Glasnost and Folk Culture

Glasnost and Folk Culture

Russian Quilts at the Turn of the 21st Century

When the Soviet Union experienced severe economic, political, and social turmoil in the 1980s, President Mikhail Gorbachev responded by instituting a new policy of glasnost, “openness and transparency.” Although the U.S.S.R. fell apart in 1991, the spirit of glasnost continued in post-Soviet Russia. One result was increased dialogue with the United States, which led to groundbreaking cultural exchange programs, including quiltmaking. Although Russians were familiar with patchwork and appliqué techniques, quilts were largely a novel concept, especially when they were made to be put on a wall rather than on a bed.

In 1994, a delegation of three American quilt teachers traveled to Russia at the invitation of a women’s group. They shared their expertise as well as the dozens of yards of fabric they brought with them—a welcome gift, since everyday supplies were scarce and expensive in post-Soviet Russia. Staying with local families, the Americans learned about daily life, local traditions, and folklore. After the exchange, the Russian students continued to make quilts. In the late 1990s, they began to sell their creations in the United States with the help of cultural exchange organizations. Here you see some results of the multi-year project: American-influenced quilts with distinctly Russian imagery.

Folk Culture: Myths, Fairy Tales, and Traditional Architecture

Folk Culture: Myths, Fairy Tales, and Traditional Architecture
Folk Culture: Myths, Fairy Tales, and Traditional Architecture

Mythology and fairy tales are deeply embedded in Russian culture. When early Russians settled the forests and steppes (plains) of Eastern Europe over 1500 years ago, these lands were full of dangers and mysteries. Wild animals, rough terrain, unpredictable climate, and hostile nomadic tribes all presented challenges and threats. People invented myths and fairy tales to explain the unfamiliar, warn against perils, provide moral guidance, and inspire courage. Passed through oral tradition, the stories survive to this day and are common subjects in Russian folk art.

The towns where most of the quiltmakers live, Suzdal and Vladimir, are 150 miles northeast of Moscow. This region is known for its long history and traditional architecture. It is home to hundreds of ancient churches and cathedrals, most of which have the distinctive onion domes common to Russian Orthodox buildings.

Photos

Photos

American quilt teacher Susan Louis instructing a class of Russian students, Suzdal, Russia, June 1994.

Russian students constructing quilt blocks in the Dresden Plate pattern, Suzdal, Russia, June, 1994. Although the students learned how to make American block-style quilt patterns, Russian folk imagery was their preferred subject matter.

American quilt teacher Diane Holland learning a Russian dance, Suzdal, Russia, June, 1994.

Class of Russian students with their American teachers in front of the Suzdal Kremlin (fortress), Suzdal, Russia, June, 1994.

Photos

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

The Firebird, 2000
Galina Kokorina
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.009.0008

“The Firebird” is one of the most famous Russian fairy tales and has many different variations. Most versions tell the story of a young prince on an extraordinarily difficult quest: to capture the mysterious firebird, a glowing, magical creature from a faraway land. 

Ivan the Prince and the Gray Wolf, 2001
Ms. Moskvicheva
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0022

Ivan Tsarevitch (Ivan, son of the king/emperor) is the hero in the most famous version of “The Firebird” folktale. Prince Ivan sets out to capture the magical firebird, who has stolen a golden apple from the king’s orchard. Along the way, a gray wolf attacks Ivan and eats his horse. The wolf regrets his action and eventually helps the brave prince fulfill his quest.

Devoted to Russian Warriors, 2001
Ms. Lobaneva
Ivanovo, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0015

Dobrynya Nikitich is the hero of many Russian byliny, oral epic poems. In one bylina, he fights a dragon, who then flies off and abducts the niece of a great prince. Dobrynya Nikitich must save the princess from the dragon. Alas, afterwards he is not allowed to marry her because he is a commoner. 

