Things aren’t so good these days in Sergiyev Posad, the small town in northeastern Russia that is generally considered to be the birthplace of the matryoshka, the iconic nesting dolls that represent Russian folk culture and a simpler time, generally.
The wooden, black lacquered dolls that come in sets with each one fitting just so inside the next have become an endangered species, squeezed as they have been off vendors’ shelves by cheap plastic knock-offs from Asia and now threatened by the global economic slowdown.
The dolls are produced by hand in small factories or in workshops by artisans that have spent years learning to use a lathe.
“The matryoshka is our face” to the world, Galina Subbota, the town’s deputy mayor told the Washington Post. “Even if it is not economically profitable, we can’t allow it to disappear from our lives.”
But in the setting of the Great Economic Crisis, souvenir shops have slashed orders and the tourists have all but vanished. Recently, nesting doll producers approached Moscow for financial aid which is necessary, they say, to save the industry from extinction.
In response, the Kremlin pledged to buy nearly $30 million worth of the dolls and began requiring officials to distribute them as gifts.
But the artisans view the largesse with skepticism and have indicated they would prefer that Moscow cut export taxes and make it easier for them to obtain existing subsidies.
“For 12 years, I’ve heard the government talking about support for folk crafts,” Oleg Korotkov told the Post. The director of Semyonovskaya Painting, a nesting doll manufacturer that has seen sales drop more than 90% added, “unfortunately, there’s never any real help.”