, using ancient recipes that he would not divulge the ingredients not the methods.” (page 166)

We returned to Ismailovsky numerous times as it was a “welcoming” place; we met Sergei again on 15th July 2007, where we bought the book and he autographed it for us.

We returned to Ismailovsky numerous times as it was a “welcoming” place; we met Sergei again on 15th July 2007, bought the book from him and he autographed it for us.

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