CORNCOBS TO COSMONAUTS: Redefining the Holidays in the Soviet Era
November 9, 2018 – January 27, 2019
The Museum of Russian Icons is presenting an exhibition of over 150 Soviet-era ornaments from November 9, 2018-January 27, 2019. Mostly donated by collector Frank Sciacca, the decorations come from the former USSR and will be displayed alongside various sizes of “New Year’s Trees” along with toys, books, and cards that will transform the Museum’s West Gallery into a winter wonderland.
Following the Russian revolution in 1917, the anti-religion Bolsheviks discouraged Christmas and New Year celebrations in the Soviet Union, the gift giving and extravagance that accompanied the holidays came to symbolize the greed and excess of the bourgeois. The tradition of celebrating Novy God (New Year) re-appeared in 1935 as a secular holiday that would symbolize Soviet children’s prosperity and happiness. The New Year’s tree, or yolka, was repurposed as the central symbol of the celebration but with all religious references removed.
The Red Army’s ruby star replaced the star of Bethlehem on top, and the tree was decorated with non-religious shaped ornaments such as animals, plants, Kremlin architecture, airplanes, and the hammer and sickle. After the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, figures of cosmonauts, rockets, satellites, and planets became popular. Ornaments that celebrated the country’s achievements in agriculture, like peppers, grapes, and carrots, were sold during Nikita Khrushchev’s time–the most popular being corncobs because of Khrushchev’s “corn campaign.”
The Russian fairytale figure, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) was said to travel in a horse-drawn sleigh with his beautiful granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden), to deliver gifts to children across Russia. In the early years of the Soviet regime, the Ded Moroz was an unacceptable link to old Russia. In later years he became the symbol of Novy God a move taken by the government as a way to stop the advance of the western tradition of Santa Claus. Ornaments and statues of Ded Moroz, sometimes with Snergurochka, became favorite decorations for New Year’s trees and family rooms during winter festivities.
Matryoshki in Winter
October 19, 2018 – February 17, 2019
The mini-exhibition, Matryoshka in Winter, features a selection of nesting dolls from the Museum’s collection that celebrates Russian winter and the Christmas season. Some dolls in this exhibit tell the story of Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden who is said to bring joy and presents to children on New Year’s Eve. Other themes will include Santa Claus, nutcrackers, and the joyful activities of Russian winter.
The bright colors, distinctive shapes, and creative concepts of Russian nesting dolls have delighted children and adults alike for over a century. The toys are recognized around the world as the quintessential Russian souvenir. Contemporary independent matryoshka artists developed unique and creative styles, taking their work beyond traditional patterns and themes. Transcending the boundaries of conventional Matryoshka production, they elevated the medium from a craft to fine art.
Nesting dolls make an entertaining medium for storytelling and artists sometimes paint detailed pictures on each doll so that the story progresses as the matryoshka is opened, depicting elaborate stories from the daily lives of Russians to famous fairy tales.
The Romanov Liturgical Silver
October 19, 2018 – January 13, 2019
This extraordinary set of Orthodox silver liturgical implements were part of the Imperial dowry of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna Romanova (1853-1920), daughter of the Russian Emperor Alexander II. She married Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1874, and used this set in her private chapel in a British royal residence in London.
Recently completed attribution attested the set’s Russian Imperial and British Royal family provenance, uncovered rich history of its creation, and reestablished its historical significance as an example of Russian Neo-Byzantine style.
Commissioned by the Cabinet to the Russian Imperial Court, the set was created by one of the leading purveyors, the Saint Petersburg firm of Nicholls & Plincke known as Magazin Anglais. Based on designs by the Imperial Court architect, Professor David Grimm, it was recognized by its contemporaries as distinguished by the subtlety and elegance of its artistic execution.
The Art of Alexander Gassel
May 20, 2018 – January 6, 2019
The Museum will be exhibiting the contemporary paintings of Russian-American artist and designer Alexander Gassel, May 20, 2018 – January 6, 2019. Blending the avant-garde with traditional Russian iconography, combining ancient symbols with contemporary subjects, Gassel creates surrealist works that reflect his cultural heritage alongside his experience of life in America.
Gassel’s painting style is derived as much from icon painting as it is from his discovery of the early 20th Russian painters such as Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich. During the Soviet period, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and other stylistic European trends were suppressed. Gassel (1947), who was born and raised in Moscow, describes seeing the works of Chagall and Malevich surreptitiously in storage areas of Soviet museums. Additionally, it was forbidden in the Soviet Union to exhibit contemporary religious paintings.
In his work, Gassel uses ancient techniques employed in the creation of icon paintings. He paints with egg yolk tempera, making his color pigments by grinding natural stones and minerals, such as malachite, cinnabar, or lapis into powder, which he then mixes with egg yolk. The artist often applies gold or silver leaf on the paintings.