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Siberian Birchbark Boxes

A Russian artisan shares his craft by Valery Efimov

The birch tree is a national symbol of Russia, a plentiful resource with deep roots in the life of the common people. But not only the lumber is valuable. Since old times, its waterproof, flexible bark has been used for dishes and baskets, canistcrs, and even boats. In fact, birchbark crafts arc actually more traditional than the matrioshka dolls that tourists often buy.

So how did I comc to work birchbark? My home, Acadcmgorodok—or "Acadcmytown," in Siberia—is built dircctly in a birch forest. At first, my woodland walks were simply a pleasant diversion from my work as a physicist and experimenter. But before long» the patterns and colors of the trees captured my imagination. Now my wife and three daughters help me make the birchbark boxes, trays and jewelry that we give to friends and occasionally sell.

Birchbark occurs naturally in many different shades and colors. By gathering it carefully» wc can preserve these natural colors in our projects, for contrasting decorative effects. The gold-hued birchbark is particularly difficult to gather. There arc only three weeks of the summer when it is loose enough to remove.

After our summer bark harvest, the real work begins. I've improvised nearly 150 different tools for cutting, stamping and burning out profiles in the bark. I make the designs; my wife and daughters do the cutting, stamping and burning. Once all the parts are prepared» I help them assemble the finished product. To make a box, wc glue the first layer of bark to a cardboard or plywood frame. Then wc glue layer upon layer of decoration, to achieve the results you see here.

I'd like to take part in an international exhibition, so more Americans could see my work. But, to my regret, Siberia is very far away from the U.S. Still, I hope... ▲

VALERY EFIMOV is a pfyysicist and artisan in Acadcmgorodok, Russia.

Art from the forest. Valery Efimov and his daughter display some of their intricately decorated birchbark crafts.

Intricate patterns. Each of these boxes is made from layer upon layer of cut birchbark. Most of the colors are natural variations in the bark.

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