The leader of studio - Kirill Koltishev
It was somewhere around 1960 in Savino, a village in Ivanovo region. We lived in one of the Eastern streets and if I correctly remember his name, the woodcarver Oncle Vanya lived in the next street. I was friends with his son and often passed by at his workshop.
Oncle Vanya was a carpenter, but especially when his wife came by and also ourselves he dropped everything and started carving toys for us and for her. He was handicapped, probably, from the War, he was an amputee with only one leg. I did not understand it at that time, but looking into the past now, I clearly feel that his wife never stopped to love him despite him being a cripple. It also evoked his tremulous attitude towards her. Instead of flowers, he made toys for her … He carved them with an axe, almost without any other tools. He never sold them. He had a small chest in his workshop that he shut with a key. We also hid our toys in his workshop under the seats and the workbench. However, when his wife came to the workshop, he left everything and opened the chest, and the birds, animals, little soldiers, called truschi, started to emerge out of its depths. At that time he might sit down and cut a new toy for her or for us, one of the kids.
I know for sure that he did not sell the toys. It would be wrong in some way according to his ideals. At the same time, he made toys on order for other people. His wife took those pieces to people... I understand now that they were not quite toys. They were more like talismans, like Panna and Pank, capable of giving health or protection for the house. At that point they all looked almost the same for me, but I remember that we knew exactly which toys we were allowed to touch and which not, not because it wasn't allowed, but because it was not proper...
When I was older, I walked in the streets, looking over the hedges, trying to find that place. But I did not...
After many years, when I was travelling in Savino and Kovrov regions, looking for the lost past, I saw toys several times, similar to the toys uncle Vanya made. They were made by the people who called themselves mazyki. Mazyki were descendants of Ofeni, who dwelled in our area. It was an incredible cultural phenomenon that evidently bore the art of Palech, Holuy, Mstera and Shuya. They were also called Suzdala as they lived on the land of the former great Suzdal princedom. The Mazyki people I knew called those toys mazyk toys and knew nothing about Oncle Vanya. I understood that they were carved by different masters. It was a whole school or tradition. I just caught the last of its keepers... Long time afterwords a question was worrying me: why didn't this beauty last and spread everywhere in Russia?
Old masters took simple wooden branches and sculpted them according to the composure of the wood. The toys were not made for sale and were never used as a platform for self-expression. They were made simply for the needs of children: not to cry, to have fun, to help in trouble, protect and give hope. This is the main meaning of the Russian axe-carved toy.