Sunday, July 01, 2001

Nesting dolls finely crafted in Russia




By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

        Who: Richard Ross, 49, of East Walnut Hills, a student of Russian culture and collector of Matryoshka, popularly known as Russian nesting dolls.

        On display: Seventy-five of the plump little handcrafted characters.

        Where: Most are kept in a lighted display case in the entry hall of the home he shares with his wife, Janet, their daughters Meredith, 15, Allison, 14, and the family dog, Sandy. Others are scattered throughout the living and dining rooms.

[photo] Richard Ross has 75 Matryoshka dolls
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        It's a small, small world: Mr. Ross' interest in Russia began when his daughters were students at the Academy of World Languages. A Russian exchange student stayed with the family in 1996, and they visited Russia for the first time the next year.

        “That's when I first started seeing the dolls,” Mr. Ross explains. “I just fell in love with them.”

        A family affair: “They are wonderful collectibles,” he continues, “Because they are not very expensive and they are highly crafted. Sometimes families make them. One woman told me that she paints the faces, but her daughters do the bodies.”

        “The detail on each one is just amazing,” he adds. “Each doll has its own expression and character.”

        A prize inside: Mr. Ross' Matryoshka vary in size from less than one inch to nearly a foot in height. Some have as many as seven pieces; each nested inside the other. Several are not “nesting” dolls at all. In these a large one opens to reveal many tiny “babies” all of the same size.

        Regardless, most of them are carved from birch.

        “Birch is very common over there,” Mr. Ross explains. “The Russians are famous for their birch trees. They live longer and grow twice as big as ours.”

        Brrrrr! Most of Mr. Ross's Matryoshka were purchased at outdoor arts and crafts markets. “I bought a bunch a few years ago in the middle of December,” he says. “I just about froze my fingers off because it was 20 below zero.”

        “But I'd do it again,” he laughs. “Because the best ones are outdoors.”

        So many choices: With so many to choose from, how does he decide which dolls to buy?

        “I look for a good face but also the overall design,” he explains. “Sometimes the body does not equal the face, or maybe the painting is good.”

        “In the end,” he says, “I buy what I like. The dolls speak to me, in a way. In them I see the unique Russian culture, our former enemy who has so much potential and such wonderful deep emotions.”

        Share your prize possessions with Marsie Hall Newbold by mail: c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer, e-mail: marsolete@aol.com.
       

       



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