By Lyudmila Minakova
It seems that nowadays, only lazy people are not making hand-made things. Here someone makes soap, there someone makes dolls, and another person is making various hand-made woollen articles. These types of crafts have developed to such a scale that the fairs and festivals become crowded for national skilled craftsmen yet, until recently, we did not have specialised exhibitions, the goods for needlework or even shops selling these items.
The popularity of this kind of activity was promoted in many respects by occurrence of the First Belarusian Forum of Handicraftsmen — remesla.by. Belarus magazine correspondent decided to ask its founders, Antonina Yeliseeva and Novomir Kudinov, about how they find their customers, what the basic problems are for modern craftsmen and what new kinds of hand-made needlework is appearing in Belarus.
Platform of adherents
Antonina Yeliseeva turned to needlework after she gave birth to her first child.
“I could not stay at home, simply looking after the kid,” she recollects. “I tried making a scrapbook — creating photo albums and handmade postcards. My husband, having seen my creations, suggested that, instead of a physical presence that I develop a forum for all people interested in handicraft. So in 2011 there appeared the First Belarusian Forum of Handicraftsmen –remesla.by. It became a platform for the communication and exchange of ideas by the masters of handicraft from all over Belarus and neighbouring countries like Ukraine and Russia.”
“We travelled widely across the country,” says Novomir Kudinov, friend of the Yeliseev family and manager of portal. “We happened to meet the most talented people who did interesting work but who did not have ability to publicly show off their hobbies. After all, at that time in Belarus, there were no exhibitions, festivals or handicraftsmen’s shops.”
The country does have the Belarusian Union of People’s Masters, but its participants work basically using traditional techniques.
“We wanted to show that for last 150 years, people have invented a lot of interesting things. Materials, presentations and design and that our perception of the world has changed,” explains Novomir. “New techniques allow us to better express modern realities. There are, of course, masters who use old ‘recipes’ when creating something new, but there are few such masters.”
Price tag — one basic salary
Today, more than 6,000 users are registered on the forum, which helps those people who is looking to find their own vocation, to find what they really would like to do. Here it is possible to learn in detail about different kinds of handicraft, to participate in master-classes and to receive legal support. On remesla.by there is a section which describes in details how to register as a handicraftsman and where to apply.
“In my opinion, Belarus has the ideal conditions for handicraft activity,” says Novomir. “You need to file an application to the internal revenue service at the place of registration, to pay duties in the amount of one basic salary, set up the check book, and that’s all. Then it is possible to start working.”
Probably, the so-called ‘genre crisis’ arises because of such simplicity.
“Let’s have a look at workmanship from another, less optimistic point of view. Nowadays there are not so many handicraftsmen as before. The problem is that some of them start to churn out their works, turning a uniquely crafted thing into a conveyor-belt of products,” Kudinov reasons. “When people cease to search or think and just start copying their work (and sometimes even work of other craftsmen, without being ashamed of it) you can no longer call it handicraft, the meaning is lost in this situation. At this point, what is the difference between workmanship and manufacture?
Currently there is also another issue. At present, needlework master classes are held in every corner of the country but often, the teachers are not so highly skilled. However, even this isn’t a problem.
“A newcomer attends a couple of lessons and, for example, learns how to make earrings from polymer clay. They then immediately come to the trade fair with them, even though they have not mastered the technique properly, treating the handicraft as a source of income rather than creativity. Selling their earrings ‘for a song’, and knowing that these hand-made items won’t live long, they deface true masters by their activity,” explains Ms. Yeliseeva. “Meanwhile, a true master puts their soul and knowledge into each item and, due to their constant and hard working labour, wants that their pieces are highly appreciated. Therefore, they can’t allow themselves to sell their goods cheaply. I wouldn’t like that ‘stuff’, those goods of poor quality, appeared on these craftsmen’s counters; otherwise, interest towards handicraft would disappear overnight. Handicraft isn’t simply ‘stuff’, created willy-nilly, and it definitely costs more.”
This ‘genre crisis’, about which Kudinov talks, is also felt by the consumer. Two or three years ago, a buyer visited exhibitions of handmade products and was surprised, seeing, for example, a watering can designed using a decoupage technique, or a notebook made to look old by using a scrapbooking process. Today these items do not have the same effect anymore, because they want to see something new. It is good that we still have masters who have not forgotten how to search for something new.
“Nowadays, decoupage and scrapbooking no longer cannot surprise anyone,” Antonina Yeliseeva says. “But ‘lampwork’ (artistic design of glass) is seeing an increase in popularity among Belarusian masters, wirework (decorations from copper wire), weaving from newspapers, painting with point-to-point techniques (dotty painting), painting using ‘One Stroke’ (a technique of ‘double dab’) and many other things. We also have masters with great natural talent. One of them, Ksenia Belyaeva, is engaged in painting using the zentangle technique, using simple rollerball pens. It is very beautiful! Her works are even exhibited in the USA. Embroidery, using ribbons with painting of background by oil or acrylic paints has also gained popularity. Such works are very alive and attractive to the customer.”
“I could talk about needlework and workmanship forever,” Antonina continues. “If the destiny of workmanship in Belarus is interesting for you, and you have something to say or share, you know where to come.”