Information About Russian Birch Bark Box Crafts

Birch bark crafts have a long history in Russia and Siberia, but the boxes that you see now have a relatively recent history. In the Taiga forests, the birch tree provides a useful and important local material - birch bark.

Birch is a symbol of the Russian soul.  This slim and subtle tree with a white trunk associates with Russia and its traditions. Since ancient times birch groves inspired not only Russian poets and painters, but also masters of carving.

Birch bark has many useful properties. It is relatively abundant, is easily workable, is waterproof and like most wood products, has antibacterial properties.  The word "Birch" is very old and in most European languages it etymologically derives from Indo-European "white, pure". Birch-bark is not an accidental material. It has been used in Russia for making various things, for writing and for making works of art for many centuries. No one exactly knows how long, but basic traditions of manufacturing the birch-bark (known as beresta) have remained without essential changes up to now.

The birch bark is collected only during a brief interval in June and from trees that have been marked for logging. Birch bark as a medium has properties in between paper and wood. Like paper, the bark can be made into sheets, printed or bent into flexible shapes. Before you get a cream-colored surface as the front side of the work, you must take the birch-bark off the tree (you may do it only in a particular season), and then clear it from the white surface, and turn it inside out.

But like wood, the bark is durable, waterproof and can be carved. The boxes are still hand carved using a variety of special tools. A finished piece is coated with a thin layer of paraffin wax. The boxes are made in turn-of the century style workshops.   

For many thousands of years, the birch tree held a central place in the Russian psychos. The birch tree certainly dominates the Russian and Siberian countryside with it's white bark and delicate leaves. Tributes to the birch tree are found in Russian songs, art, poems and folk tales. In Russian folk wisdom, it was believed that touching a birch tree restored the emotions and helped reduce stress.

Parents made from birch bark special talismans for their children, called igrushki-oberegi, to ward against evil spirits. Russians and other Central Asian peoples used birch bark for everyday utensils and waterproof containers. Slowly, the craft turned from purely utilitarian to become more decorative. Only recently, starting with the reforms of Gorbachev, have the birch bark artists been free to develop new styles. The boxes that you see are a mixture of old and new traditions, with new artistic freedoms.

New one-of-a-kind handwoven and artist signed collectible baskets are added regularly to Simply Baskets.  Since these are one-of-a-kind baskets, when they're sold, they're gone forever. Don't wait to purchase the unique basket you love - buy it today before someone else does!

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