For many centuries the traditional crafts that are steeped in legends and tales have brought joy to the Russians because of their skilfully worked designs. Many kinds of folk arts were brought to perfection in the region. Perhaps the most famous one is lacemaking. Even in the Middle Ages Vologda and Veliky Ustyug were noted for their lace. The 18th and 19th centuries are considered to be the golden ages of applied art in the Vologda Oblast. Thus, in the 19th century the Vologodians exhibited their works in Europe. According to the documents from the Vologda Record Office the lace was exported to some European cities. The merchants from Vologda took part in different foreign fairs, e.g. in Philadelphia (1876), Chicago (1893), Berlin (1909), Paris (1925). Numerous invitations, which are kept now in the Vologda Record Office, testify to the popularity of the Vologda applied art.
Vologda lace has won deserved fame and world-wide recognition for its high artistic value, rich ornament, and excellent workmanship. The earliest laces, which have reached us, date back to the 17th century. The lace woven from golden and silver threads decorated rich civilian and church garments and was mostly used by the nobility.
By the middle of the 19th century laces had become widely traded. At the beginning of the 20th century Vologda lace gained its distinctive artistic and stylistic features. The richness and variety of the decorative pattern, the clear-cut easy line of the design, monumentality of forms and predominance of floral motives distinguish traditional Vologda lace.
At the World Fair in Paris in 1937 the Vologda Lace Association was awarded a prize for the novelty and artistry of its lace articles; at the Brussels Exhibition in 1958 Vologda lace was awarded Gold Medal.
The present development of lace weaving in Vologda and in Russia is above all associated with the "Snezhinka" lace firm. The firm employs lace-makers and professional designers. Lace is woven by hand with the help of bobbins. There is a great demand for lace products both in Russia and abroad.
This traditional craft appeared in a small village near the Shemoksa river in the eastern part of the Oblast (18th century). The old craftsmen decorated their caskets and chests with the figures of animals and fairy-tale characters, with the scenes from the life of noblemen and peasants. The handicraft is characterized by simplicity of processing and abundance of cheap materials.
In 1882 the works of the Shemogod craftsmen exhibited in Moscow were a great success. Since that time the Shemogod craftsmen performed the orders of the Russian tsar's court. Today this handicraft is concentrated at the factory Velikoustyugskiye Uzory.
Many centuries ago the people of Veliky Ustyug were engaged in silver blacking - the process of creating a permanent design on the surface of precious metal (niello). Now Veliky Ustyug is the centre for northern niello. This traditional craft appeared in the 17th century. In the 18th century the artisans from Veliky Ustyug were invited to teach Moscow citizens niello art. The style of "baroque taste" prevailed at that time. Pastoral sumptuous hunting scenery decorated all articles. In the 19th century classicism set in. Very often one could see the sights of towns and geographical maps. In the middle of the 19th century vegetative patterns developed. The 20th century contributed greatly to further development of niello. The tradition is now maintained at the Severnaya Chern niello factory that was founded in 1932.
There is a large assortment of flatware sets and dessert sets as well as items for table arrangement that are produced by the Severnaya Chern niello factory: tea, coffee, ice-cream and honey spoons, spoons and forks for children, spoons with the images of horoscope signs, sieves for tea, clips for bank notes, business card holders, vases, water jugs, jewelry and other items. The factory also produces icons - Our Lady of Vladimir, Our Lady of Kazan, St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker, God the Almighty and Sergey Radonezhski.
The unique crafts of Veliky Ustyug have gained international recognition. The art of white and coloured decorative enamel on copper is among them.
Russian enamel has a rich history. Over the centuries of its existence it turned into a precious pearl of the Russian and world art.
The towns of Solvychegodsk and Veliky Ustyug are one of the oldest towns in the Russian North that went down in history as the biggest jewelry centers of enamel production. Solvychegodsk colored enamels were often called "Usolsky" as the old name of the town was Solvychegodsk Usolsky.
Solvychegodsk was founded in the 14th century on the banks of the Vychegda River. In the 16th-17th centuries Solvychegodsk was a big commercial, handicraft and cultural centre of Russia's North. Situated along the way to Siberia Solvychegodsk was developing quickly. Its flourishing was favoured by its strategic geographical situation along the busy water ways and by brisk rise of salt production. From 1796 till 1937 Solvychegodsk was part of the Vologda Oblast.
In the 17th - 19th centuries Solvychegodsk was one of the renowned centres of the church embroidery (veils, altar-cloths, shrouds), chasing, filigree, the "Stroganov School" of icon painting, original school of enamel and book printing.
The art of Solvychegodsk's masters of enamel made a great influence on the development of other jewelry centres. The craftsmen from Solvychegodsk were sent to Moscow to raise the enamel production. The painted enamel articles were sent to the tsar's and patriarchal court. They became precious decorations for the church and public. The Solvychegodsk enamel ware was decorated with embossing, filigree and engraving.
At the beginning of the 18th century when the city lost its economic significance, art of painting on enamel also faded.
In Veliky Ustyug in the 1730-1740s a local variety, the so called "Ustyuzhskaya enamel" was founded distinctive by a big decorative peculiarity that couldn't be found in other centres. The articles of Ustyuzhskaya colour enamel made in baroque style had a form rich in plasticity and picturesque outline. The Ustyug masters by the time designed their own style that is peculiar thanks to its rich vegetable ornament with lilies made by black, green and turquoise enamels on a white background. The halo and framework of the icons, crosses and other church utensils were decorated with such a delicate mosaic.