Thursday, April 1, 2010

A brief history of Matryoshka, Kokeshi, and Daruma dolls

Matryoshka Dolls...Babushka Dolls...Dolls without arms or legs...Weird, right? But no, we accept this form of doll almost without question.
And a doll inside a doll inside a doll? Neat idea! From Russia, right? A long time ago?  Well, not exactly...

The very first 'Russian nesting dolls' as we think of them date back to just 1890.  And, although we tend to think of them as Russian, they owe quite a lot to Asian doll-making traditions!

Apparently the story goes that Sergei Malyutin, a painter from a folk crafts workshop in the Abramtsevo region visited the estate of famous Russian industrialist and patron of arts Savva Mamontov,...

...and there he saw a set of Japanese wooden dolls representing Shichi-fuku-jin, the Seven Gods of Fortune.
The largest doll was that of Fukurokuju 福禄寿,
a happy bald god with an unusually tall crown. Inside, nested the six remaining deities.

Kokeshi dolls are generally thought to have originated earlier, sometime in the 1600's.  Did you know Kokeshi dolls were/are often nesting dolls too? 
And 'lucky' Daruma dolls! These have no arms or legs because they are created in the likeness of Chinese Zen Master Bodidharma, who meditated in a cave for 9 years, losing the use of his limbs.  He doesn't look too happy.
And check out this progression of sweet-faced young boy to a grumpy old man! Ha!

ANYway, back to my story, Sergei Malyutin was so inspired by the treasures he saw at Mamontov's estate that he began to sketch...

...and he drew a Russian version of the doll. He then had Vasiliy Zvezdochkin carve 8 nesting dolls which he then he painted. The outermost was a woman in an apron, then the dolls alternated between boy and girl, with the innermost a baby.  This set (above) was presented to the Worlds Fair in Paris in 1900 and won a Bronze medal, as well as sparked a worldwide craze for the dolls and created a new Russian icon. 

These were mass produced, and yet I still find them charming...
The wonderful Russian nesting eggs of Faberge, were created during this same period, beginning in 1885...
And today, artists around the globe create their own version of these dolls. Some are wacky, some are beautiful, some are abstract concept pieces...   

this one is by Art. Lebedev Studio...

I too have been inspired by Matryoshkas...and Kokeshi...and all! 

These are some of my Matryoshka Mamas.  I call mine 'mamazakkas'. Like Malyutin, I find I'm more inspired by the idea of family and heritage than by the idea of Japanese deities or Chinese Zen Masters... :) Like many artists today, I am having fun creating my own versions.

The idea that we, the children, are embraced...literally, figuratively...the idea that we go on to embrace our own children...that they are inside us...and we are inside them... is such a lovely, lovely concept. Inspiring, really.

An idea that has legs, after all.  :)


  1. wow! how wonderful, autumn. andrea posted your blog tonight on facebook & this has made my evening. love every aspect & am so thrilled to know that life is going so well for you. so much beauty...
    ellen phillips

  2. I love the hangy one, (mum in orange, next purple, then green). LOVE IT! SO original.

  3. Very symbolic, and your dolls are absolutely amazing! Do you do custom pieces ? I am in love with this concept and your idea! Love love love them!!!!

  4. Hi!I was so touched to see the Japanese dolls! In 1965, when I was a little girl, a relative who visited Japan gave me a set of Kokeshi dolls that are identical to yours. I cherish them still today, but did not know the name, history, or connection to the Russian version. Thank you for posting this!


About Me

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Mamazakka is Mommy blogger Autumn Sousanis; also-known-as Autumn Dunbar; and also-known-as "Mama" to six little ones, ages 9, 7.5, 5, 3.5 2 and a 3 month old! :) Busy,yes. A graduate of C.C.S. (Center for Creative Studies, School of Art and Design in Detroit) with my bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, I have finally found my calling as 'Mamazakka', maker of everything and anything that might improve your home, life and outlook. :) It's my goal to create things that truly meet Wikipedia's definition for 'zakka'; (here's an excerpt)..."cute, corny, kitschy is not enough. To qualify, a product must be attractive, sensitive and laden with subtext." Oh yeah! You betcha! Well, that's my goal, anyhow! I'm also known as an over-user of exclamation marks(!) and parentheses (can't help it) though I do try to keep my smileys to a minimum :)