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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 2

Symbol of the Nation Deeply in Love with the Habit of Drinking Tea…
If you ever go to Nizhny Tagil it is almost guaranteed that you will be taken to the house-museum of Hudoyarov family. Male members of many generations of this family glorified the craft and took it on to a whole new level where it became known to all across the country and many abroad.
Alexander Hudoyarov is one of the most prominent members of the family. In the 18th century he invented the famous “crystal lacquer”, which instantly was acknowledged as the best of its kind: better then the English one and the Chinese! It was used to finish freshly painted trays. Unfortunately its compounds are long forgotten now. The recipe of the lacquer was kept secret. No doubt the “crystal lacquer” was a big part of the success of the trays. It was crystal clear. It did not change its colour or the colours of the painting over time. It was impossible to leave a mark on it by a very sharp knife. The surface stayed impeccable if you spilled boiling water over it or even acid!
And it was very useful because at the end of the 18th century people began to buy the trays at the shops all over Russia and use them to serve tea. Of course sometimes the trays were so beautiful that their proud owners spared them from domestic use and hanged them on the wooden walls at their houses like pictures. But most trays served their original purpose.
Tea drinking was a very important part of everyday life especially in the rural areas of Russia where life was much slower. Things like samovars, serving trays, homemade jam and dozens of cracknels were what everyone wanted to see on their dining table at times when family relaxed together.
The tea drinking habit blossomed throughout the 19th century. In the Ural region at this period of time sales of this refreshing and warming drink were booming. It was a sign that the people who lived here including peasants (they of course, were the majority of the population) were not poor at all. Naturally this tea mania coincided with the popularity of Nizhny Tagil serving trays and fell on the middle of the 19th century.
But things started to change on the doorstep of the 20th century. Life in general got busier. Then the wars, people uprisings, revolutions and the Civil War (1918-1922) transformed it much further.  The beautiful Ural craft went through the period of neglect and oblivion.
In the Soviet era the government took up a few quite successful measures to restore and revive the craft. However at some point Ural painters were sent for trainings to the second Russian lacquered tray center in Zhostovo. Second because it appeared later than the Ural one. Also in Zhostovo they have a different painting technique: flowers are painted not in an abstract way but in the most natural one. Consequently Ural craft lost some of its authenticity for a brief period of time. Now modern Ural painters are trying hard to recover the traditional Ural technique.
Nizhny Tagil serving trays are a precious part of Ural and Russian in general cultural heritage. Just as much as Pavlovo Posad shawls, Palekh miniatures or Khokhloma tableware, they have become symbols of our country recognized all over the world.
The history of Nizhny Tagil trays reflects a very typical for many other crafts of the Ural region feature. They appear and develop at the plants absorbing the centuries-old-traditions and ideology of the local peasants who at the same time worked there as workers. The craft of the Ural lacquered trays is a true folk art. It has to be cherished and preserved for the future generations and everyone who appreciate history and genuine creativity. 
Photo: ekb.dk.ru

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