Awesome Pavlovsky shawls
At first sight it seemed odd that there should be such an abundance of roses on Pavlovsky shawls. One would expect to find in this dour wooded region to the east of Moscow more ordinary and more modest blooms, the kind an artist might paint from life. Yet here the artist who designed the first Pavlovsky shawl lighted upon precisely this luxurious flower. That established the rose once and for all on the Pavlovsky shawl. But there is an explanation. It stems from the traditions of Russian folk art, with its predilection for images that are bright, festive and magical.
It is more than a century and a half ago since the first patterned shawls were woven in the little village of Melenki, near Moscow, marking the origin of the well-known Pavlovsky shawls and kerchiefs. In 1865 these shawls and kerchiefs won a silver medal at the All-Russia Exhibition of Russian Manufactured Goods. A century later, they were awarded the Grand Gold Medal and a first class diploma at an exhibition in Leipzig.
Fashions change in many spheres — architecture, furniture, and clothing, but the finest items of folk art are eternally young. The old clay toys are priced more highly than new ones, craftsmen today carve wooden figures designed 100 years ago, the old pattern of fairy-tale birds has been transferred to new fabrics — and there is a constant demand for all these things. Evidently the reasons for the popularity of folk art should be sought in man’s natural anxiety to preserve his originality and national coloring.
The artistic traditions of Pavlovsky shawls are carefully preserved in the town of Pavlovsky Posad (near Moscow), where there is a factory with a world reputation. Today, in the archives of the factory’s art studio, there are sketches dating from 1890 done by that fine artist Konstantin Abolikhin. On the basis of Abolikhin’s sketches contemporary craftsmen design shawls which are an essential part of the traditional ensemble of Russian high boots and sheepskin coat and have won great popularity throughout the country.
The Pavlovsky patterns are traditional: clear-cut, contrasting designs with no semitones, densely patterned corners, with slightly less design in the centre, and colour combinations which have established themselves for eternity — red, deep blue, or green on black or white.
The fact that tradition has been preserved does not, of course, mean that all the patterns are identical in character (or even the flower motif itself), for it is not the fashion today to slavishly repeat the style of a long-gone time, but only to hint at it in certain details. At the Pavlovsky Posad factory today, artists are working on designs for new shawls. They use not only Russian motifs, but subjects taken from Georgian chasing, the bright ornamentation on pottery from the Carpathians, and the complex ligature of Armenian stone-cutters. Nevertheless, the focal point of their work remains the development of variations on the old Pavlovsky patterns. Although in our days there is a very rich choice of existing patterns, many artists nevertheless find a trend in traditional style which specially appeals to them and proceed to develop it while orientating themselves on present-day fashions.
The printing workers stretch fine white wool over a large frame in the printing shop. They take up wooden bars with the pattern carved on them and dip them into vats containing various colours — all so fast that it is hard to follow the movements. The experienced eye knows precisely where to put the bars on the textile so that the colours do not run into one another.
Next door to this workshop in which craftsmen print shawls by hand, there is another shop in which photographic printing machines turn out Pavlovsky shawls twenty times as fast. Machine-made shawls are scarcely distinguishable from the hand-made articles, differing in minor details discernible only on a most exacting comparison. Nevertheless . . . nevertheless, the connoisseur always prefers a shawl made by his contemporaries in the time-honored manner. Perhaps it is because in our age, when industrial art is becoming more and more prevalent in the things surrounding us, people turn to handicrafts in the search for something unique which violates the standard.
Russian shawls decorated with fanciful fairy-tale flowers are exported to 36 countries.