The assembling of Russians` collection

the Russian Museum of Ethnography

The history of assembling of the Russian collections. 

Systematic assembling of the Russian collection started in 1902 according to the specially elaborated program. Right from the very beginning it was decided to select for the museum collection only nationally original objects which would show ethnic originality of the people or make up its "ethnic portrait", reveal its peculiarity.

The size of the collection today

The collection of the objects belonging to the Russians is one of the most interesting ethnographic collections of the Russian Federation. It includes around 100 000 objects and historical photographs which give quite full and detailed description of the traditional world of the Russians - one of the largest people in the country.

The collection is characterized by the representativeness of the material, thorough selection of the objects, qualitative scientific documentation that enables to understand the role of a thing in that world from which it was taken to the museum.

Assembling of the Russian collection at the beginning of the 20th century.

Systematic assembling of the Russian collection started in 1902 according to the specially elaborated program. Right from the beginning it was decided to select for the museum collection only nationally original objects which would show ethnic originality of the people or make up its "ethnic portrait", reveal its peculiarity. A greater emphasis was placed on clothing and its attributes. Woman's and man's costumes as well as utensils for keeping drinks and serving food, objects used for keeping clothes, utensils, and things for interior decoration lie in the basis of the material collection. The scientific value of these objects especially increased in the eyes of the ethnologists when they were decorated with embroidery or woven ornament, carving, painting, chasing, engraving or enamel. Along with such kind of pieces the museum acquired agricultural implements, tools used by craftsmen, and means of transport.

Most of obtained objects belonged to peasants, because the monuments of ethnic culture were more often preserved in the villages, which until the 1860-s were almost not touched by the European civilization. The ethnologists acquired objects mainly identified as "ancient, old", though sometimes they also purchased the items produced in early 20th century but only if they had a traditional form or were made in traditional technique.

Who collected objects for the museum in early 20th century.

In the first decade of the 20th century museum curators acquired objects among the peasants during specially organized expeditions.

Members of part-time staff were also allowed to take part in fieldwork, but only after being thoroughly instructed by the museum. Famous people were among them, for instance a painter Bilibin, lover of the Russian antiquity, who had been making collection in the north of Russia.

Supplements to the museum holdings were also made by the representatives of local intelligentsia who took upon themselves to replenish the collections.

The Museum also bought private collections, though this way of assembling was considered less interesting for the ethnographic museum than acquiring objects directly from local people. The most interesting private collections which were added that time to the Russian holdings of the museum were a collection of embroideries and lace obtained by Dolmatov, a large collection of the Russian antiquities of Shabelskaya, famous collection of the Pskov merchant Pljushkin.

Some monuments of culture were acquired at the historic, ethnographic and handicraft exhibitions which had been held in great number in the first decade of the 20th century.

Content and an esthetic value of the collection in early 20th century.

By the year 1914 the Russian collection of the museum had been not only the largest of the Russian Empire but also the best in the selection of the monuments. As the contemporaries said, the museum astonished the Russian and especially the capital Petersburg intelligent audience not only by the number of the collected monuments but mostly by the beauty and elegance of the objects of the "common people's way of life" selected for the museum. In the same years the costumes of peasant women of the southern Russian provinces were acquired and they amazed by the logical completeness and rich decoration. At the same time the museum acquired magnificent samples of the northern Russian utensils: wooden chest with forged cover plates, caskets made of walrus tusk, copper bratinas for honey drinking, cups for drinking light intoxicating drinks. In the first decade wonderful collection of painted and carved spinning-wheels of the Russian North and marvelous collection of the ritual towels were being formed. The value of the material collections of the museum acquired in the first decade of 20 c. significantly increases owing to the fact that almost every object is provided with useful for an ethnologist information about the place of its existence, way it was used in everyday life, in festive and in ritual customs. Period from 1914 and 1920 was for the museum the time of stagnation in forming of the collections. The First World War, February and October revolutions, Civil War and caused by them economic and political instability in the country ceased the activity for almost 7 years.

Forming of the collections in 20-s.

Systematic forming of the collections recommenced only in early 20-s. As in the first decade there was still orientation on acquisition for the collection mainly ethnically expressive monuments of traditional culture, the main method of forming the collections was expeditional. Question of inclusion of the private collections in the museum collection was more thoroughly considered.

Private collections in the collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography.