Mythologies, 1995
Suzdal Clothing Club
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0001

The Suzdal Clothing Club made a quilt depicting several of the epic tales of Dobrynya Nikitich, the mythical hero and fighter of dragons. His name is inscribed in the block at the upper left. 

Emilian (Emelya and the Magic Pike), 2000
Y. Askennikova
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0012

Emelya is a simple, lazy man whose sisters-in-law convince him to fetch water from the river by promising him a new red coat and hat. He sees a pike in the ice hole and catches it. The fish begs to be set free, promising to grant Emelya’s every wish whenever he says the words, “By the pike’s wish, at my command ….” Emelya releases the pike and uses the command to fulfill his desires, including marrying a princess and building a palace with servants.

Masha and the Bear, circa 1995-2000
Maryana Zoloteva
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0014

Masha is a young girl who goes berry picking in the woods and encounters a bear in its hut. The bear takes Masha captive. She tricks it into taking her home by hiding in a basket full of pies that the bear has agreed to deliver to her grandparents.

Koza Dereza (Boxthorn Goat), 2001
Irena Hodeeva
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0019

A farmer who dearly loves his goat becomes upset when the goat complains that the farmer’s eldest son, youngest son, and wife have not been ensuring she gets enough to eat when each takes her out to graze. When the farmer takes her out himself, he discovers she is eating plenty. In his anger at the goat for lying, he threatens to take her to the butcher. She runs away and invades a rabbit’s home, refusing to leave. Finally, a crab pinches her hard enough to scare her off. 

Rooster, circa 1995-2000
Ms. Khadeeva
Suzdal or Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0017

Roosters are popular characters in Russian fairy tales with titles such as “The Golden Cockerel,” “The Dog and the Rooster,” and “The Rooster and the Bean.” In “The Little Rooster,” a fox tricks an old couple’s beloved pet rooster into leaving the house while they are away and takes it home to eat for dinner. The old man gets his revenge. He tricks the fox into stepping outside her house, capturing her, and turning her into a fur coat. 

The Fox, the Hare, and the Rooster, circa 1995-2000
Maker Unidentified
Suzdal or Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0021

After his house made of ice melts in the warm spring weather, Fox takes possession of Hare’s wooden house. Hare asks for help from animal friends, including two dogs, a bear, and an ox. None are able to evict Fox from Hare’s dwelling. Finally, Hare asks Rooster, who carries a deadly sharp scythe, to aid him. Together, they scare Fox away. 

The Cat, 2000
Marianne Zolotova
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0013

“Puss in Boots” or “The Master Cat” is a tale retold in many cultures. In the Russian version, a clever cat helps his owner, a poor man, gain riches and influence. Here he is carrying the sack he uses to catch rabbits, pheasants, and other game, which he then presents to the king to gain favor for his owner. 

Foma (Thomas), circa 1995-2000
Marianne Zolotova
Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0010

Cats appear in numerous Russian fairy tales. One of the most famous is Cat Bayun, a gigantic talking cat who lulls people to sleep with his stories, then eats them. The cat folktale on this quilt has not yet been identified—what tale would you tell to go with this image?

Kolobok, 2003
Larisa Chizhova
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0006

A kolobok (dough ball) left on a window sill by an old woman rolls itself out the window and goes on an adventure. It meets and escapes from a series of animals, all of which praise the kolobok for its cleverness. In the end, a fox outsmarts the kolobok, catches it, and eats it for dinner.

Matryoshka, circa 1995-2000
H. Kalyapina
Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0004

Matryoshka (“little matron”) dolls are wooden figurines that have become a symbol of Russia. First carved in 1890 by a well-known Russian folk artist, sets of five to ten matryoshka dolls nest inside each other from smallest to largest. Traditionally, they are painted to look like women in folk dress. Today, they also appear as figures from popular culture such as politicians, musicians, and athletes.

