To zoom in on Palekh miniature painting

Although the village of Palekh is only 250 miles from Moscow, it takes as long to drive there from the capital as it would to fly to Beijing: about 9 or 10 hours.

With a population of 6,000, Palekh boasts some 600 artists, and the secrets of their art have been passed down from generation to generation.
The village appeared in the 15th century. Gradually, along the banks of the picturesque Paleshka River, grew a settlement inhabited by icon painters well known to the tsar’s court. They painted beautiful icons with countless details — “all the little things.”
Their work can be found in the churches in the Moscow Kremlin and in the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius. In 1882, the Belousovs, a Palekh family of icon painters, decorated the Faceted Palace in the Kremlin.
After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 icon painters were forced to find other applications for their talents. They decorated wooden spoons, nested dolls (“matryoshkas”), boxes, dishes…
In 1928, they began training new young artists to replace the old masters. In 1935, the Palekh Museum was created: a priceless collection of icons, lacquer miniatures, drawings, and paintings.
The motifs for these miniatures were typically taken from everyday life, classic works of literature, fairy tales, folk poems and songs. The work is usually done on a black background with decorations in gold.
The work is all done by hand. Each box must be oiled, primed, caulked and painted with black lacquer on the outside, red enamel on the inside — then dried and decorated. In Palekh we do not make copies; every box is unique. The final polishing is done with the palm of the hand, which makes the work truly unique. A miniature cannot be enlarged; therefore the artists use magnifying glasses.
Palekh fakes comprise 80-90 percent of the market. The law against piracy doesn’t work. Souvenir shops buy things from artists that have not passed muster with the experts.
Today, every tenth resident of Palekh is a graduate of the Palekh Art School. There are only two schools of this kind in all of Russia. Every year 16 students graduate.

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