Significant interest of the museum to the private collections of the monuments of the Russian antiquity was caused by the desire of the museum curators to safe from the destruction in the chain of revolutionary events of 1918-1921 well-known to them monuments of the Russian antiquity which were the property of the collectors. Among the private collections acquired by the museum one on the old-believers of the Altai region formed by brothers Belosljudov had the largest scientific, historic and artistic value as well as the collection of the Russian clothes and headdresses of the artist Solomko, part of the collection of the house fretwork of the famous collector Romanchenko, collection of toys of the artists Denshin, Kulbin and Bem. In 1928 the museum accepted objects of the exhibition "Historical rooms" of the museum Petrograd - Leningrad in the Anichkov Palace which included monuments of the Russian folk decorative art from the collection of the Emperor Alexander III, and also similar objects from museums-palaces of Pavlovsk and Gatchina. In 1928 ethnographic monuments from storage-depository of the Leningrad department of the State museum fund were given to the museum.

All the exhibits from the depository of the State museum fund, from museums-palaces and private collection were things of the first-rate in scientific and artistic aspects. It is the merit of the employees of the museum that the museum collections do not contain casual objects. Owing to these arrivals the Russian collection of the museum increased in number (plus 4 920 exhibits).

Museum expeditions of the 20-s brought around 2 000 objects. The material collection of the Russian culture formed in these years noticeably differs from that one of the early 20 c. It includes not only the monuments of the Russian antiquity (objects that people inherited from the ancestors who lived in 17-18 cc.) but also so called monuments of the "living way of life" - ethnically painted things actively used in the lives of people in 1920-s.

Peculiarities of the forming of the collections in 30-s.

In 1930-s the Russian collection started being replenished with the supranational objects belonging to the sphere of the urban culture as well as with the handicraft articles. Such selection arose from the new tasks which the Soviet State put before the ethnographic museums: to show through the exhibitions the achievements of the socialistic state and prosperity of the national cultures. These years the collecting of the monuments of the traditional culture had been ceased. Objects were being acquired direct at the factories and plants, enterprises of the artistic handicrafts and also in the shops. Expeditions turned into short-term business-trips aimed on studying the achievements of some leading collective farms and collecting material which could demonstrate those achievements.

Purposeful collecting of the modern folk art in 30-70-s of the 20 c..

In the second half of the decade the main task was to select articles of contemporary folk art which were essential for the museum. Replenishment of the Russian collection with the items made by the contemporary craftsmen had been continuing till late 50-s because of the exhibition "Contemporary folk art of the USSR peoples". Owing to the orientation of the museum towards collecting such kind of monuments of the decorative art, the Russian collection includes numerous objects which characterize work of artists of the handicraft enterprises in 30-70-s. They give idea about the range of articles of the old centers as well as of the numerous stitching-embroidering enterprises and those specializing in toy production which appeared in the soviet time and then disappeared.

Return to the forming of the Russian collection with the monuments of the traditional culture began in the mid 50-s when the construction of the exhibition "The Russians. Late 19 - early 20 cc." started. However, the real activity in this direction could be seen only in late 60-s, 70-s and in early 80-s. The collecting of the monuments in those years took place in the time of expeditions and by means of purchasing from the private persons. Purchasing became very popular and till nowadays plays an important role in replenishment of the Russian collection.

Expeditions of 60-80-s of the 20 c.

Collections of the monuments of the traditional culture which entered the Russian collection in 60-80-s include objects which usually date 1920-1950-s and rarely - early 20 c. The largest arrivals of the last decade of 20 c. was the collection from Belgorod region, which included more than 100 items of the traditional woman's clothing, and the collection of the northern spinning-wheels out of 105 exhibits which by the scientific value could be compared only to the acquisitions of our colleagues in early 20c..

Replenishment of the Russian collection from the collection of the State Museum of the peoples of the USSR.

The replenishment of the collection with new exhibits, of course, will continue despite of the words of the ethnographers that "the ethnographic field" gets poorer every year and this is happening because the Russian people switch to the urbanized model of life which doesn't have any national originality. The year 1948 became the important moment for the formation of the Russian collection as well as for the museum in the whole. At that time rich and valuable collection of the State Museum of the peoples of the USSR (Moscow) entered the Russian collection.

