Engraving on birch bark (Shemogodskaya engraving)
The typical Ustyuzhna handicraft is known since the end of the 18th century. The place of its foundation was not a city but the countryside villages located on the bank of the Northern Dvina River opposite to Veliki Ustyug city. Sometimes engraving on birch bark is called Shemogodskaya engraving by the name of the neighbor Shemogsa River. In the villages along the Shemogsa River the peasants studied the handicraft of through engraving and stamping on birch bark even at the end of the 18th century.
The artistic features of the engraving on birch bark are stipulated by the properties of the material: a bark from a young birch tree is soft and pliable under the knife of the engraver whose hand engraves the motif of the drawing over the marked outline or «from memory». After that a plate of the birch bark is glued to some object made usually from softwood (aspen), sometimes the background is painted or a colored foil is glued.
The Shemogodskaya engraving was distinctive by its vegetable motif: a thin branch with leaves smoothly bending fills all the field of the engraving by a lacy pattern. Often the craftsmen used geometric patterns of circles and rhombs. The composition was built on the principal of precise symmetry. The drawing was completed by a fringe of leaves, triangles, wavy lines or a net. Works with pictorial compositions are very peculiar: from courteous walls of the noble life, tea ceremonies and outdoor festivities in the magic gardens of the 18th – beginning of the 19th centuries up to revealing peasant’s everyday life: hunting, fishing of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries.
The present craftsmen from Shemogodiya summarizing the experience of the previous generations, creatively developing the traditional topics and ornaments continue surprising us with their wonderful works of art. They combine vegetable drawings with pictures of the architectural monuments of Veliki Ustyug or figures of magic birds and animals, illustrate the northern folklore. In their patterns dynamic sprouts with herbal curls and fluffy decorative flowers are very attractive. Bright contrast backgrounds underline the beauty of the pattern, reveal the natural properties of the material. The craftsmen very skillfully vary traditional ornaments enriching them with their creative findings.