A popular tourist souvenir in Russia is the matryoshka or the babushka doll. It is a nesting doll set which is decreasing in size and stacked inside each doll. Generally, the traditional nested figures are at least five and some craftsmen can even stack a dozen of these inside the other. The form of these dolls is cylindrical and less definition or depth on its curves and details. The head is rounded as it tapers toward the bottom and these dolls are noticeably without any hands or feet, although these can be painted articulately on its cylindrical body.
The name matryoshka came from its root word “mat” which is a Russian word for mother. However, some references would also suggest that it came from a popular name in Russia at that time which is Matryona. Still the word is still derived from the Latin word “mater” (mother). The traditional Russian costumes that are painted on these dolls are kaftans, sarapan, and the famous headdress called kokoshnik.
The history of the matryoshka started in 1890 and inspired by the Japanese wooden dolls which are also cylindrical in shape. Many references connect this to the Kokeshi dolls of Japan and also its Seven Lucky Gods doll set. The first set of matryoshka was designed and painted by Sergey Malyutin but was carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin. Malyutin was a crafts painter in the estate of Sawa Mamontov who was a Russian industrialist. During the World Exhibition in Paris in the 1900, Mamontov’s wife showcased the dolls there and it earned the bronze award.
Today, several doll manufacturers and master craftsmen have created their own version of the matryoshka. The characters can range from the traditional to the political figures that make it interesting and significantly educational. From the start, the purpose of these dolls was to educate and expose the children of that generation to the traditions and culture of Russia. Diversity has already started influencing its culture and the doll was the easiest way to gain acceptance from children.
The first museum established for the matryoshka was open in October 2001 in Moscow and is located at a building that was used to be called Detskoye Vospitaniye which means Children’s Upbringing. The collection consists of 14,000 figures and you may bring home a piece of this tradition from their souvenir or gift shop. The museum is open from Monday to Thursday and viewing hours are from 11 AM to 6 PM. The good thing is that the entrance is free.