Posted: 27.01.2022 15:26:00

Straw masterpieces

Folk craftswoman Olga Reut creates solar miracles from straw

The works of the talented Olga Reut from Gorodok captivate at first sight. She turns the gold of the Belarusian fields — straws — into airy spiders, elegant headdresses and even ... shoes for Cinderella.

50 shades of gold

Olga Reut is a member of the Belarusian Union of Folk Art Masters and one of the few who stood at the origins of the Gorodok Centre of Crafts and Folklore. According to Olga, she has been here for almost 30 years, “All this time I have been conducting lessons in a studio on straw weaving, a craft that I undertook by chance. After college, and I am a primary school and fine arts teacher by profession, I got a job as an artist designer in a library. One day, a nice headband made of straw was brought to us for sale. It was easier to open a wallet, but colleagues tried to motivate: ‘We have books about straw crafts, you have a suitable specialty. Try it and see if it works’.” 
The first try, that is, the headband, turned out to be good. The girl was offered to take courses in straw weaving. Soon Olga was already teaching others how to work with light natural material. Of the advantages of straws — the result is visible literally from the first lesson. Even a beginner can use a guiding star-charm or a simple golden spider.
“Both kids and older people go to my studio,” smiles Olga. “The oldest participants are over 70, and they are still full of energy. Take at least my mother, who took the intricacies of the craft over from me. By the way, she received a church blessing and now, like me, she weaves frames for icons.”
There are still enough nuances in straw art. Let’s start with the materials, says Olga, “When the studio was just opening, we were lucky to make a strategic reserve. The owner of one of the village huts gave away several sheaves with which he changed his mind about covering the roof. We have worked on this material for several years. Of course, we have been harvesting straw ourselves for a long time, leaving the whole team on the field.”
No harvester — only old school, only sickles! It is important to collect the straw at the right time in the summer so that it is wax-ripe and has not been exposed to rain too much. This is exactly what we need for weaving. Later, after cutting, it will reach the condition under the sun. A couple of green sheaves will also be left — for the beauty of future products. Olga Reut is sure, “The more shades in the works, 
the more interesting they are. Nature is an inventor: our gold fields are not only the usual yellow, green, but also purple, pink, lilac and other colors.”

Spider for luck

The creative streak of Olga Reut is hereditary. Her mother is a real craftswoman, and her father was a word artist, editor-in-chief of a local newspaper. Our heroine recalls, “I have been drawing and embroidering since childhood. When I was little, while my mother was not at home, I secretly sat down at her sewing machine more than once. Later I learned to make stuffed toys, studied patchwork. The latter has an interesting history. Grandmother on my father’s side also knew this technique, which is proved by a pretty patchwork carpet in a family photo.”
With straws, Olga Reut did not have the love at first sight. At first, there was interest, a desire to see a spark, a perspective in the craft, she admits, “Many of my pupils are already bright masters themselves. For some, straw weaving has helped them find their life’s work, while others have become artisans and offer hand-made products for sale.”
Olga notes that personally she is closer not to the souvenir, but to the traditional direction. The Centre of Crafts and Folklore has just prepared a project for the preservation and development of authentic technologies of straw weaving and spiral weaving in the Gorodok District.
Among the works of Olga Reut and her students there are many dedicated to church and folk holidays.
“Look, a traditional spider,” the craftswoman picks up the golden beauty. “This straw charm is an attribute of Christmas among the Slavs. The whole family sat down and weaved this together. It was put in the most honourable place of the house — the red corner.
It was believed that in a year such a spider takes all the troubles and misfortunes into its straw nets in order to burn with them in a bright flame. The Kolyady week, which ended with Epiphany, had its own traditions and symbols. For example, walking with a ‘star’.” Olga says, “Our eight-pointed straw star of Bethlehem is quite suitable for this. By the way, the Centre of Crafts and Folklore developed and conducted its own carolling ceremony.”
There were also the original carol masks of a she-goat and a goat! Usually they were made of leather, birch bark, wood, but the Gorodok craftswoman habitually took up the straw. Now her products are the highlight of any folklore programme and photo shoots.

Crown and shoes for ... Cinderella

With skill, perseverance and diligence, masterpieces are born from straw. From elegant paintings and tableware to intricate wicker boxes, flowers and decor. Olga Reut’s specialty is straw hats. It is for them that she invariably receives awards, including during the Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk. The craftswoman can do almost anything: caps, wimples, large-brimmed hats, even straw mitres of clergymen. The woman takes care of the first headdress she made, “This is a sunny straw hat, my gift to my father for his 60th birthday. Dad is gone, but the dress seems to keep his warmth...”
The original development of the craftswoman is the bride’s wedding wreath, also made of straw. It is based on an old original topped with wax flowers. Headdresses from Olga Reut can be admired in the courtyard of the City of Masters during the Slavianski Bazaar. Products of the Gorodok Centre of Crafts and Folklore do not go unnoticed. 
 “Stars also visit us,” continues Olga. “One of the most memorable visits is a meeting with Lyudmila Zykina, Nadezhda Babkina. My crown ‘for the princess’ was bought by festival guests from Italy. The girl thought hard before she decided to try on the ‘exotic’ item, but after putting it on, she beamed. Blonde curls, gold straws, well, she looked just like a queen!”
And once the craftswoman received an order for the princess’s shoes. A romantic buyer decided to please his beloved in an unusual way. They turned out to be not crystal, but straw shoes for Cinderella.

By Anna Naumova