Tea Drinking, 2001
Y. Aksennikova 
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0023

A samovar is a traditional metal container used to boil water for tea with coal or wood fire. While the water heats, a chimney is placed on top of the samovar. Afterwards, it is replaced by a teapot to keep the tea warm. The woman drinking tea in this quilt is wearing the traditional combination of a sarafan (dress) with a kokoshnik (headdress).

Hello Stork, 2001
Ludmila Ovchinnikova
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0011

Storks migrate annually between Europe and Africa. Western Russia, where Suzdal and Vladimir are located, is part of their breeding territory. Stork pairs build platform nests high up in trees or on buildings. Often, the birds return to these nests, although couples may not occupy the same nest each year. Across Europe, including Slavic nations like Russia, folk beliefs associate storks with the birth of babies.

Sheds, 2001
N. Serayeva
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0024

A countryside scene with traditional farm buildings and a windmill in the background features a young couple in traditional clothing. The man wears a kosovorotka, or tunic, with trousers tucked into his boot tops. The woman dons a sarafan, or jumper dress, with an apron over it. 

Christmas, 2001
N. Sarayeva
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0016

The traditional Russian sleigh has a distinctive shaft bow—the wooden piece that arcs over the horse’s head. Bells affixed to the highly decorated bow warn nearby sleighs and other oncoming traffic. The most famous style of sleigh is the troika, which, unlike this example, is pulled by three horses—perhaps the quiltmaker thought it was too difficult to appliqué more than one? 

Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery, circa 1995-2000
T. Shareva and N. Sarayeva
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0018

Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery, founded in the 1590s, is on the site where the Russian army miraculously escaped invasion by the Crimean khan (ruler) and his army. The compound is home to numerous churches. The main cathedral dominates the site and is dedicated to the famous 14th-century Donskoy Icon of the Mother of God, which it houses.

Good Welcome, 2000
Y. Aksennikova
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0009

The 12th-century Golden Gate of Vladimir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, exemplifies traditional Russian architecture. It is the only preserved ancient Russian city gate. After the Soviet era, Vladimir and Suzdal promoted themselves as tourist destinations and today the towns are some of the most popular places to visit to see what “old Russia” looked like. The young woman in front of the gate shows traditional Russian hospitality by offering a loaf of bread. 

Holiday in Suzdal, 2006
Lidya Lebedeva and Luba Karlycheva
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0007

Four young women in traditional sarafan dresses and headscarves dance in a field across the river from the Church of St. Nicholas, one of many churches in the ancient town of Suzdal. In 1864, Suzdal businessmen tried to convince the government to route the Trans-Siberian Railway through their town, but failed. As a result, much of Suzdal’s centuries-old architecture survives to this day.

Vladimir City Cathedral, 1999
N. Sarayeva
Vladimir, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0005

Dormition Cathedral in the town of Vladimir was constructed in the late 1150s. It survived terrible fires started by Mongol invaders in 1239 and is now a designated World Heritage Site. In addition to the tall, shiny spire of its belltower (added in 1810), the cathedral has five golden domes, two of which are not visible from this angle.

Olden City, circa 1995-2000
Oxana Vinnichenko
Suzdal, Russia
Ellen L. Bassuk and Susan Louis Russian Quilt Collection, 2018.008.0002

Founded between the late 10th and early 11th century, Suzdal is a town steeped in history. Some of the most famous churches and buildings in Suzdal are among the eighteen structures Oxana Vinnichenko depicts in this quilt. The golden-colored and green-roofed Pushkarskaya Sloboda building, along with several traditional log cabins, now form a popular hotel complex. The double arches and the tent-shaped roofs of the Holy Gates of the Rizopolozhensky Monastery are at the bottom right. The early 19th-century clothing worn by the woman and two men serves to emphasize the historical nature of this region of Russia.

Works in the Exhibition

Featured Media

Featured Media
Featured Media
Support for this exhibition has been provided by Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Friends of the International Quilt Museum, and by contributions from visitors like you. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov for more information.
Event Date
Friday, April 3, 2020