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17 Russian Peasants and Their Craft Jobs

Russian Peasants and Their Craft Jobs

Posted on January 15, 2015 by tim


Sometimes now you might hear the word “artisan” which often said to make things look skillfully  made and good. However hundred something years ago all over the world things mainly were “artisan” – made by local craftsman. If we know some traditional craftsmen of the West and their craft survived till our days (this is what they sell as “artisan” now) the old Russian crafts on contrary is very much lost, mostly due to the Soviet intent for collectivization and industrialization. However there are still some old photos depicting old Russian artisans – mainly peasants at their craft with captions what exactly they do. For example the man on the photo on top is a master barrel maker at work.

Let’s see a few more of the skilled men of past inside, some of these jobs you can’t meet nowadays at all:

A Shoemaker 1903-1905.

A man weaving “lapti” – old Russian bast shoes made from the bark of birch or linden tree. Imagine your woven basket but in the form of a shoe. This is “lapti”. “They were easy to manufacture, but not very durable.“. By the way the man on the top of this post, the one who makes a barrel is wearing “lapti” which are pretty much in bad condition already.

Now weaving the baskets. 1900s.

A joinery in the village. 1900s

A pottery and a potter working with clay.

Those people are making traditional Russian wooden spoons. Maybe you’ve seen those in souvenir shops.

Also making spoons. It was a must back there, different sizes and shapes. Here is one old man and probably his disciples.

Another spoon manufacturing group. Look how people were looking like – dressed, haircuts, etc – just hundred and some years ago and total difference from now!

And some more spoon makers grouped with basket weavers sitting next to traditional “izba” or wooden house – there is also a well on the left.

And here is a whole spoon market! Do you see those large woven baskets on the cart? They are loaded with spoons over the top!

Here, you can see them closely.  Wooden spoons were in high demand!

Another spoon market.

And those are the toy makers. Whole family is helping the business. Probably the small toy production somewhere in Asia is still looks like this however instead of the wooden parts they assemble it from ready moulded plastic parts.

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17 Responses to “Russian Peasants and Their Craft Jobs”

  1. Jimi says:

    School? What school? And this is 1914. Exactly 100 years ago. Then Bolsheviks took over and by force made everyone going to school. Lenin said: “We need to fight religious prejudices not by abolishing but by education”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_education
    In Austria, Hungary and in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown (Czech lands), mandatory primary education was introduced by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774.

    • Voivode says:

      What school? Zemskiye schools appeared after the first zemstvo laws were put into effect in 1864 by the orders of Alexander II. It was thanks to these schools that children in the age of 8 to 12 could have the basic education for free. In 1914, there were 123,745 primary schools in Russia – not enough for a large country, but still a big improvement nonetheless.

  2. Rob Normann says:

    How fascinating to watch these photos. I just love to see how they lived in those days. What a sad place our world has become, we have lost so much of the good values. Many things are better today, we live in warm houses, can go to the grocery and pick what we want and move easily with oil. But the cohesion and the earthly proximity and the good feeling of just being alive has disappeared in a cloud of electronic and wickedness.

  3. Voivode says:

    Thanks for posting these wonderful photos; they give us a great insight into how ordinary Russian people of the 19th-early 20th century looked like. These are the archetypes of rural men and women that lived in the same time and country as Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov, inspired them and served as the basis for their peasant characters. They were crude but lively, pragmatic, sharp-witted and inventive, deeply attached to their homeland and customs, and, when drafted into the military service and sent to war, hardy and courageous to the point of recklessness.

    • Jacob says:

      These photos only confirm one very well known thing. Before and at the time of the 1917 revolution, most of Russia was a backward, rural, third world country. Russian aristocracy lived in the cities, was well educated according to the best European traditions, and spoke fluently in at least one or two of English, German, or French. But the ordinary peasants lived miserable lives. Making spoons BY HAND in 20th century to make a living. Back then, those were not “souvenir spoons”. Those were actual spoons people used to eat with. No wonder the ordinary Russian peasants stepped aside during the Russian revolution and did not interfere with or oppose the Bolsheviks. Their lives were certainly already miserable under the old regime. I am sure pictures of Czech or German peasants of the same time would be far more cheerful.

      • Jacob says:

        And speaking of the spoons, the same applied to the famous “lapti”. They were literally weaving their shoes by hand well into 20th century. Truly shocking considering that something like shoes or spoons were already produced on an industrial scale in the west.

  4. Lucy Parker says:

    Thank you for the wonderful insight of this lost art. It makes one appreciate it more when you get “plastic junk” for your money.

  5. Martinus van Brederode says:

    Very interesting photographs.
    Re: Rob Normann: old values have been replaced by new values. Some better, some different, some worse.
    But a lot of the old artisan knowledge is disappearing or has already disappeared. My mom used to make lace – as a hobby only. And joinery is usually done on electrical machinery now…

    All those spoonmakers – how long would it take till the spoon market was saturated? Interestingly, Alexander Solzhenitsyn also stressed the importance of his spoon, in ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’. Although he used is as a metaphore ;)

  6. john says:

    Great photos and history

  7. ebrown says:

    In those times Rissians could make some useful things
    to improve their life.
    Now they only can make weapons to kill Ukrainians.

    • Soviet Samurai says:

      back in those times people were able to think for themselves, now they are slaves to TV and Hollywood propaganda.

  8. Unidentified Person says:

    These talented people contributed so much to society by being productive. Much different then spending all day playing video games like kids nowdays! Joiner was making dovetail joints for drawers. Dovetails are easier to make nowdays with power tools but there are fewer wood worker joiners with the knowledge today. Boot repair artisan today is still much needed but hard to find. The clock maker is an artisan that probably came along later in Industrial Revolution. I think maybe Industrial Revolution made schooling necessary to survive.

  9. Unidentified Person says:

    Rob, your comment made me think of how important living and acting with purpose is. All of these artisans lived with great purpose and meaning each day and I think the human soul needs to have purpose to be happy. As example, what purpose do we find out of electronic video games? To be honest, occasionally I play video games too, but I do many other things to create purpose in my life and contribute to society in my own way. It seems like today, it is more difficult to find purpose in life.

  10. sammakko says:

    Its not peasants on the majority of photo- its the higher class of society called “remeslennik” – they where free people not depending of landlord and make not jobs in the field but worked at home and trade the things they create. The prophecy of knife-maker, shoe-maker, dress-maker where very good-payd. it was a dream of peasant to make his sun a soldier, dress-maker or worker on wooden things or builder, because it was higher and more reach class.

    • Lucy Parker says:

      Thank you Sammakko. But how quick they can fall. My grandfather was a locksmith. He was killed in an accident with wagon. My grandmother took my father and other 3 children and went to work for the landlord.

  11. Jacob says:

    The face expressions suggest, a lot of these peasants don’t seem to be significantly proud of their pictures being taken. Everyone is just trying to get by, to make some kind of living.

  12. Jamie S says:

    The way I look at the pictures, it would seem that while the Russian populace were not exactly rich or well-off, they seemed proud of what they were doing. Also, they don’t seem like the usual peasants that I see in most historical pictures. They’re more middle-class-ish, if you were to ask me.

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