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Our Special Day—Kholui Art School's 125th Anniversary by Pam Bean

Our day began early. We left the Kovcheg guest house in Palekh at 8.30am and drove to Kholui in our mini-bus. Although it was early the weather looked very promising and so it proved to be throughout the day. Here we were, a group of ten ?Friends? visiting Kholui to take part in and enjoy the celebrations of 125 years since the founding of the Art School.  

We drove across the bridge which has been re-sited since our first visit in 1997. We continued our journey along the road and were greeted warmly on arrival by Mikhail Kholui Art SchoolPechkin (Director of the School) together with Zhenya Grachov (President of the Kholui Master Artists Union) with other members of staff. 

  The entrance hall was bright and fresh. We were introduced to Zhivnostka who had been Director of the Art School for 43 years before Mikhail Pechkin’s appointment. The Gallery on the first floor sported beautiful murals on one wall and opposite was a large plaster cameo of the founder of the School, Kharlamov.  We toured the studio where students were painting their boxes and then we went across to the machine embroiderers’ and dressmaking studio. We were then ushered into Mikhail Pechkin’s office for coffee/tea and sweetmeats. Zhenya was there smiling happily and so was Konstantin Strunin who is the President of the Mstera union of Master Artists. Mikhail presented us with a wallet containing a programme for the celebratory day, a pen, Kholui Art School notebook and a book (in Russian) about the history of the Kholui Art School. This book has many pictures in black and white. Even as a non- Russian speaker I can identify a number of famous Kholui artists and it has given me much pleasure. 

We then moved off to the display room where the Friends of Kholui award winners had their works on display. All too soon we were whisked off to view the new School building which is sited to the side and rear of the current School. It is a major project and hopefully will be completed in 2009. The outer walls, first floor, stairs and roof are in place but time available for building is much shorter than here in the UK because of the Russian winter. 

After the site viewing we hastened to the Museum where, with Ludmilla’s guiding hand, Gerry Kriekenbeek and I were to have the honour of presenting the prizes the Friends were giving to the winning students.  On entering the Museum we found it packed with artists, dignitaries, students, parents of students and teachers all waiting to celebrate Kholui Art School’s 125th Anniversary. I spotted Andrei and Valya Petrov, Pyotr and Olga Mityashin, Nikolai Baburin and other familiar faces. 

The Director of the Museum introduced Mikhail Pechkin, who welcomed all the guests. Mikhail spoke of the Friends’ book. Joanna had sent a sample copy with our group so that Mikhail could see how it was progressing and he displayed it to the assembled company. He was very pleased to be able to show it and explained that the text will be in Russian, English, French and German.  

Ludmilla, our lovely trusty mentor, interpreted where she could, while Gerry and I presented the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes to the winners. Two charming, pretty girls and a handsome boy were the recipients of our art materials. Speeches were made in honour of Mikhail Pechkin and the School and we were all introduced to the new Director of the Studio Workshop, in days passed referred to as the Factory. 

We then had a complete change, because crowded though the Museum was, the Embroiderers/Dressmakers put on a fashion show. The students modelled their own creations. This part of the proceedings deserves more than a mention here and I hope to expand on this in our Summer 2009 Newsletter with photographs. Sticking as much as possible to our schedule we departed from the Museum with hardly time to exchange greetings with Pyotr and Olga. 

Kholui Art School AnniversaryThe next part of the proceedings was planned to take place in the Hall in Yuzha. On the forecourt of the Hall was a choir of babushkas. dressed in national costume, accompanied by an accordionist, singing traditional Russian songs. No two patterns of their dress were the same. After some minutes we entered the darkened hall and were invited to sit in the front rows.  The stage, which was large, had “125” on the back drop with modest flower arrangements either side of the stage. It was very apparent that Mikhail Pechkin, representing the Art School, was the Guest of Honour. He received many accolades in the form of long speeches, citations, gifts and medals.  

Between presentations and speeches there were displays of dancing and singing. Andrei Petrov as President of the Union of Palekh Master Artists paid tribute, as did Konstantin Strunin [for Mstera], the Director of the Rostov Enamel Studio, and Ludmila Pirigova of the Moscow Publishing House. Mikhail Pechkin was presented with a flag complete with a symbolic Firebird and a gold medal, which was pinned on the Flag and positioned at the back of the stage.  

A senior police officer, fully uniformed, complete with uniformed aide very formally presented Mikhail with a cased sabre which was removed from the case and solemnly given, Cossack-style, to Mikhail. Ludmilla had requested that Ray Lawler, as a Friend of Kholui, thank Mikhail and everyone for inviting us to their Celebrations. He did this splendidly because he learnt his speech written in Russian, schooled by Ludmilla. He stood up in front of that large hall full of people and delivered it faultlessly. We were delighted and so were our hosts - because it was a short speech - and they liked the content, of course! Flowers were given and there was more singing from the ladies in their fantastic national dress. 

The proceedings came to an end and we departed by bus to a new restaurant still in Yuzha for a party with tables laden with food and drink. I think by this time we were all pretty hungry. The food was delicious. Many toasts were drunk and whilst we ate we were entertained by yet more graceful dancers. Much to our delight we met Ludmila Pirogova who drank a toast to the Friends of Kholui for our constant support for miniature lacquer art, particularly in our early years and their times of difficulty. 

  We left quite late in the afternoon a bit reluctantly because the party was just getting going. However, we had an appointment with Zhenya and Lena Grachov to keep. We had a superb display of boxes to look at and buy, and a super picnic in their garden with Andrei, Valya, and other wonderful people. 

  What a memorable day and I feel so privileged to have been there.