In Russia’s toy kingdom

Although modern children might be more used to having an XBOX or an iPod as their entertainment of choice, Russian old-fashioned toys have also stood the test of time.

These wooden toys are still being hand-made using age-old techniques in a town near Moscow.

Intimidating as it may look, swinging an axe is Irina Sokolskaya’s everyday job. With the help of simply instruments, she transforms chunks of linden into beautiful toys.

“The linden horse is fixed on a special rest – there’s going to be a spring, and the horse will start to move,” wood carver Irina Sokolskaya told RT.

It takes Irina two hours to make such a toy. For more than 20 years, she has been working at a wood carving factory in the village of Bogorodskoye, some 80 kilometers north-east of Moscow.

The sophisticated craft appeared there nearly 400 years ago when local peasants began to make carved toys first for fun, and then for money. Soon Bogorodskoye shot to fame as “Russia’s toy kingdom”. The toy factory was opened there shortly before the revolution, becoming the heart of ancient tradition.

“Wood is very nice to work with – it’s alive, it’s warm,” production head, Tatyana Titova, told RT. “We mostly use linden, because it’s soft and easy to carve. Everyone who comes here is surprised at how nice it smells inside – it’s the smell of the forest, of nature itself.”

The toys may be fun to play with, but making them is no child’s play. Each one is carefully crafted by hand, using traditional tools. Some toys are painted but some are left bearing their natural colours.

A true local specialty is moving toys – simple mechanisms allow them to jump, dance and do much more. Scenes from rural life and fairytale characters are popular, but the real symbol of Bogorodskoye is the bear.

You will find there bears in all shapes and sizes – and they can all come alive. Among the most popular ones are the sporty bear, the one who is doing the laundry and an absolute classic – the blacksmith bear.

In its heyday, some 300 people worked at the factory. However, after hard times hit during the turbulent 1990s, the business struggled to survive. Now, only 50 workers are employed at the factory.

Still, the producers try to move with the times: together with the most traditional toys that have been made for hundreds of years, some modern versions have appeared – such as a dog with a laptop.

“We carefully preserve the toys’ traditional look. But we also try to come up with new designs, like an inkstand with a clock,” Natalya Viunnik, museum head at Bogorodskoye Wood Carving Factory, told RT. “The good thing is that the interest in the craft is rising. People seem to have had enough of foreign made toys – they want something truly Russian, something made from natural materials. They have suddenly remembered that this craft still exists.”

To fuel its reviving popularity, the factory organizes guided tours, master classes and festivals. Everyone hopes the tradition will go on, so that Bogorodskoye continues to remain the country’s toy kingdom.

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