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The Art School

Kholui Art School
Kholui Art School

The ancient settlement of Kholui stands surrounded by once-impassable marshes, dense forests, hills, and fields on the banks of the picturesque river Teza. It has a rich history: in olden times it was a centre for hunting and fishing, for the production of salt for the Trinity-St Sergius Monastery, and for the painting of icons for the whole of Russia. The markets and fairs that were held in Kholui were well known throughout Russia.

The process of training Kholui's icon-painters began when they were still young: when a boy reached the age of 9 or 10 he was apprenticed to a master 'for instruction'. A master artist would take several pupils at a time. To begin with the pupil carried out the simplest and most peripheral tasks, which had little to do with the actual painting of the icon. Then he would observe and master the art of icon-painting stage by stage.

Instruction with a master lasted four years. In order to encourage the pupil, the master would give him presents (such as a shirt or trousers) on such occasions as Easter and Christmas.

Once the young icon-painter had got his hand in and was working more confidently, he would be allowed to paint icons for public sale; by then the pupil was already considered a pre-master.

At the end of his period of instruction he painted a graduation piece. This piece of work was the basis on which his skill was judged and it was decided whether he could in turn be called a master artist. In 1882 the Vladimir Brotherhood of the Venerable Grand Prince Alexander Nevskiy set up drawing classes in Kholui, and a year later, in 1883, an icon-painting school.

The year 1917 arrived, and with it came unprecedented attacks on the faith. The profession of icon-painter would be prohibited for a long time, and the icon-painting school was closed down. Churches were demolished, holy places desecrated, icons burnt by the cartload. And then out of the ashes there arose a new form of art - lacquer miniature painting. In 1935 a fine art school was founded.

The school did not last long, because the second world war started. All the young men were sent to the front, and the girls went off to help in the war effort. But in 1943, during the country's hardest times, the Kholui Professional and Technical Art School was opened.

In 1989, the Kholui Professional and Technical Art School became the Kholui Art College for Lacquer Miniature Painting. In the 1990s new subjects were introduced: folk ornament, icon-painting, lettering, modelling. Special attention is now given to the revival of the traditions of icon-painting.

At present the basis of the course is instruction in the traditions of lacquer miniature painting and icon-painting and (in a separate department) artistic embroidery and needlework.

The course of study extends over four years. The main subjects are drawing, painting, composition, icon-painting, folk ornament, the history of art, and, of course, technical skill, to which the greatest attention is devoted. But alongside these subjects students study Russian and a foreign language, as well as natural history and the humanities, so that they acquire a high level of general education in all disciplines.

In their first lessons on the techniques of lacquer miniature, artists-to-be learn how to produce straight, curved, and scrolling lines in pencil, and to copy simple freehand ornamentation. Later they begin to work with egg tempera, studying first the properties and peculiar characteristics of the medium. Their first exercises in colour consist of ornamentation, and then of details of landscape: trees, hills or land, clouds, waves, a group of houses. In the second year they draw birds and animals and study the human figure, also beginning with individual details: folds in clothing, an arm, a leg, a face.

At the beginning of the third year students are already capable of painting a simple miniature in its entirety, and by the end of the third year they can not only copy a complicated model but also, in the composition class, independently create their own miniature on a fairy-tale or legendary subject. At the same time, in the drawing and painting classes, they work on life drawing.

In the fourth year, students paint ever more complicated miniatures, according to their abilities, in preparation for their graduation piece. For the graduation piece they make their own choice of topic. Most often a fairy-tale subject is chosen, but there are also attempts to create designs based on contemporary themes. In recent years students have more and more often turned to themes from the Bible or the Gospels as the basis for their graduation piece.

This article is an abbreviated version of the article by Mikhail Pechkin in the book "Kholui: School of Art and Friendship"

Please see Events and Activities for details on how to order this book.

Exercise stage 1
Exercise stage one
Exercise stage 2
Exercise stage 2
Embroidery from Kholui Art School
Embroidery from Kholui Art School

GALLERY OF GRADUATION PIECES