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All about Russian Santas

Traditionally, Russian Santas were all hand-carved from a solid piece of wood and hand-painted by select artists from all over Russia. Modern technologies have made it possible to duplicate carvings by machine - so, many of the more generic Santa designs seen now are not actually hand-carved - other than manually 'cleaning up' the carving after the duplication process.  These generic carvings are typically found in pieces priced up to a few hundred dollars, sometimes more.  The more elaborate and unique Russian Santas are still hand carved by master carvers.  The end result of the machine-produced carvings can still be breathtaking, depending on the artist (painter) who makes the woodcarving come alive.

Sometimes more than one artist is involved in a Russian Santa Claus creation.  Almost always the person who carves the Santa is not the person who paints it.  Typically the artist (individual who actually signs the Santa) is a painter who works with, and purchases a blank carving from a woodcarver - or goes to a market to purchase a blank carving.  The artist then takes the carving home to create their masterpiece with paint.  Even then sometimes more than one painter is involved as there are artists with special talents to create faces, eyes, animals, or other subjects.

The wood used is from the Linden tree (lime) and is carefully selected and dried for at least two years. Carvings are traditionally carried from village to village to be exquisitely hand-painted by selected, talented artists. In some cases, figures travel over a thousand miles and it may take several weeks to complete a single piece. The magnificent painting on each woodcarving is unique to that artist and usually portray scenes from the winter holiday seasons and characters from Russian folklore. It is very common to see carvings of Russian Santas and Father frost with characters such as the Snow maiden, angels, children (representing the coming year), or a traditional Troika (three horses pulling the sleigh) in a winter scene.

 Modern Russian Santas have become “Americanized” with beautiful scenes of the American version of Santa Claus and our own holiday traditions painted on the carvings. For centuries carvings were highly lacquered to protect the painted scenes and the wood from the elements of time, whereas some of the newer Russian Santa Claus carvings have a “matte” finish for a different look and appeal to our market.  Thankfully the lacquer work made famous by the Russian lacquer boxes and eggs found its way to Santa carvings.  However, most Russian Santas sold in the United States today are of the matte finish, probably 4:1. 

As our appetite for Russian Santas has grown - artists of higher talent have begun to paint them, granted at a much higher expense than many collectors are used to paying for Russian Santas.  If we could only lure more of the egg and lacquer box painters to paint a few more Santa carvings the detail would be unlike anything Santa collectors have ever seen.  With small, and extremely detailed lacquer boxes fetching prices into the thousands is the American market ready for a $25,000 Santa?  I'm sure we'll someday see one.

In the meantime, when looking at Russian Santas take note of the detail throughout, especially the faces, animals, shading and of course - the eyes.  Keep in mind you're purchasing an artist's work - and paying for an artist's skill.  Are you purchasing a unique original creation, or a 'copy' painted by an apprentice or student in assembly-line fashion?  Regardless of the beautiful end results of either the prices of higher end Russian Santas is typically well worth it to the discerning eye.
 

 

Russian Santa blank - before painting

Russian Santa blank - before paint


American-styled Russian Santa Claus

The epitome of an
"Americanized" Russian Santa Claus


Artist signature on bottom of Russian Santa Claus carving

Artist signature on bottom of
Russian Santa Claus carving

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