When I think of Siberia, I think of one of my all-time favorite movies and books: “Dr. Zhivago.” I can see the train chugging through the frozen countryside taking Dr. Zhivago and his family to the ice palace in Varykino in the Ural Mountains. I’m not sure if he ever was actually in Siberia, but the scenes matched my imagination of what Siberia looked like.
Recently I saw a Methow Buy Sell Trade post with a description of birch bark containers made in Siberia and my curiosity was piqued. I arranged to meet the seller, who turned out to live right down the road in a place tucked up against Lucky Jim Bluff. Yelana Nicolazzo has a special connection to the lovely handmade products from Russia that she is offering for sale.
Yelana grew up in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. Yekaterinburg is the fourth-largest city in Russia. The city was one of the first to accept the October Revolution in 1917 and changed hands several times during the Russian Civil War. Interesting to me, as this time period was the setting for Boris Pasternak’s novel “Dr. Zhivago.”
Yelana explained to me how the birch bark containers and boxes are handmade individually by artisans in Western Siberia who have learned the secret of the craft that has been passed down from one generation to another. The bark can only be gathered for a short time in early summer and is generally taken from trees that are already marked for cutting. The birch bark blanks are cut and depressed to create multiple layers and lacy designs. The blank boxes are decorated by a technique of stamping with metal dies. Birch bark is waterproof and has antibacterial properties making the containers useful for storing such items as grains and spices. Other boxes are perfect for jewelry or other small keepsakes.
Another Russian product that Yelena is offering is the traditional Matryoshka nesting doll. She recalls, “When I was a little girl, I always wanted to have a nesting doll Matryoshka, but they were very expensive and my mom could not afford to buy one for me.”
She is happy that they are now more readily available for kids as she describes them as excellent educational toys. Yelena was an elementary school teacher in Russia and, as a teacher, sees the benefits of these toys. Each nesting doll is hand painted and the dolls come in a variety of folk art characters, including animals.
Yelena came to the Methow Valley as a young bride 20 years ago. She still likes big cities like her hometown, but remembers spending summers in a little cabin outside of the city where they went into the forest to pick mushrooms and berries. Thus, she also feels comfortable in small quiet places like Mazama. Combined with her love of nature, her rural life here brings her contentment.
After home schooling her 17-year-old son, Yelena was looking for something new and interesting to pursue. She believes that the birch containers and boxes are perfect décor for the many cabins and homes in the woods here in the valley. She also would like to see the nesting dolls used as educational tools just as they were originally purposed in the late 1800s. In this day of the computer age, a hands-on toy with historical background brings a refreshing change.
To see Yelena’s products or ask her questions, she can be reached at email@example.com.