BONE, AMBER, HORNS, AND ANTLERS IN THE TRADITIONAL CULTURE OF THE PEOPLES OF EURASIA
More than 300 pieces are dated to the 17th -20th centuries, made by 40 plus peoples and ethnic groups which have been inhabited the Russian Empire and the modern Russian Federation. Part of the exhibits characterizes peoples’ culture from Europe and Asia. The main part of the exhibits is made of bone and antlers. This kind of the organic materials distinguish by great variety: mammoth and walrus tusks, sperm whale teeth, whalebone, domestic animals’ bones, birds’ bones, fish bones, crustacean claws, and turtles’ shells. Antlers, fangs, mammals’ claws and skulls often had a sacral meaning and were used in different rituals.
Many Eurasia peoples widely used objects and utensils made of hollow horns: saltcellars, vessels for drinking, nursing bottles, powder horns, pipes, needle cases. Due to horn shape and good quality of sound, horns were often used as a wind music instrument.
Various objects were made of horn plate: flatware, umbrella and walking cane handles, spectacle frames, combs, brooches, paper knifes and many other things. This material was easy in turning work; it combined with silver and other metal, enchased with mother-of-pearl. Also horn plates were used to fake very expensive turtle shell. Pieces of horn were usually decorated with engraved floral and geometrical ornaments.
Bone as an ornamental material widely used in traditional hunting, stock raising and agricultural cultures in Eurasia. Along with bone handicraft industry, also, there were special artistic bone carving centers.
Original pieces by northern masters bone cravers showcase the leading bone craving centers in Russia: Russian centers (Kholmogory vil. Arkhangelsk Governorate),Yakut center (Yakutsk), Chukchi and Eskimo center (sett. Uellen on Chukotka). The pieces that are shown at the exhibition present objects from everyday, fine art objects and religious articles.
The displayed exhibits reflect the developmental stages of bone carving among various peoples, showcasing the diverse technical and artistic styles of the material. The works represent many types of carving (tracery, relief, bulk, coloration and engraving) as well as decorative methods (staining, inlaying foil, mica or fabric).
Amber occupies an important role in the life of Baltic States, objects of amber often met in the everyday culture, folklore and traditional art of the Letts and the Lithuanians. Amber adornments are the perceptive part of the traditional costume of the Baltic peoples. Created between 1950s – 1980s, the Russian museum of Ethnography’s collection of Baltic amber from leading Lithuania and Latvian jewelers is the only complete collection in Russia. the assortment of traditional works includes beads, earrings, necklaces and collars, bracelets, pendants and men’s accessories (tie tacks, cuff links etc.).
The displayed works illustrate the various qualities of the initial amber (transparent, smoky, ivory, brown, bubbled) and the various methods used for working these materials. The aesthetic possibilities and intrinsic beauty of amber is often utilized in its natural form in the finished work. Suck keeping to the natural structure of the stone with the occasional addition of engravings, is characteristic of the Lithuanian jewelers. Combining the amber with other materials such as bone, wood, metal, or even plastic is characteristic of the Latvian jewelers. The Latvian masters turn stylistically to archeological models, developing then a tendency in their art toward historical reconstruction. The amber samples of particular value are those containing air bubbles, plants and insects remains, captured roughly 50 million years ago.
Seashells and river mollusks were widely used by many peoples for decorating clothes, headdresses, and footwear. Decorations from such materials were particularly valued. Folk traditions claimed that seashells were endowed with mystical power, were kept for fertility, long life and prosperity. This illustrated in the bridal necklaces made from conch shells. Shells were also used to decorate tack equipment, bridles, saddles, saddlebags, and etc. Large long spiraled shells served as ritual music instruments.
Mother-of-pearl, a white and translucent bi-product of shell, is the most popular of decorative craft materials. The white variety comes from the thick grain of shell walls. The translucent variety comes from small, thin-walled specimens. Namely, this variety was used from inlay, creating a tinted rainbow effect. Masters cravers soon adapted it for the ornamentation of weapon and other applied arts.
The pieces from the collection showcase the highest level of the handicraft based on the knowledge of natural materials, artistic taste, and fine sense of proportions, which appeared in the decoration of the objects. All this compose a tradition we inherit from the masters of the past. This tradition could be very useful and inspiring for contemporary fine-art artists, who work with the natural materials.