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What is Khokhloma?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2016
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Khokhloma is a Russian handicraft that involves a highly stylized painting style applied to any number of different objects. In almost all cases, khokhloma painting involves a black base with red and gold painting over the base. Sometimes other colors are included as well. While khokhloma-style painting is usually seen on lightweight wooden furniture and tableware, it is sometimes seen on unique items like wooden animals or jewelry.

One of the main benefits of khokhloma is that it can be used to make an inexpensive object appear glamorous and heavy. For this reason, it is often considered a craft rather than art. Traditionally, none of the materials used for khokhloma objects are expensive, so these items could be affordable for many people. While the paint used in khokhloma is often gold in color, it does not have any actual gold particles, keeping the cost of paint down.

Many different subjects are considered appropriate motifs for this style of painting, but some are more popular than others. Flowers are extremely popular, and abstract nature-influenced designs are very common. Fruits, such as strawberries and grapes, also appear on many items. Typically, all designs are depicted in shades of red and gold over black, even if the item being depicted is not gold when found in nature.

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The specific style used in the painting depends on the artist who made the item, but rounded, flowing motifs are almost always used. Very few items use straight lines as a primary design theme. Even the physical items that are painted are typically rounded rather than straight. When straight designs do appear, they are usually used as borders around the more ornamental painting.

While dishes are common objects in this art form, other items can also be painted in this style. Jars, scoops, and furniture are all decorated in this painting style, some taking on highly unusual shapes and designs. Serving dishes shaped like birds and other animals, for example, are somewhat common among khokhloma style items. These decorative serving dishes are often extremely ornamental and valuable.

For a long period of time, this painting style fell out of favor among the traditional community that made these items. It has since been embraced as a cultural handicraft as well as an artistic endeavor. The traditional motifs and color schemes associated with this craft are nearly iconic of Russian handicrafts for visitors to this country, and many people bring home fine examples of these items from their travels abroad.

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