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Kholuy Style Lacquer Boxes

The Russian village of “Kholui” is an ancient village located in an extremely beautiful scenic area of Russia. This town is at least 600 years old and it was first officially mentioned in 1546 in an official land deed of Ivan the Terrible. This town was originally famous for Orthodox icon painting. The history is similar to Palekh and other towns… Icon painting nearly died during the communist era of Russia history. The families of artists transitioned to painting lacquer miniatures.

A Kholui miniature is a Russian folk handicraft of miniature painting, made with tempera on a varnished box of papier-mâché. This form of Russian lacquer art is produced exclusively by students of the Kholui School. The official “Kholui School of Icon-Painting” was first founded in 1883. The school continued the local handicraft of icon painting known since the 16th century. As artists transitioned to lacquer box painting after the 1917 revolution, a group of artists formed an association (1933 - 1935) to open a workshop for miniature lacquer art. A new school was also opened in 1943. Subjects for Kholui miniatures vary from Russian fairy tales (e.g. Snow maiden) to architectural subjects. Kholui miniatures seem to be less bounded by tradition than the boxes from Palekh, Fedoskino and Mstera.

The background for Kholui lacquer boxes is usually black, just like Palekh lacquer boxes. The actual boxes go through a seven-step process to produce the finely crafted and very high quality boxes that the artists then paint. The boxes are traditionally finished with a coat of black lacquer on the outside and red on the inside. Lacquer box artists use very fine brushes to paint the extremely fine details. The special paint is a paint made of egg-based tempera. This paint is made in small quantities and very vivid colors. One of the final steps in finishing the boxes is the highlighting, and then painting a filigree design around the box with paint made of gold leaf. The final coat of lacquer is applied and the box is signed with the artist’s name, the theme and the name of the village.

Kholui art is distinguished for its definitive and scenic artwork versus mysterious and more mystical Palekh and Mstera styles. Kholui style utilizes realistic warm colors such as reds, browns, yellow, white and green. This style of lacquer painting is also much more symbolic and will usually contain one main element that stands out above decorative edging or ancillary paining. Kholui art is often considered both more realistic than Mstera, but more decorative versus Fedoskino. Most of the Kholui artists today are 2nd generation artists that have been officially educated and trained by many of the original masters.