Perm Gods Wooden Sculpture
Komi-Permian treated sculptures with a touching love and awe. They dressed their wooden gods as living – in clothes and wooden shoes, brought them treats and gifts. Permians believed that the wooden gods came to life at night and went to the temple, so they regularly changed shoes of their gods. A rich selection of “Perm Gods” has been collected by Nikolay Serebrennikov. In the 1920s he organized several expeditions to the old villages in the north of the Perm Region for the collection of unique sculptures. Expeditions were not simple. Serebrennikov recalled, “For all the trips I had to travel 5083 miles, of which 2059 kilometers by horses, 2105 by steamer and 919 miles by rail.” Total 195 sculptures have been collected in six expeditions! And that’s not counting the various vintage items.
The first exhibition of wooden sculptures collected by Serebrennikov opened in Perm April 27, 1924, causing a lot of interest. If not Serebrennikov, the “Perm Gods”, as well as other church items, would have waited for the sad fate to be absorbed in a fire during the struggle with religion.
Despite bans on religious wooden sculptures by ecclesiastical authorities (the Orthodox Church believes that the three-dimensional image of the Saints somehow defiles the holy spirit), “wooden gods” for several centuries only multiplied in the Urals churches, in areas where the Komi-Permian lived. Contrary to decrees, top local priests, fearful of losing their flock, did not burn wooden Jesus made by skilled craftsmen, as has often happened in the fight with the Old Believers.
The discovery of this completely unprecedented and absolutely stunning phenomenon – original folk art of Prikamye belongs to NN Serebrennikov – Ural art historian, collector and researcher of wooden sculptures. For 40 years he worked for the director and chief curator of the Perm Art Gallery.
“I clearly remember that day – wrote Nikolay – It was in the village of Ilyinsky of Perm province in 1922. Tired, I was on my way home, gusty wind was blowing. In the rural outskirts in the cemetery chapel along with usual clapping of dilapidated window shutters, I suddenly noticed…. – contrary to the usual, pounded also door flaps. Reluctantly I turned to see what was going on, and suddenly saw something that struck me extremely. The main wall of the chapel was decorated with five wooden sculptures. But they should not have to be here … the figure of Christ with the face of a Tartar especially struck me … ”
October 21, 1923 the local newspaper “The Star” published an article that “To the Perm Museum were delivered up to 100 pounds of valuable monuments of ancient art”. Behind these phrases was a huge human labor, life-threatening and a phenomenal result: 195 rescued and found wooden sculptures.
Thanks to the work of N.N. Serebrennikov, Perm Gallery has a fine collection of wooden sculptures of XVII – XIX centuries, today numbering 370. Wooden sculptures were found throughout Perm region – in towns, villages, in attics and basements of empty churches and chapels. Collected exhibits were shown to the audience. Sculpture produced a great impression, acquired its own experts, connoisseurs, and among them Anatoly Lunacharsky, who wrote the article “Perm Gods”, Academician Igor Grabar, who helped Serebrennikov in all his future work.
Monuments of the XVII century are rare in the collection. The characteristic features of earliest sculptures retain the traditional to the Old Russian art convention. Carver is committed to limiting the generalization of forms, strict symmetry in compositions. Each image is canonical, but at the same time distinctive. Almost comparable, for example, “The Crucifixion” from the village of Vilgort where Christ is depicted as little simple man with a huge nose on a plain face, and the “Crucifixion” from Solikamsk, striking with subtlety and fragility of shapes, some piercing tragedy. Obviously, the wizard had different training and guidance – the first – on the national “soil” art, the second – on the classic Old Russian plastic of XIV – XVI centuries.
The first exhibition of wooden sculptures collected by Nikolay Serebrennikov, was opened in Perm on April 27, 1924, causing a lot of interest. If not Serebrennikov, the “Perm Gods”, as well as other church items, would have waited for the sad fate to be absorbed in a fire during the struggle with religion.
“Descent from the Cross”, village Shaksher, XVIII century. On the stairs to the left – Nicodemus, holding the body of Christ for a piece of cloth, part of which has not been preserved. Bottom left is Mary Magdalene with folded hands on her stomach. Next to her, the Mother of God and one of the Myrrh-Bearing Women Mary the wife of Cleophas, standing on her knees. To the right is John the Evangelist.
This sitting in prison Savior from the village of Ust-Kosva (XVIII century) instead of scarlet – dressed in Permian national blue clothes, looking like a Perm man, created in fact, “in his image and likeness.”
St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk – one of the most popular characters in the history of the Permian wooden sculptures. The defender of the Russian land, Russian God was always depicted with a sword in one hand and a temple – in the other. This St. Nicholas is from the village of Zelenyaty (XVIII century). Probably it is the most famous. Like all “Perm Gods”, this sculpture is shrouded by a tangle of mysterious legends. According to legend, it sailed to the village by the river Nytva upstream. This Nicola Mozhaev was strict and capricious (look at his face) – when it was moved from the village of Zelenyaty to another village, he returned to the old place.
This figure of the Savior from the village of Usolie (XVIII century) was carved from pine. In the inventory of the collection it is written that “the carver did Jesus to look like a rural priest, perhaps the old priest, his quiet and peaceful life seemed ideal for the sculptor”.
Like all ancient Russian plastic, Perm sculpture is a synthesis of sculpture and painting. Painting, similar to iconography as if add what is not said in a flat nominal shape. It makes a sculpture live in space, increases the emotional expressiveness. Perm wooden sculpture is well known, to it are devoted albums and monographs, articles and notes. Perm Gods Wooden Sculpture visited the exhibitions in our country and abroad.
Nikolai Nikolaevich Serebrennikov (8 July 1900 – May 21, 1966, Perm) – an art historian who has devoted his life to the study of the congregation and the Permian wooden sculptures, founder of Ilyinsk District Museum. He served as a clerk in the army of Kolchak; worked as a school teacher in the village of Ilyinsk; 1925 to 1949 – Director of the Molotov gallery, then chief curator. He organized and until 1942 headed the Union of Artists of Perm. During the Second World War provided a storage of evacuees values of the Russian Museum, and the Tretyakov Gallery.
Perm Gods Wooden Sculpture
Magazine Young Artist, #12, 1986; #5, 1987