Both a household item and a work of art, Zhostovo lacquered trays have for decades been nothing short of Russian national treasures.
“We call them ‘hammered trays,’ because unique pieces like this one are made by a master blacksmith,” Mikhail Lebedev, chief painter at Zhostovo decorative art factory, told RT. “For decoration, imitation gold and mother-of-pearl are used. Trays like this are part of our cultural heritage.”
They are known as Zhostovo trays because they are made in the village of Zhostovo, north of Moscow. The craft of decorating metal trays developed in the area in the early 19th century. Such trays come in more than 200 different shapes. Typically, troikas or landscapes are painted on a black background, but the true local trademark is floral designs.
“We use a special multilayered painting technique, where oil paints applied layer after layer – that’s the traditional way to do it,” Lebedev said. “The key is to make the picture look like it shines from within. And although we are inspired by real flowers, we always try to introduce a hint of fantasy, to turn a still-life into a fairy-tale.”
The tricks of the trade have been passed down from generation to generation. A metal tray is coated with background color, then the painting is created: first the initial outline, and then the highlights and details. After that the borders are decorated, and finally it is all topped with lacquer. The intricate stroke work on each tray is unique – no two pictures are the same.
Ever since the craft appeared, artisan dynasties have formed. Having come from a family of Zhostovo craftsmen, painter Zoya Moiseeva has spent the past 40 years honing her skills.
“I was born here, my whole family, all my sisters and cousins are painters,” Moiseeva told RT. “And my grandfather used to make lacquer for the trays. It all seems easy for me now but it does take a lot of patience and time to get your strokes to be soft and precise.”
Today, the Zhostovo tray-painting factory offers tours around the workshops to see how the craftsmen do their magic and discover some of their secrets. Learning to paint like the pros takes years of practice, but at such a workshop anyone can try at least a couple of strokes – special master-classes teach the basics.