Byelorussian builders, potters, wood carvers, glassblowers, and goldsmiths continued and enriched old Russian cultural traditions while simultaneously establishing highly original arts of their own. However, even in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the artistic legacy of Kievan Rus was still very strong in the western principalities, as evidenced by archaeological finds from Turov, Minsk, Volkovysk, Grodno, and Polotsk. The Museum of the Byelorussian SSR in Minsk contains about forty thousand items of Byelorus-sian workmanship executed with great technical skill and dating from the early Middle Ages. The geometric and zoomorphic ornamental motifs current in those days still possessed the essential features of Eastern Slavic art. The main crafts then were metalwork, and bone and stone carving, which were superseded in the course of time by pottery, wood carving, embroidery, weaving, and smithing.
Peasant household utensils were functional and modestly ornamental in design. Made of easily accessible materials such as wood, straw, flax, and birch bark, these simple and inexpensive objects are nevertheless attractive by virtue of their well-proportioned and clear-cut shapes, concise but expressive ornamentation, and stylistic unity.
Very few examples of the household utensils used by the peasantry in the seventeenth century still exist in Byelorussia. In contrast, the work of Byelorussian carvers, mirror-makers, stove-setters, and gold- and silversmiths is well represented in a number of famous churches and palaces built with their participation in Moscow and Yaroslavl in the seventeenth century. Beautiful varicolored tiles with low-relief floral motifs, grapes, oak leaves, and palmettes, which decorate those buildings, are held in particular regard.
Byelorussia abounds in clays of different colors and compositions, which enabled the potter's trade to spread quickly. Byelorussian earthenware for domestic use gives the impression of extreme modesty, because the jugs, cups, and bowls are smoked and burnished or glazed in one color, and generally bear no applied details, though they have occasionally slip-painted underglaze with ingenious designs. Throughout the centuries their appearance has remained practically unchanged, which reflects the stability of the Byelorussian peasantry's aesthetic taste. Some traditional types of earthenware are still in common use in the region of Polesye, for example. Their large spherical vessels are very expressive: squat bulky bodies with tapering necks and slim elongated handles.