Nesting Dolls History

Russin Nesting Dolls
While many children still receive a set of wooden nesting dolls as a toy to be used for entertainment, the history of these handcrafted items is actually quite fascinating and historically important. Because they most recognizable and intricate nesting dolls were created by skilled Russian artisans, they are commonly known by the Russian term matryoshka. This is typically true regardless of where they were actually created.
A Brief History

The matryoshkas are basically hollow wooden dolls with smaller wooden dolls that nest perfectly within the largest one. They were handcrafted and given as gifts or sold in the market place since 1890, when Vasily Zvyozdochkin carved the first one in Russia. It depicted a mother with seven children and was designed by folk painter Sergey Malyutin as a reference to the plight of a peasant during the turn of the century. Mother Russia was not only cold in climate, but also in political views and economic limitations.
The intricate and elaborate designs may be identical on each of the nesting dolls, or they may differ slightly as the sizes change. In most cases, the largest doll portrayed an elderly woman, or 'babushka', which means 'grandmother' in traditional Russian. As the dolls decrease in size, the appearance also changes because the dolls begin to have younger and younger features. Ultimately, the smallest doll in the set appears to be an infant.
The stories that were created as a result of the design of nesting dolls varied by designer and family members. Some were used to explain the meaning of life, while others gave a rather distorted depiction of how babies were born. The Japanese nesting dolls were often ornately displayed to celebrate special events and as a memorial for past lives, the fluidity of life, and the constant struggle of specific social classes.

National Pride
The Japanese nesting dolls were the first to spark a trend of items that were painted to reflect national colors, cultures, and even landmarks. The Japanese and Russian nesting dolls are still largely considered to be the most genuine examples, but there are versions commemorating Mexico, Spain, the Netherlands, and many other countries. In addition, nested dolls are created to honor specific religions, holidays, and popular culture icons. It is not uncommon to see stacking dolls that pay homage to favorite musicians, sports teams, and other famous figures.

Evolution of Dolls
Today stacking dolls are highly collectible and can be customized to fit virtually any decor. The traditional nested dolls can be displayed in a variety of different ways depending on personal preference and amount of space available. Although authentic sets are still painstakingly handcrafted, many less expensive duplicates are mass produced and sold to tourists as souvenirs. There is a set of wooden nesting dolls available for every nationality, culture, hobby, and event that a person could consider. Blank sculptures are also available for individuals who love an arts and crafts project and want to create a completely custom item.

Among the several things that form an integral part of the Russian culture, its handicrafts play an important role. While there are several things that are symbolic in the Russian culture, the Russian Matryoshka is perhaps the most used among them all.


As we all know these handmade dolls were first introduced inside late 1890’s by European artists after being inspired by the Japanese art of producing Fukuruma figurines. The first Matryoshka doll was representative in the Russian peasant woman characterized by her robust figure together with her large brood. Matryoshka was a very popular name among peasant females when these dolls have been first made.

When the artisans made these dolls, little did they know their dolls which were initially made as a source of entertainment for children, would become a popular collectible, throughout the world. Today these Russian dolls often require a proud place in every doll collector’s shelf. A few antique ones are regarded as auctioned for millions with dollars.

Modern day versions of these dolls differ from the traditional peasant person to pop icons and political figures and even Disney characters.

While a perfect nesting doll consists of 5 dolls, each nestled inside other, there are some (albeit a little expensive) that comprise about 70 dolls inside them. These are often considered prized possessions and frequently handed down from generation to generation as friends and family heirlooms.

These dolls are characteristic with the Russian artisan’s attention to help detail and intricate needlework. There are several different styles, each with its very own signature style. Popular for a souvenir among people viewing Russia, these dolls have often been popular items for weddings.

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