Russian handicrafts: Palekh miniature

Folklore mindset, richness of content, figurativeness: the defining features of traditional Palekh art.

The village of Palekh is only 350 miles from Moscow. 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.

In 1924 seven local artists founded the Old Painting Artel. This was a new page in the history of Palekh. Before that, this village was known as a center of Russian icon painting.

After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 icon painters were forced to apply their talents elsewhere. The new lacquer products by the Palekh master craftsmen began to be exported, bringing the Soviet state hard currency. Their work even won prizes at the World Expo in Paris in 1923.

All the miniatures are created by hand. Each box is oiled, primed, caulked and painted with black lacquer on the outside, red enamel on the inside, then dried and decorated.

Palekh painters don’t make copies; every box is unique. The final polishing is done with the palm of the hand, which makes the work truly exclusive. A miniature cannot be enlarged, so the artists use magnifying glasses.

Today, every tenth resident of Palekh is a graduate of the Palekh Art School. There are only two schools of this kind in the whole of Russia. Every year 16 students graduate and start their own production.

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Credit: RIA Novosti