Your Russian vocabulary word for the day is “matryoshka.” The word means “little matron” and is the diminuative form of the Russian woman’s name, Matriona. For our purposes, the name can be translated as “Russian nesting doll.” These dolls, turned on a lathe, were made in diminishing sizes, cut in half, and placed inside each other, smallest to largest. The smallest doll was turned from a single piece of wood.
The first “matryoshka” set was made in 1890. Traditionally, the outer doll was a woman and the figures inside could be either gender. The innermost doll was typically the baby of the family. Over the years, many themes have been used. Recently the dolls even included replicas of Russian leaders. Some other themes include floral designs, holidays, religious figures, politicians, movie stars, athletes, musicians, animals. and peasant families. For a time I had Eskimo family nesting dolls in my shop.
Many of these dolls are quite beautiful, displaying elaborate design or tremendous artistry in the painting. They are commonly made out of lime or beech wood. The timber is cut in the spring, the bark removed, and the wood thoroughly dried to prevent cracking. The lathe turner may perform up to 15 operations before the doll is done.
The largest set of dolls was made in 2003, and contained 51 pieces. Imagine having a family that size!
My matryoshka sets all contain five dolls total. The four dolls pictured in this article are currently being shown at auction in my eBay store, The Peddler’s Pack. They will sell quickly, but if you are interested in purchasing a Russian doll, let me know and I can send you pictures and prices.