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Gold Khokhloma

Travelling to Semyonov for 'curls' and 'rowan'

Khokhloma is somewhere deep in my childhood memories. The memories of my kindergarten classroom with a row of painted and lacquered chairs with red rowan ornaments. The memories about summer, warm and carefree, when I ran into the summer kitchen, quickly wiped my hands with my skirt’s hem, and then secretly ate froth right from the big bowl of fresh raspberry jam with a wooden spoon with the same ornament until my grandmother caught me and hit me with the same spoon on my forehead. 

And later in life there were just occasional associations: the familiar design on the bank card, stripes on the sports outfit of the Russian national team, and the "Khokhloma wall" of the famous Simachev bar (which is closed by now). Feeling a new wave of interest in folk crafts, I went to Semyonov, the city in Nizhny Novgorod region known as the capital of Gold Khokhloma". So now, I'll tell you about the most important things!

In Semenov, they still produce products with Khokhloma paintings. A lot, a lot of Khokhloma!

The Khokhloma style of painting was invented in the second half of the 17th century in the "village of Semenovskoye", as it used to be called by the owner Boyar Morozov. Many cups and spoons have been painted since those times, and once the art artel became a factory. The production of "Khokhloma paintings" in Semenov is large: almost 600 people, 340 craftsmen, are making handicraft products, almost 140 of them are artists! The majority of the artists in the factory are women. 16 of them are highly qualified employees - these artists of the 6th category work in a creative laboratory that is responsible for painting exclusive items and individual orders. The factory produces a wide variety of items valued at 750,000 rubles or more each month! 1,933 products are currently registered by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia. The assortment is renewed with 50 units every year!

Gold Khokhloma is originally silver!

Khokhloma painting technology is complex, it consists of several stages. Wood is harvested at the plots - the linden and birch are carved into spoons. Before making it to the sawmill, and then to the lathe, the tree trunks dry for two years in natural conditions. Wooden blanks of various diameters are made from the logs, after they dry, joiners and turners will make ideal forms of dishes, little casks, souvenirs or furniture. Then the workpieces are primed with oil clay. The clay is rubbed into the wood to close the pores and cracks. After the next drying, the items are covered three times with thick and viscous linseed oil - boiled linseed oil. It is produced right at the factory, as well as the paints, which are kneaded according to old recipes. After the workpiece has dried, it goes to the next stage - tinning with aluminium powder, at this very moment absolutely all products become silver in colour! With rawhide, the master rubs light aluminium into a sticky layer of linseed oil. And again drying, firing in the kilns and, finally, everything is ready for painting! Before the first patterns appear on the objects, they are given the edges and bottoms, and again dried in a kiln at 40 ° C.

After painting, the carts with items are sent to the varnish room. The varnish with which all Khokhloma products are covered is colorless, but after they have been in the oven and 'baked' up to 120 ° C, all items have turned golden, and the red and green colours have acquired a darker shade!

Curls and rowan in red, black and gold colours are the classics of Khokhloma painting. 

The artists at the factory in Semyonov have two methods of painting - top and background. In the first case, the blank is painted on top of the varnish with a brush by hand - this is how the famous 'kudrina' (‘curls’), a grassy ornament with flowers, plant’s shoots, stamens, appear on a gold background. In the background painting method the artist first draws the shape of a leaf or a berry, and only after that covers the main background with paint. Decorative elements will remain gold. 

There is also “Zykinskaya" Khokhloma

This word is not from the 90s and does not mean that the painting is cool. "Zykinskaya" painting is green with white lilies of the valley! It was invented specifically for Lyudmila Zykina (famous singer of Russian traditional folk songs), who loves these very flowers. But the new design is now also beloved by ordinary customers. The singer visited the factory thirty years ago and contributed to the development of Semenov's infrastructure.

Khokhloma painting can be miniature!

A whole department of artists is working on painting jewelery - earrings, bracelets and beads. The ability to apply fine lines and patterns is important here. 

Khokhloma can be faked, but it is easy to distinguish a replica. 

'Homeworkers' - those who paint wooden bowls and spoons at home greatly deface the reputation of the Khokhloma painting. Craftsmen closely monitor the factory assortment, and counterfeit popular items as good as in the best Chinese artels. They violate all technologies by painting products with the wrong paints and using machine varnishes, which greatly affects the quality. The difference between the original and the fake becomes clear with a careful study of the product. There will be no trash under the varnish on the item that is produced and painted at the factory, everything will be smooth. Everywhere there will be a neat layering, "thinning", beautifully traced berries. You will not see any smudges, dirt, blank spots, wry brushstrokes, no area will be without varnish paint. An original Khokhloma Matryoshka (a nesting doll) has a wood of light colour inside, because it is made of linden or birch, the Chinese ones will be dark. Khokhloma painting has almost 800 patents, but often fake products still easily hit the shops. 

