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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

An Ode to Felt

An Ode to FeltOn the day of the Republic, August 15 in the morning, in the hall of the National Museum of RT, a “round table” conference “Tradition and today in the artistic use of felt” took place. It was a meeting of enthusiastic people; who came not just from Tuva, but also from various regions of Russia.  They were all united by by love of this amazing material which came to the 21st century from the depths of history. If you ask an average young city dweller what objects made of felt he can think of, expect a short answer – felt boots and house slippers, and that only in the best case. But this undeservedly almost forgotten woolen material is now coming out of the shadow of oblivion,  and is becoming again attractive to artists, artisans and craftsmen.  Things that the craftsmen of old times were able to make of it can be seen in a small exhibition from the collections of the museum. It includes not just elegant little felt boots, but also toys, traditional rugs and carpets, entrance “doors” for a yurt which cheer the eye. It is a warm material in the literal as well as in the metaphoric sense, with home-like comfort, enriched with ornaments.

The hosts and the guests discussed not simply the traditions, but also their own relationships to felt, its existence in various parts of Russia of today. It can be said that there were surprising metamorphoses. Literally everybody loved Tatiana Babrasheva’s beautiful cardigan, which the representative of republic Altai proudly displayed. It was a combination of modern fashion with a bow to the traditions. Tatiana Kunduchinovna is the director of the center for development of folk artistic crafts “Enchi” (Heritage), associated with the ministry of culture of RA, and the beautiful object was created by the hands of the craftswomen of this organization. (I also noticed that the only man present could not hold back and asked for contact information to order one like that).

Our neighbors can do a lot of things; they demonstrated what beautiful objects they make  with the help of a film, where  in the nature, during various holidays, costumes of felt were used. They teach at the unemployment center, travel to villages, and thoroughly explain everything. And already 100 people throughout the region started remembering the past, and, with the help of this traditional industry some are already making a living.  The people go to the lessons with pleasure, and when they chance to run into one of the craftswomen on the street, they simply ask: teach me!

The deputy of the head of Ulagan district of republic Altai, Svetlana Konunova told us that this industry was undergoing a renaissance in their area, and that they were even giving international workshops. And they remember: pregnant women are not allowed to make felt. Neither are sick people. And you are not allowed to curse during such responsible work. They follow their ancestors’ instructions to this day.

Candidate of agricultural sciences, Larisa Shimit, docent of Tuvan State University, spoke very interestingly about Tuvan traditions. Felt-making was a collective undertaking, not just family and friends worked together, but even chance passing travelers would join in, to participate in the “birth of felt”. The men would beat the felt with willow and birch switches, and there always had to be an even number of them. They would shake it, beat it, roll it up… today there is a great demand for felt for yurts, and the industry has to be brought back, as Larisa Delger-oolovna remarked.

Many of the participants of the conference reminded that the traditions are coming back to life not just in the center of Asia, but also in Khakassia, Tsengel(Mongolia), and other places. A presentation of Natalia Filimonova from Krasnoyarsk was to the point, emphasizing that this country has many programs of state subsidies for folk industries and crafts, all you need to do is to use them knowledgeably. The easiest way is though grants by the employment services, and through foundations for small and medium enterprises, so-called business-incubators. A third possibility is through the ministry of agriculture, when programs of non-agricultural activities are started in  village area. The main conclusion of the candidate of economical sciences, docent of Krasnoyarsk agrarian university, Natalia Georgievna, was: we need to use the already available possibilities knowledgeably, and the most important thing is – initiative!

The company “Megagroup” never lets an opportunity go by in her town, as its commercial director Ekaterina Shefer told us. They have been working with felt for only two years, but it is interesting even for children. They invented a holiday of “Art-felt boots”, and exhibition “Warm objects”. They became initiated at the “Sayan Ring”. Their clients already know that from felt, even if factory-made, the craftsmen can make remarkable things. These are not simply contemporary felt boots with ornaments, which young people wear with pleasure in cold weather, but also sauna hats, slippers, handbags, souvenirs. “You can make anything out of felt” – Ekaterina Viktorovna believes.

And what beauty it is, we saw on a video-cassette shown by artist Guzel Mukhamedyarova from Bashkiria. A “Poncho” floor-length coat, for example, with a contemporary drawing in a grey-blue hue. Any follower of fashion would be envious. Or the unique rugs of many dimensions and colors. What a beautiful material! There is also a project for teaching this subject in schools of bringing back traditions. Every year there are seminars, exhibitions, and festivals of felt.

The history only 80 years old is tragic. In the ornamentation of the traditional products, solar signs were often used, among them also the swastika. So the members of NKVD traveled throughout the republic, confiscating the “disgraceful” objects and burning them. In the end, only 20 felt rugs at the State Hermitage survived. True, somebody managed to save a few traditional objects, and recently showed them to contemporary craftsmen. Then in 2003 the situation changed. Now children  learn about the theme in art schools. The subject is taught at the pedagogic institute in Ufa.

Guzel Timerbekovna is a member of the Union of Artists of Russia. Foor nine years she has been working with tapestries and batik. And, of course, with felt. She even combines them. She is from Sterlitamak. And she remembers how her grandmother, gave her a huge felt carpet for her fourth birthday. It did not fit into the tiny apartment, and they had to cut it into several pieces; it was a combination of white and black colors.

On the genetic level, her memory recently “switched on” and she started bringing back “Grandma’s science”. She went to Turkey through TURKSOY, and certainly did not waste her time there.

Once a year, in the various beautiful corners of the republic they conduct workshops for those who want work. This time it was in Kapova Peshchera, which is famous all over the world. The locals call it Shulgatash. There are also five lakes in this unique locality and the mythical bird Humai is one of the astonishing attractions. That means that there is plenty of material and subjects for the future once you learn and become immersed in ethnography.

Guzel Mukhamedyarova emphasized that in Tuva, fortunately, the rich traditions have not been lost, and it is necessary to bring back this craft. For that, she wished us to “switch on” our ethnomemory.

A 10-minute film about making of felt in kara-Khol will certainly help. This film was made in five languages by students of the State Lyceum of RT, led by the deputy director Vera Aldyn-ool. A part of it was shown in the auditorium. It is possible that the materials of the “round table” will be published. And that would be useful to scientists, scholars and practicioners.

The conclusion is obvious:  felt is so beautiful! And it deserves the best attention.

Marina Kenin-Lopsan, Tuvinskaya Pravda, tuva.asia, translated by Heda Jindrak
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