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Mstera Style Lacquer Boxes

The Old Russian village of “Mstera” is situated near the Klyazma River about 65 miles from the historic Russian city of Vladimir, (which served as the Capital of Russia for two years during WWII). The rugged terrain and rather hostile environment lead to the Russians living there to pursue subsistence farming, crafts and trade in goods with surrounding cities, primarily Vladimir and Moscow.

Mstera style lacquer is quite different from its cousins Fedoskino & Kholui. Although all lacquer box styles experienced similar historical challenges with the onset of communism in Russia, Mstera truly embodies the combined styles of Old Russian master artists and traditional folk art. As Mstera icon painting declined in the 20th century, the Russian folk handicraft of Mstera miniature lacquer began to grow and develop its unique style. Mstera or Mstyora miniature painting is done with tempera paints on varnished articles mostly made of papier-mâché or wood. The Mstyora miniatures usually represent characters from real life, folklore, literary and history works. The Mstyora style features a clear realism, with warmth and gentleness of colors, realistic depth of the landscape backgrounds (often with blue valleys in the background), relatively small human figurines, and a subtle framed pattern usually completed in a modest amount of gold.

The lacquer boxes from “Mstera” also usually have lighter colors and the painting backgrounds are never black (although the lacquer box itself is). Some of the most common backgrounds for all artwork are: light blue, red, gold or ivory. Unlike Palekh, Mstera is famous for its wide range of compositions; also every Mstera artist will have a slightly different artistic style. For example, while some artists paint dynamic and colorful scenes from old well-known fairy tales or historic events, others concentrate their skills on exquisite floral designs. Creating a high-quality lacquer box is a long seven step process. Each box is covered with three or four layers of high gloss lacquer (usually black on an outside and red lacquer on an inside of the box). In the process of miniature painting, most artists use several sets of brushes of various thicknesses and very strong magnifying glasses. Finally, artists polish each box to make it extra smooth and shiny.