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Tom's Trip to the Lacquer Box Centers of Russia, 2002:Tour

Trip to the four lacquer box centers of Russia, year 2002 1.0 Before the trip, there was the uncertainty of how the trip would go. 1.1 Would the Aeroflot flight go well? 1.2 What would the accommodations in Russia be like? 1.3 Would we be able to meet many of the lacquer box artists? 1.4 Would my 63 year old body withstand the rigors of the trip? 1.5 Would we see many of these elusive boxes? 2.0 Well the trip is now over, the jet lag is also done with, and I can say that the trip was an outstanding success. All of my goals for the trip were met and exceeded. 2.1 The Aeroflot flight is long,12 hours going and 13 hours return (LA to Moscow). The sun never set going or coming. There is plenty to eat and drink, but in general the flight attendants remained out of sight. Russian immigration is a lesson in patience, but more on patience later. 2.2 The Moscow accommodations were just fine. The view from my hotel window of St. Basils and the Kremlin walls as well as Cathedral square inside was a real thrill. The accommodations outside of Moscow are another story. The main problem being there are next to no options other than the Palekh motel and the one outside of Mstera. In the future I will add TP and a plastic bottle to my luggage. Now remember the motel only cost $3.00 per night, so let that be your measure of its quality. However be it as it may, we flowed with it and a good night's sleep was had by all. After all we didn't come to the villages to lounge in fancy accommodations, but to see the lacquer box factories, museums, and more importantly, the artist themselves--and that is exactly what we did. 2.3 I had sent Gabe wish lists of some 75 artists (spread over the 4 villages) that I would like to meet. It was a list to shoot at and I had no expectation that I would see many, let alone all of them. 2.3.1 Well to start with, in Fedoskino we had lunch with Gennady Larischev and his family. His daughter Elena is a good cook as well as a good painter. While she was setting the meal, Gennady brought out shoe box after shoe box of his works (which are not for sale). He was most interested in explaining the attributes of his works. We also visited him in the Fedoskino factory where he showed us a new box that he was working on. By the way, his work station at the factory is on the fifth floor and I saw no elevators. In Fedoskino we also visited the homes of Sergey Kozlov, Galina and Oleg Shapkin, Alexey Kuznetsov, Yuriy and Yelena Aldoshkin, and Alexey Valyalin. In a short period of time we met 13 artists. 2.3.2 Palekh was the first of the three outlying villages we visited. After visiting the Ivan Golikov house, museum, and the two artist organizations, we were off to visit the homes of artists. The painting studio of Sergey and Marie Gurilyev is on the second floor under a natural skylight. The two of them frequently paint on a piece together and their work is known for its minute detail. They had just finished work on a nine-sided casket. Next we were off to the home of Nina Suloeva where we had a surprise snack (about 5 courses). The high point being a home brew that was something like a sweet vodka and honey from her bee hives. We also visited the home of Yevgeniy Myznikov, who was preparing for his summer garden, as well as Gennady Kochetov. Most meals in Palekh were at the Palekh restaurant which, not only was good, but had large murals of paper mache plaques on its walls. 2.3.3 Khouly was the second remote village visited. It is only 30 minutes from Palekh. We started with the factory, museum, and factory tours. Next came lunch at the home of Sergey Zakharov, his wife, and mother and father-in-law. Again it was a full course meal with all the trimmings. It was Sergey's 39th birthday and a good time was had by all. As Sergey is one of my favorite artist, let's say I was on cloud 9 and the experience will never be forgotten. Thank you Sunbirds. After lunch we went to the Khouly Artist Union where we met many of the finest artist of Khouly. Where else could you see Nikolay Denisov, Nikolay Baburin, and Boris Kiselev sitting side by side. Also there was Michael Veselov and his very large five-sided casket, a real masterpiece. In addition there was V. Romanov, Sergey Dmitriyev, Andrey Bayov, V. Karlov, M. Komarov, Vladimir Sedov, and Nikolay Galda. From there we visited the homes of Victor Yolkin and Andrey Bayov and Sergey Deviatkin in his 4-wheel drive. We lastly visited Svetlana and Yevgeniy Vlasov 10 km outside of Kholuy. Their third child was just 4 weeks old . The day was finished with a 180 km run to a village just beyond Mstera. 2.3.4 Mstera was the last village visited and again we started with the factory and their two museums. Then it was on to the Artist Union where we meet Andrey Grachev Yuriy Vavanov, Olga and Konstantin Strunin, Valentin Tikhomirov as well as Vladimir Moshkovich. Than it was off for Shashliki (aka Shish-kabobs) on a hill top overlooking Mstera in a distance. That was an experience in itself (Thank You Sunbirds). The afternoon was spent visiting the home of artists such as Lev Fomichev and Olga and Konstantin Strunin who share Lev's home with him. Lev is probably the most decorated lacquer box artist currently living and he delighted in showing off his many gold medals. He also talked at length about the natural minerals he uses to make his paint pigments. He was working on a number of boxes which will be shown at a special showing of his work this winter. He said he needed to finish twenty works for the expo. Next we went the Molodkin household where we met and talked to the father Vladimir and the eldest and middle son Denis and Daniil respectively. The youngest son Nickolay was still at the Mstera art school. This family is a real force in Mstera art today. Then we continued on to visit Vladimir Shalaev, Anatoliy Shirokov, and lastly the Piotr Sosin family. The trip to the villages was ended with a 180 km drive to Suzdal. 2.4 How did my 63 year old body take this trip? Really very well. I got over the cold I started the trip with. I never had a case of heart burn, and my ankles only swelled up after the 13 hour trip home. However here are some words of advice for those who follow after our pathfinding group. This is not a Sunday outing, but a trip to small remote villages. These villages have only limited abilities to handle medical prob-lems etc. Please don't under take such a trip if: 2.4.1 You can't withstand a 200-300 km car trip over roads filled with bone jarring pot holes. 2.4.2 You take medications and it would be hard to maintain your medication schedule with a 11 hour time shift and going full tilt for at least 12 hours per day. 2.4.2 You can't be on your feet walking and standing for up to 12 hours per day. 2.4.3 You are used to the easy American way of life and would be put out having to rough it. What the village people lack in worldly goods is more than made up by their honest hospitality. They are some of most loving and giving people I have ever meet. 2.4.4 You really get upset with bureaucracy. Just go with the flow and reach down for some more patience. They will sort it out in time, it just takes 3 times as long. 2.5 Yes we saw lots of lacquer boxes, in museums, in the factories, at the Artist Unions, and in the artists homes. We saw boxes 100 plus years old, ones just finished, ones not polished yet, and ones still in work by the artist. At the museum we saw many of the boxes which are in the lacquer box books. At the Artist Union we saw boxes by the leading artists of the day and yes some boxes were available. In the artists homes were some finished boxes, some finished but not polished yet, and almost everyone had works in progress. Again some of the works were available. I bought one box which has to go on tour and I hopefully will see it early next year. Another just has to be polished and shipped here. I estimate that we saw 50+ artists, most of them being from the Lacquer box Hall of Fame. 3.0 General Comments Sunbirds, I think you outdid yourselves. You made it possible for me to go on a trip to somewhere I had no way of going by myself. Everything I had hoped for, you made possible and I have no complaints. I will treasure my meeting with G. Larischev, G. Kochetov, S. Zakharov, and L. Fomichev for as long as I live. Three cheers for Paul, Alexey, Gabe, and Jim. --Tom