Сollections of monuments of culture of the peoples of the Volga and the Ural regions

the Russian Museum of Ethnography

International complement of the region

Historically and culturally, the Middle Volga and the Urals region is a unique area, a meeting-point of Europe and Asia. This factor determined this region's character. Apart from the predominant Russian population, it is inhabited by two large ethno-linguistic groups: Finno-Ugric (the Komi, Udmurts, Mordovians, and the Mari) and Turkic (the Chuvash, Tartars, and Bashkirs). All these nationalities have undergone a complicated ethno-genetic process; the co-existence and interaction of their cultures resulted in mutual influences and adoptions, so that each nationality includes a number of culturally diverse local groups.

They began to assemble collections in the early 20th century

The foundation of a thirty-thousand holding was laid in 1902-14. It was a period of intensive collecting activity, which was marked both by obtaining objects in the expeditions and by recruiting famous scientists and local people as the Museum's correspondents. The latter included peasants and craftsmen, priests and school teachers. Among the ethnographers who devoted themselves to the study of history and culture of the Volga region, were well-known experts on Volga ethnography such as G. Akhmarov, M.Yevsevyev, I.Zelenov, S. Kuznetsov, S.Rudenko, S.Serghel', I. Smirnov, A.Miller, and N. Nikolsky.

Other resources of receiving collections by the Museum

A considerable part of the collection came to the Museum from the State Museum Fund as well as from Glavvystavkom (Chief Exhibition Committee) and from exhibitions: the World Exhibition in Paris (1900), The All-Russian Crafts Exhibition (1902), etc.

Collecting activity in multi-ethnic areas

After the establishment of the independent Middle Volga and Urals Department in 1938, it elaborated a collecting policy of its own, based on a long-term programme aimed at filling up a number of thematic gaps in its displays. As a result of a long-standing fieldwork of the museum curators headed by famous ethnographers G. Nikitin, the first head of the Department, and later T. Kriukova, the Department's collection became sufficiently representative and thematically varied.

In the 1960-90s the staff gave special attention to acquiring the materials, which reflected complicated ethnic processes of mutual interaction and interpenetration of the cultures of different ethnic groups living in that region. On the whole, the collection of ethnographic objects representing the Volga and the Urals region today can undoubtedly be defined as the largest and the most comprehensive in Russia in terms of the range of themes and geographical areas covered.

The curators of the department, scholars, students, and locals recruited by the Ethnographic Department at the time of its foundation and growth, carried out their collecting work among several nationalities at the same time. S. Kuznetsov, professor of the Kazan University who acquired exhibits from the Komi, Mari, Chuvash and Bashkirs; S. Rudenko (the Bashkirs, Mari, Chuvash, Komi, and Siberian peoples), I. Zelenov (the Udmurts, Kriashen Tartars, Bessermians, and Siberian nationalities), I. Smirnov (the Udmurts, Bessermians, Mordovians, Mari, and Kriashen Tartars) and T. Kriukova (the Komi, Mari, Udmurts, Mordovians, Tartars, Chuvash, Bashkirs) belonged to that galaxy of famous scientist collectors who devoted themselves to the study of one of the most fascinating multi-ethnic regions of Russia. A striking example of this kind is the life and career of S. Sergel's who obtained about 500 exhibits of great rarity characterizing the culture of the Komi Zyrian. Another dedicated collector was S. Rudenko who acquired 52 collections in different regions of Russia. Of these, 18 collections with a total of 2,000 artifacts relate to the Volga region.

The collection on the Mordovians collected by S. Rudenko, contains old women's clothing, ornaments, household utensils. All the items are provided with detailed annotations and local terminology. Of special interest is the unique material he obtained on the pagan beliefs of the Chuvash: spirit helpers, anthropomorphic wooden graves tombs, a device for getting so called "live fire" to fumigate the village during epidemics and epizootics. Abundant and scientifically highly valuable are the collections secured for the Museum by I. Zelenov who already in 1904 sent to the Museum a collection on the Udmurts which gave a special prominence to the articles of pagan cult. He also obtained a very interesting collection of the rarities related to the Chuvash pagan beliefs, in particular a bust basket considered as a house for the spirit-protector of all the women of the tribe.

The brilliant group of collectors also includes M. Yevsevyev, a community teacher who took an active part in educational development of the Mordovians. In 1908-14 he got in close contact with the Museum and conducted collecting work in main areas inhabited by the Mordovian ethnic groups. He assembled 31 collections containing articles of clothing and utensils, some of them dating from the 18th century. These are ancient wedding shirts, a few kinds of belt pendants, headgears, and ornaments. The items of this type allow studying the traces of archaic features preserved in ornamentation, and in the technique of producing. Another collector who assisted to make up the holdings of the Volga Region department in the early 20th century was Professor G. Akhmarov, an outstanding authority on the ethnology of the peoples of the Volga and the Urals regions, primarily the Tartars. These collections contain the objects used for house decoration (embroidered towels, wall prayer rugs, clothing, women's ornaments, and cult articles).

The work of acquiring exhibits on the culture of Finnish-Ugric and Turkic peoples of the Middle Volga was also entrusting to I. Smirnov, a well-known Professor of the Kazan University. In 1902-04 he explored the Mordovian, Mari, Udmurt, Tartar, and Chuvash villages, and obtained over 400 objects, some of them (e.g., the clothing of the Mordovians-Karatai) are unique because they have long come of use, and none of the Russian museums has them in its collections.

Distinguished role in assembling and studying of the collections of the Region

In the late 19th - early 20th centuries not only ethnographers, but also archeologists, geographers, and artists worked enthusiastically at acquiring objects for the newly established Ethnographic Department. Among these successful collectors was P. Yefimenko, Professor of archeology. He obtained a large and interesting collection of Mordovian clothes (650 items), but unfortunately, it doesn't contain sufficient descriptions of the objects. This gap was filled up in 1934 by T. Kriukova who followed P.Yefimenko's route. Resulting from that trip was a considerable amount of information and explanatory material complementing the items the latter had purchased.

T. Kriukova ranks a special place among well-known collectors and researchers of ethnography of the Volga region peoples. In the course of her 45-year-long work in the Russian Museum of Ethnography she studied the cultural traditions of the Finno-Ugric peoples, primarily the Mari. In 1932 T. Kriukova began to conduct systematic expeditions to the Mari. She assembled the main part of the Mari collections related to the Soviet period. A unique type of scientist, she devoted her whole life to favorite work. As a result of T. Kriukova long-standing expedition activity, the holdings of the department were replenished with 68 collections consisted of 4,000 items.

Acquisitions of the 1970-90s

Since the 1970s the staff of the Department (T. Kriukova, Ye. Kotova, L. Loiko) conducted a large number of ethnographic expeditions and acquired a wide range of materials from different ethnic groups inhabited the contact zones: the northern Udmurts, the eastern Mari, Tartars, Bashkirs, etc. These expeditions resulted in obtaining the types of costumes and separate details of clothing dating from the 18th - 19th centuries. I

n the 1980-90s the fund of the Department was added by buying objects through the Museum Purchasing Committee and owing to the gifts from private persons.