You can paint everything with Khokhloma patterns - from an apartment to an airplane. 

The artists of the factory have received so many orders throughout history. They painted the walls and ceilings of private houses, beer cans and limited edition bottles of alcohol. Even airplanes were painted. Several years ago, the fuselage of 8 British Airways airliners were painted for the 40th anniversary of flights to Moscow. You can discuss painting anything in the world by contacting the marketing department of the factory directly.

Icons are being painted in Semyonov.

In the icon-painting workshop "Light Image" you’ll find the girls of the mentioned sixth category working - the highest level of skill. Many of the artists studied at the Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra. The workshop is one of the official "patriarchal" artels. The "Khokhloma" icon goes through the entire technological process, from tinning to gilding. Icons are painted, adhering all the canons of icon painting and also all fasts. The images that were painted in Semyonov adorn even the temples on Athos. The cost of a hand-painted icon, depending on the shape, size and face of the Saint, starts from 9,000 rubles

The dishes made at the factory in Semenov can be used!

Certified products are afraid only of microwaves, but hot tea or soup can be safely poured into dishes, plates and cups with original Khokhloma painting. They say that if you eat with a real "Khokhloma" spoon you will never burn yourself.

Painting in Khokhloma style can be in collaboration with a designer. 


It turned out that it is easy and simple to offer your own design and come up with a collaboration with the factory. Young designers need only to present their project, discuss the details, the technological process. As an example, you can look at Olga Mikkova's table lamps, plates of the HALF & HALF brand, wooden bullfinches of Semyon Belugin, jewelry by 'Yaroslavna'.

At the factory in Semyonov, you can order your own Matryoshka doll with an individual design.

The only nesting doll in the world will not be cheap. But it will definitely become a relic. The shape and design of the product will be thought up by the artists of the creative workshop, and here they will paint it. If the order includes drawing a sketch in vectors, then the price of such a nesting doll will be about 40,000 rubles. A small batch of branded nesting dolls will be much cheaper.

You can learn Khokhloma painting right in the capital of Khokhloma.

There is a school of artistic skills in Semenov, which opened its doors in 1916. It was the graduates of this school who opened the art artel, which later became the Khokhloma painting factory. At the factory, you can learn a new profession within 6 months to two years.

Khokhloma painting has its own designer collection.


Under the LADA & LIZA brand, the Khokhloma painting factory annually produces a bright thematic collection of women's accessories - bags, jewelery, scarves and even nesting dolls. They serve as cases for scarves and are painted according to the print. Absolutely all items in the collection are limited. 

In the assortment office at the factory, you can see real rarities.


Of course, there are more of them in the Zolotaya Khokhloma Museum and Tourist Center. But at the factory you can see the evolution of Khokhloma painting, study how the forms and trends have changed - from simple spoons of the World War II era, which were produced at up to 10,000 pieces a day, to a single vase with a portrait of Leonid Brezhnev. By the way, they did not manage to present it before the death of the chairman of the Central Committee of the CPSU. There are many multi-piece sets, ladles, which were called ‘duck’ (because of the shape) or ’brethren' (for drinking for all the brethren), now they collect dust, and in the old days they were welcome gifts for a wedding. The most interesting things on the shelves are products from modern designers painted in Khokhloma style. 

You can buy Khokhloma online.

Almost the entire range of products is presented at www.goldenhohloma.com.
You will find a huge selection of any products in the shop at the factory in Semyonov, as well as in the “Firebird” (Zhar-ptitsa) store in Nizhny Novgorod.

How to get to the Khokhloma painting factory:

If you do not have a car, you can take a train from Nizhny Novgorod to Semyonov. Travel time is about one hour. You can find convenient times in the daily train schedule, but it does not run very often. From the station you can walk to the factory in the old city, or you can take a taxi 

The project "Four Seasons of Russia" is supported by the Russian Geographical Society www.rgo.ru
A trip to Semyonov is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.

Additionally read about Russian artisan crafts here:
How Christmas decorations are made
Pavlovo Posad Shawls

Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1

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