Whilst touring Revolution, the fabulous exhibition of post-revolutionary Russian art, at the Royal Academy of Art, my eye was caught by an exhibit in a glass case. It was an example of papier-mâché and lacquer art – a technique known as Palekh, after the village where it originated. Palekh papier-mâché trays and boxes are beautifully and delicately painted with rural scenes and images based on Russian fairy tales and folk stories.
As a paper geek I was obviously drawn to this little box and the intriguing image on the box which apparently shows life on a collective farm.
Then I realised that I’d seen something very similar before. I’d grown up with one of these boxes in the family home. It moved around with us and always contained lost buttons, drawing pins and bits of broken toys. It had been bought from Palekh by my father when he was in Moscow in the 1950s. As I child I used to gaze at the lovely lady with her glorious golden locks and the potentially threatening hunter with the bow and arrow spying on her. The image was painstakingly painted in beautiful colours.
For a long time I didn’t really believe that the box I so admired was actually made of paper – the lacquer finish makes it shiny and strong and provides a smooth surface for the painter. Well, after the RA show I took a much closer look at the family Palekh box and feel very proud and pleased that we own such an amazing example of this enchanting art form.