Various Belarussian Handcrafts

The Byelorussian potters of the past did not confine themselves to producing only utilitarian wares. In many areas around Mogilev, for example, clay toys were made. Certain stylistic features of these ceramic figurines from Orsha and Senno Districts show an affinity with Russia's famous Dymkovo toys. In addition to pottery, copper and brass utensils were also com-mon until the turn of the twentieth century. As a rule, they had plain shapes and bore no decoration other than a chased finish, which caused an intricate play of light on the vessel's scaly surface.

The same simplicity of form, coupled with a monumental quality, is characteristic of Byelorussian wooden vessels. They are often shaped like waterbirds, a motif also prevalent in Russian and Ukrainian folk art; the handles of pitchers often terminate in stylized horses' heads.

Outline carving was widely used to decorate distaffs. Their chief ornamental motifs were solar signs and occasionally stylized plants. Relief or openwork carving often adorned houses, the architectural details of which showed some elements of the Baroque and Empire styles. This is hardly surprising, for Byelorussian carvers created a number of magniBcent iconos-tases, remarkable for their decoration, in the Trinity Church of Vitebsk and in cathedrals in Mogilev and the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.

Fine taste and an original national flavor are also apparent in the straw-plait details of these iconostases. The unique straw-weaving technique employed has literally no parallel outside Byelorussia. In the past straw-plaiting was primarily confined to such domestic articles as boxes and bread baskets, but this medium is now popular in fashioning decorative figurines and other compositions in which the artisan makes clever use of the material's plastic qualities to tackle quite complex tasks. A wealth of unusually expressive textures can be produced by various straw-plaiting techniques.

Straw is also used as inlay for wooden articles in Byelorussia. In Zhiobin, for example, straw insets arranged in geometric designs, which are frequently in polychrome, adorn the dark surfaces of locally made decorative panels, dishes, and boxes. Ordinary basketry is not neglected either, although the present-day range has changed: while in the old days straw and wicker were generally woven into large, six-foot-tall containers for grain storage, now they are made into small bread, fruit, or sewing baskets, as well as vases and handbags.

An illustrious page in the history of Byelorussian art was the work of the Slutsk textile factory, which was opened in the eighteenth century and was particularly famous for its belts. Slutsk belts occupy a special place in Byelorussian art. Though their designs are quite similar to traditional folk patterns, they display a more refined interpretation of plant motifs and a more subdued color scheme.

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