National crafts are Belarusian calling cards
Every time I visit my Lithuanian relatives, I know just what to bring as a gift. I remember their request to bring ‘something Belarusian’ and immediately go to one of Belkhudozhpromysly’s shops.
I’m always delighted at the embarrassment of riches in Kuferachak store. This time, I see a wooden box embellished with Belarusian ornaments in straw; it will be ideal for my sister’s costume jewellery. My aunt will be glad to receive linen napkins in a traditional red colour. I’ll give my uncle a ceramic statuette: a cheerful, whiskered man. My small niece will love a beautiful Belarusian doll, made from woven straw. It looks like it has arrived straight out of a fairytale…
The shop offers plenty of items made from straw and willow, as well as painted timber, embroidered rushniks, table cloths, national shirts and belts. Each is symbolic of Belarus and of our national traditions, carried down through the centuries…
In 1993, Belkhudozhpromysly — a state concern and the country’s major manufacturer of such souvenirs — was founded to revive old crafts. It now unites 18 enterprises from various corners of the republic, employing hundreds of artists and handymen, who create unique items. They rely on their great mastery and unlimited imagination.
“Among our enterprises, we have many which are narrowly-specialised. Radoshkovichi Belkhudozhkeramika manufactures only ceramic items, while Brest’s Slavyanka creates only wooden boxes and backgammon and chess sets,” explains Belkhudozhpromysly Director General Andrey Shamshura. “Others, like Mozyr’s factory, works with fabrics, willow and ceramics.”
Most of Belkhudozhpromysly’s goods are hand-made and are original. They reflect their masters’ souls. People, not machines, work with natural materials, creating souvenirs which are each individual, with their own particular flavour. During the creative process, an artist can generate new ideas, leading to changes in design, expanding the range of goods. Belkhudozhpromysly currently produces over 50,000 items. Each new piece has to be approved by the artistic council before being launched into manufacture, with experts verifying whether it truly meets Belarusian traditions. To stimulate our craftspeople, Belkhudozhpromysly and the Culture Ministry are organising a nationwide contest to design the best Belarusian souvenir this year.
Goods created by Belkhudozh-promysly masters enjoy steady demand, with most Belarusian homes boasting a box, a table cloth, a vase, a basket or some other piece of national folk art. This can be easily explained. Such items were an indispensable part of our grandmothers and grandfathers’ lives, so they can’t be forgotten by us, their descendants. Original national dolls, for example, arouse great interest among buyers — not only because they’re beautiful. These crafts continue the ancient traditions of past times. Peasants used to make children’s toys from straw, flax tow and patchwork.
Foreign tourists are truly delighted
by Belarusian crafts. “Foreigners are frequent guests at our shop,” admits Kuferachak saleswoman Nina Demianchik. “It’s no surprise. On visiting a foreign country, people always want to return with a souvenir.” A statue of the Eiffel Tower is usually bought in France, while an image of Cologne Cathedral is acquired in Germany. Belarus is famous worldwide for its crafts.
Ms. Demianchik’s colleague, Svetlana Borisenok, tells us, “We sell everything: from dolls and ceramic items to national costumes and linen bedclothes. Customers don’t just buy without consideration; they ask about the meaning. They want to understand each item. For example, a straw broom symbolises prosperity in the home while a stork, depicted on a panel, brings family well-being.”
Belarusian stands at international exhibitions abroad always take Belkhudozhpromysly goods, since they represent our country to the rest of the world.
“Our items are currently on show in Moscow, as part of the Year of Belarus in Russia. We have a large exposition scheduled for Shanghai in summer,” notes Mr. Shamshura. “Similar trips help find wholesale buyers for our products and generate profit, since we are entering a new market. However, the major goal is to spread Belarusian culture abroad.”
Belarus is associated worldwide with original embroidered items, and those made from straw and willow, alongside similar crafts. The republic is one of the few countries which has managed to preserve its folk crafts. This truly distinguishes us, while attracting tourists and foreign relatives, like mine. I hope my relatives will enjoy my gifts, since these are of Belarusian origin, as they wished.
By Lyudmila Minkevich