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Gzhel. A trip to the fairy-tale

Gzhel. A trip to the fairy-tale
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A long time ago horses used to turn the millstone to knead the loam. Now machines do almost all the work. Which of course doesn’t make artists less significant — they paint all the items manually.

Moscow region, Ramensky area, Novo-Kharitonovo village, Gzhel

Being a vast area with 27 villages in 60 km from Moscow, Gzhel is a traditional center of ceramics production in Russia. 

According to archeological digs, in the 4th century B.C. there was ceramic craft here. In the 14th century Gzhel was a supplier of crockery for the tsar court. In the second half of the 18th century it became the main producer of majolica. 2 centuries ago semi-faience items decorated with blue smalto paint were produced here. Then porcelain — and not only famous white and blue, but also colourful, with gilt.

A lot of things are made of modern Gzhel porcelain: statuettes, toys, vases, crockery, and interior items. The paintings usually depict nature, village landscape, city life, characters from Russian fairy-tales and classic books.

How it is made

100 years ago ceramics was produced with heavy millstone turned by the horses. Now machines do almost all the work. Which of course doesn’t make artists less significant — they paint all the items manually.
 
The production process looks like this: drawing a sketch, making a plasticine model, creating its shape, molding and drying, inspection and making sure that there are no cracks, baking and painting in a painting shop. Initially created pattern is painted on an item, then it is placed on a roller and recreate the design. 

The items are painted with cobaltous oxide, which is normally black and turns blue only after baking. One colour makes more than 20 shades. After the painting items are glazed and baked again. In the oven the glaze gets transparent and cobaltous changes its colour.

Russian souvenir

Gzhel items are still best to give as a present, even to your foreign friends — because they are world-known. However, there have been more than 100 fake Gzhel souvenirs recently — more than 95% of blue and white products are fake. To avoid buying this, you’d better buy them in a state factory (Gzhel association) and its artists’ studios. 

When buying Gzhel porcelain, pay attention to a few things. The pattern should be quite intricate: true artists pay much attention to detail, while fake ones don’t. There is a trade-mark on the bottom — Gzhel association has a double eagle on it. A number means a kind. The works of artists are also marked with their sign or name.

Tours and workshops

Production process can be seen and you can even try it yourself. There are workshops and tours on Gzhel association factory. The production tour will tell you about the technological process. A museum will enlighten you on the ceramics history and exclusive pieces of art, both classic and contemporary. Moulding and painting workshop introduces to you the technique of ceramics production and traditional Gzhel painting. The tours are scheduled, further information can be found on the website of the factory. 

The tour lasts up to 1,5 hours, the workshop from 30 minutes to 1 hour. The costs depend on the day of the week (but it never costs more than 450 roubles).

Interesting facts

—Originally Gzhel was multicoloured: peasants made red, yellow and greean crockery for themselves. White and blue pattern was adopted from the Dutch.
 
—The main painting method is touch. They are of different thickness, clear or vague — artists make different movements and different brush stress. It takes about 5 years to master this craft. 

—They say that when everything was just emerging and artists kept their secrets, a factory owner hired a dumb craftsman, because he didn’t want his secrets to leak. But local peasants revealed the secret by giving drinks to the ceramicist, who showed the process, silently sawing the air.

How to get there

By public transport: suburban train from Kazansky railway station. Exit on Gzhel station. Or bus 325 from Vykhino metro station.

Photographs by Artem Sizov

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