Sochi souvenirs soar the slopes in gold and goodies. Beyond the medals and memories of the athletes, suitcases will surely be filled with treasured trinkets. The most desired souvenir of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is the traditional nesting dolls. Such a Sochi souvenir is a most requested item by the people waiting at home for a memento of Russian tradition.
Rating as the number one souvenir from Russia, above the vodka sets, Faberge eggs, felt boots and Gzhel crockery, nesting dolls are available in any imaginable style. A traditional symbol of fertility and wealth, nesting dolls have become quite popular around the world for their unique and elaborate craftsmanship and creativity.
The stacking dolls of different interlocking sizes are called Matryoshka dolls. Sometimes confused with Babushka dolls, the proper name is Matryoshka, derived from the Latin word mater, meaning “mother,” combined with the popular female Russian name of Matriosha. The name symbolizes a matronly figure holding all of her children inside. The first painted dolls depicted peasant life with a grandmotherly face wearing a scarf. Grandmothers in Russia are called Babushkas, thus the confusion with the technical term for the dolls.
Matryoshka dolls are simply referred to as stacking or nesting dolls in modern everyday life when searching for the traditional souvenir. As Sochi fans, visitors and athletes look for a souvenir to take home, Sochi souvenirs will soar the slopes with the nesting dolls offered in any fashion possible. Rivaling plush animals, keychains and Sochi mascots Polar Bear, Leopard and Hare, nesting dolls will surely outdo the sales in souvenirs. If someone forgets to bring one home, they are also available in online stores.
Russia was not the first to invent the idea of nesting. Originally from China, nesting boxes were popular as early as 1000 AD. Advanced crafters carried the idea across Asia for centuries, perfecting the skill of workmanship that eventually seeped into the Russian way of life. Adopting the craft as their own and honing the precise ability to create the amazing dolls, Russians began making nesting dolls in the early 1900s.
An arts supporter at the time, Savva Mamontov and his wife promoted the creations and employed artists Sergei Maliutin and Vassily Zviozdochkin to create more of the Matryoshka dolls for sale. It was a huge success, as the tradition took firm root in Russian culture.
Nesting dolls are made from the soft wood of the basswood tree. Forests in Russia are much more plentiful than acres of cropland, providing the perfect resource for the favored family of dolls. Wood crafters and turners take the soft wood, dry it for two years, patiently waiting to carve it into balls, bowls and dolls by turning and shaping the wood on a lathe. A great deal of skill, perseverance and creativity are needed to perfect the nesting dolls. For dedicated artists in Russia, the craft has paid off nicely with the demand for new and more inventive Matryoshka dolls.
After each block of wood is dried and carved into shapes, the details emerge in various sizes with painted faces and flowers. Sets of nesting dolls usually have five members, decreasing in size to nestle into one another and form a unit. The most elaborate set has been documented at 60 pieces in Segiev Posad, the Matryoshka capital of Russia. Most nesting dolls are produced in this area, with artisans working around the clock to fulfill ongoing orders from Russian gift shops and online sites.
The Sochi Olympics will serve as a reminder in a nesting doll placed in full view atop the snowboarding slopes. As Shaun White and others navigate the competition, the looming figure gives rise to the Russian tradition. Sochi souvenirs will surely be a memorable one to record as nesting dolls are sold to anyone willing to pay the high ticket price of a custom order. Prime Minister Putin has already secured his place among various sets of dolls, as celebrities, pets, movies and more have been symbolized in the fascinating creations of Matryoshka dolls.
Children, collectors and admirers can find anything they want when searching online for nesting dolls. The tradition continues with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Miami Heat, Star Wars and yes, even Justin Bieber, being memorialized into nesting dolls. Sochi souvenirs will soar the slopes for a long time, with the endearing tradition of the Matryoshka dolls.
By Roanne FitzGibbon