Discover Russian Culture Through Matryoshka Dolls

by Sienna Wildfield

(cc) Jeff Belmonte

“Mommy, where did I come from?”

By the time my daughter asked me this question, she was four and I had been preparing for a couple of years by collecting Russian nesting dolls. I had been picking them up at tag sales and white elephant sales and they’ve become one of my favorite tools for addressing this simple yet complex question. I start with the big doll, her Great Great Grandmother, open her up and pull out her Great Grandmother, open her up and pull out her Grandmother, open her up and pull out her mother, open her up and pull out, well, her. It has proven to be an effective illustration.

“The name [Matryoshka] wasn’t chosen by accident… Matryona (lovingly Matryosha, Matryoshenka) was a very popular and common Russian name for a woman. Also, the word was derived from the Latin “mater” (mother) which was perfectly suited for the toy. “* The first time I demonstrated the concept of maternal lineage to my daughter she stared at the dolls, the little gears turning inside her head… “How did I get in there?” I then did it backwards, replacing the dolls, working back in lineage: this is you, you came from me, I came from Gram, and so on. It was the backwards method that got her engine going and put the concept of lineage into form, and gave me some more time to figure out how to answer THAT question.


(cc) yasmapazMATRYOSHKA MADNESS: Discovering World Cultures in the Hilltowns

Not only can this traditional Russian icon be used to educate your kids about fertility and motherhood, it can also be used to teach them about world culture and customs too. As with our Sand Mandala Workshop that offers explorations of Tibetan culture, Hilltown Families and CAM will be offering a workshop for families to discover Russian culture through the traditional Russian Folk Art of painted Matryoshka Dolls: Matryoshka Madness.

On Sunday, February 10th from 10am-12:30pm, families are welcome to come spend the morning making a family heirloom by painting your own Matryoshka Doll. Stories about the Matryoshka Doll will be read and kids can discover Russian tradition and customs while learning about this traditional Russian Folk Art at the Children’s Art Museum in Shelburne Falls, MA. All ages are welcome. Pre-registration is required by JANUARY 20TH, 2008 ($). Click here to reserve your spot, or call 413.625.2030.


Russia Today did a short piece during Moscow’s International Craft Fair on the Matryoshka Doll that takes a look at the dolls history and origin:


Photo Credit: Orange dolls (cc) Jeff Belmonte: Blue dolls (cc) yasmapaz

2 Comments on “Discover Russian Culture Through Matryoshka Dolls

  1. Beautiful work! You have to love Russian inspiration and craftsmanship. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great books that we’ll be reading Sunday Feb 10th

    The Littlest Matryoshka by Corinne Bliss (Author), Kathryn Brown (Illustrator)
    The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn (Author), Laurel Long (Illustrator)

    Other books that can be used to discover Russian Culture:

    Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer
    The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend by Aaron Shepard
    Sasha’s Matrioshka Dolls by Jana Dillon
    Eyewitness: Russia by Kathleen Berton Murrell

    and for the younger crowd:

    My Little Matryoshkas by Tanya Roitman
    Russia ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Russia by Ann Berge
    Babushka’s Doll by Patricia Polacco

    Don’t forget to register soon!

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