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Russia’s romantic "Volkhov Painting"

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"Where the rose blooms, love lives," they say in the city of Volkhov, in Russia's Leningrad region.

This proverb refers to local folk painting, which is centred around a rose.

Work is now underway to revive the ancient craft.

A painting workshop was opened in the city of Volkhov in 2019, specifically focused on the traditional Volkhov pattern.

So far, only a few craftsmen work here.

Galina Trifonova is a senior artist at the workshop and has been painting since she was 17.

The flower featured in the painting has come to be associated with love and revival.

Galina recalls a legend that may explain how these ideas originated:

"A young man and a girl lived on the banks of the Volkhov, they fell in love, and suddenly the girl fell ill, no one could cure her. One doctor came and said, 'I cannot cure her,' but a wonderful flower grows along the banks of the river, which can heal a girl, a symbol of love. The young man went to the bank of the Volkhov River to ask the river god to give this flower. And the flower really bloomed. He plucked it, brought it to the girl, the girl realized how much the young man loved her, and with this happiness she recovered," says Galina.

It's not the only romantic notion associated with the origins of the painting practice.

It's believed the art of painting on wood in the Volkhov district began at the end of the 19th century, in settlements on the banks of the Volkhov River.

Various household items were painted this way, but the decoration of spinning wheels was most common.

It's spinning wheels with a blue-red flower that have survived to this day.

The spinning wheels themselves were collected by local historians from the homes of village residents along the Volkhov River.

Its red colour symbolizes fire, blue represents the water of the river.

In Soviet times, the rules of Volkhov patterns were not observed, and the painting was diluted with unconventional colours, according to Yana Galkina, chief curator in the museum department at Pushink cultural and information centre.

Sergei Lebedev, who co-founded a Volkhov painting workshop, says the technique had been unjustly forgotten, but wasn't sure if it was possible to give such an old tradition new life.

"The lifestyle changed in the villages and the art has been unjustly forgotten. It continued its life inside the museums or museum funds, where art historians were writing reports, regional museums were keeping big amounts of artefacts," says Lebedev.

"And we started to ask ourselves, is it possible to revive the craft that was dominant in a certain territory," he adds.

The answer was St. Petersburg.

Sergei Lebedev, who co-founded a Volkhov painting workshop, and his team decided to take Volkhov painting classes to the major Russian city to maximise modern day Russians' exposure to the art form.

And it's not just about painting for posterity, those attending Lebedev's master classes say it encourages self-exploration.

"During the art process, you can look at yourself through an inner process," says attendee Alena Kornet.

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