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Ural Life & Culture
All You Need to Know about Yekaterinburg and the Ural Region

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Irina Bobrova (Russia)
Glimpses of Ural History
Historian, translator, teacher of English
The Lacquered Serving Trays from Nizhny Tagil. Part 1

Symbol of the Nation Deeply in Love with the Habit of Drinking Tea…
Nizhny Tagil is an industrial heart of Ural. It is known for all the things to do with metal smelting, engineering, production of military goods and innovation. But not only! It is also a birthplace to one of the most famous Russian craft of lacquered serving trays. Originally everything from hammering out the tray to the last touches of the painter’s brush was done by the foundry plant’s workers who at the same time were attached to their peasant community and because of that had the status of serfs. As a result the craft absorbed some most beautiful traditions of the Ural folk art. In the 19th century all across the country these trays just like the famous Tula samovars became a symbol of the nation deeply in love with the habit of drinking tea…
Nizhny Tagil is a Ural town that lies 146 kilometers north from Yekaterinburg. It is an industrial giant. In the past its cast iron and copper of the top quality were exported to all corners of the world, let alone Russia.
Nowadays this town is known abroad for its regularly held international exhibition called “Russian Expo Arms”. Its visitors get to see the latest and the most advanced examples of arms, military equipment and ammunition.
Nizhny Tagil has always been a country’s center of innovation and technological progress. Many talented engineers and scientists have lived, worked and invented the most avant-garde for their times things like the first Russian steam train and the first Russian bicycle. In 2010 Konstantin Novoselov won Noble Prize in physics for groundbreaking experiments regarding the much talked about substance called graphene.
But it is not all about science and very heavy industry. Nizhny Tagil is also known for something that is much softer – the craft of making lacquered serving trays. Its story is a wonderful reflection of the history of the town itself.
Just like Yekaterinburg and many other local towns it began with a plant in 1722. Production of cast iron and copper involved practically all the inhabitants in its hard work.  Very soon most of the metal produced here was exported to other countries. The town plants took part in many international fairs and exhibitions. To attract even more attention to their product a very clever marketing idea became very much of use.  At their stands the manufacturers displayed beautifully painted sparkling serving trays laboriously hammered out of Ural iron.
There were two types of trays. The first one had copies of Renaissance paintings on them. But the second bore various floral designs performed in a traditional for Ural and Siberia technique. Using this technique a painter portraits flowers in an abstract way. His brushstrokes are dashing and the colours are bright. The background can be of different colour: black, green, blue, dark red, tortoiseshell. In a very similar way people in Ural had decorated their wooden houses and house ware made of birch bark for centuries.
The painters deserve to be given a special look. They were chosen by the plant management from the local peasants-serfs who simultaneously worked at the plants. They were taught and the course took 4 years! Often famous artists from St.Peterburg were invited to teach. On the other hand it was not unusual for the young and talented to be sent to Europe to perfect their painting skills.
Photo: ekb.dk.ru

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