General characteristic of the collection

At present the Russian collection of the RME includes mainly the monuments of the traditional culture. Objects of the standardized urban life which entered the museum in 30-50-s as a rule were handed over to the historic and regional museums. The collection basically consists of objects of the peasant way of life. There are relatively not many monuments of the traditional culture of the citizens - 2 000 items: clothes, decorations, utensils from the old centers of the Russian culture such as Galich, Suzdal, Yaroslavl.

Geography of the collecting

The collection of the museum gives good notion about the traditional material world of the Russian people of the European Russia while culture of the Russians of the Asian part of Russia is represented with much smaller amount of exhibits. The museum contains 78 collections from the Enisei, Irkutsk, Tomsk provinces, Amur region and Kamchatka. Material culture of the Russians of the European part of the country is represented unevenly. The majority of the monuments came from the north-western provinces. Exhibits which characterize the culture of the Russians of the north-eastern provinces, western and Volga region provinces are represented in much smaller number. The collections on the material culture of the Russians who lived among other ethnical population of Ukraine, Byelorussia, Baltic region and Caucasus are very poor as well as the collections on the culture of the Cossack population of Russia.

Russian peasants in the collection of the museum

Objects included in the Russian collection give opportunity to get acquainted with all aspects of the traditional way of life of the folks. These exhibits characterize all features of the life of the Russian peasantry which existed till early 20c. within the frames of the traditional society. The Russian collection includes exhibits on the traditional occupations and crafts of the Russian people. It consists of implements, tools, lathes, various agriculture tools, stock-raising, fishing, hunting and beekeeping devices. Collection also contains materials on traditional handicrafts - timbering, weaving, pottery, etc. Exhibits give opportunity to judge about implements and tools used on different stages of production cycle: from preparing raw material to ready product. The museum obtains one of the biggest collections of the arable tools of all kinds. The collection of around 900 carved and painted spinning-wheels and the collection of around 200 supports used to fix fabric during sewing process are of particular interest. The majority of them is products of the famous centers of the artistic craft of the Russian North. The museum in large number has monuments which characterize culture of consuming and life support: clothing, house, utensils, transport means. They make up 70% of the total number of objects.

Russian costume in the collections of the RME

Clothing is the most important part of the Russian collection not only because it counts a large number of exhibits but also because of their quality. The collection includes woman's and men's clothes and shows all their types and local variants. Woman's costume is represented not only by 4 main complexes: with sarafans, striped skirt and dress, but also by their local variants. The museum collection keeps also clothes of groups of all sexes and ages. It contains complete costumes and separate elements of clothing used by a person during his/her life: clothes worn by babies, children, girls and boys, brides and bridegrooms, newly-weds, women and men, old women and old men. The collection also includes clothes of the representatives of the Russian people of various social groups and confessions: prisoners, beggars, monks, priests, old-believers. Working clothes of hunters, fishermen, beekeepers are also interesting. Besides, the Russian collection keeps many clothing elements: belts, ribbons, pockets, various decorations. Together with clothes one of the most important parts of the collection is utensils: for making food, for its storing and transporting, for beverages and their serving, for keeping clothes. The museum shows utensils made from different materials: wood, metal, clay, bone, and decorated with carved ornament, painted, engraved, decorated with enamel. Items produced by the craftsmen of the Vologodskaya province in 17 c. are the most valuable. They are oak chests decorated with iron bands, painted baskets and also small caskets decorated with filigree of the early 18 c. The collection of skobars - vessels for beer, wooden dippers, metal bratinas for round wine drinking dated by 18 - early 19 interesting as well. Dwelling is represented mainly by the interior objects: mobile furniture, decorating elements, lighting units. As to the architectural and constructing tools, the collection has only pediment boards, platbands (window frames), blinds and gates decorated with carved or painted ornament.

Ritual and festive objects

The museum also keeps monuments of the ritual and festive culture of the Russian people: attributes of the annual and life cycles, objects of the Orthodox cult, musical instruments, puppet theatre - total 800 objects. Masks of the Christmas-tide participants, elements of the rites of the spring-summer cycle, elements of the wedding ritual are the most interesting. It is important to note that the collection also includes bridegroom's and bride's costumes and a great amount of ritual cookies and ritual towels.

The Russian collection is one of the most precious and valuable treasures trusted to us by our ancestors: Russian peasants, craftsmen, Russian intelligentsia who had gently been collecting the monuments of the gone world.