Select language:

Metalwork of the Urals: An Art Born of Fire

 /  / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / Metalwork of the Urals: An Art Born of Fire

Metalwork of the Urals: An Art Born of Fire

11.03.2017

The metalwork of the Urals is one of Russia’s brands. The roots of this tradition go back to the eighteenth century, and to this day collectors highly value the works of Urals craftspeople. In recent decades the standard-bearer of this craft, the legendary Kasli factory, has run into certain difficulties. Nonetheless, the tradition of artistic metalworking in the Urals remains alive.


An Arrival from the Celestial Empire

Cast iron is, according to the encyclopedia, the name for an alloy of iron and carbon. The Russian word for cast iron (chugun) derives from Chinese, and this is significant: it was the Chinese who in the seventh century B.C.E. started making cast iron, and to this day most cast iron is indeed produced in the Celestial Empire.


The Demidov Estate on Tolmachev Alley in Zamoskvorechye

The first blast furnace appeared in Europe in the fourteenth century. Cast iron has been known in Russia since the second quarter of the seventeenth century, and it was used primarily for molding cannons, which were significantly cheaper than bronze. With the beginning of the eighteenth century, it found an entirely peaceful application. When Peter the Great built Saint Petersburg, the new houses and palaces wouldnt have been complete without fences, gates, and especially lattice gratings. The most beautiful of them may have been one made by at the factories of the Demidov family in the 1760s for their estate outside Moscow. It is quite deservedly regarded as one of the wonders of Russian cast iron molding.

The molding of cast iron for specifically artistic reasons came to Russia from Prussia, where cast iron was first recognized as a material for sculpture. The students soon overcame their teachers: in the nineteenth century there was already nowhere else in the world where artistic molds from cast iron were as widespread and popular among buyers as in Russia. The main center of production was, of course, the Urals, where over thirty factories were making cast iron molds: Zlatoustovsky, Verkh-Isetsky, Kamensk-Uralsky, Nizhnetagilsky, Votkinsky, Verkhne-Ufaleisky, Permsy, and others. But two were always considered the leaders: the Kasli and Kusa factories.


Cast Iron Wonders in Paris

A kind of high point, or apotheosis, in the development of artistic cast-iron molding in the Urals came in 1900, when the whole world saw the wonders that could be created from this seemingly lowly material. Incidentally, most people dont know that the “native” color of cast iron is either white or gray, though theres a tradition of treating it with carbon black.


A Medal Depicting the Grand Prince Konstantin Pavlovich. Verkh-Isetsky Factory, 1810s

At the Worldwide Exhibition in Paris, one could see—in addition to a variety of sculptures, ornamental candelabras, and dishes with lacelike designsa one-hundred-link cast iron bracelet that looked like it weighed nothing and a cast iron watch chain that only weighed 20 grams. Talented artists such as Pyotr Clodt, Evgeny Lanceray, and Robert Bach took part in making molds for the Ural cast iron. If these castings were made in France or Germany, they would be on everyones table, or they would have mass-marketed every kind of sculptural work, especially ancient and contemporary, so that bronze pieces would have to give up much of their share to moldings like those of Kasli, wrote Dmitry Mendeleev in those days.

But the Parisian public was really amazed by a work that earned the Grand Prize and has miraculously survived to this day: the Kasli Pavilionthe only architectural object in the world made entirely of cast iron. Today UNESCO lists this pavilion as a World Heritage Site. It was built according to a design by the architect Evgeny Baumgarten and made from over 1500 carved components.


The Kasli Pavilion

In the years immediately following the revolution, this wonderful pavilion almost perished: the director of the Kasli factory at the time decided to use it to meet his quota of scrap metal… But the Kasli craftspeople saved this masterpiece, though not without losing some parts. It was later carefully restored and now stands in a special museum hall in Yekaterinburg.


The Tradition Continues

In the 1990s this remarkable craft endured a period that was difficult in every way. At that time one or another piece of Kasli metalwork was in just about every house, and the owners practically didnt value these works at all, recounted one collector at a recent round table dedicated to the metalwork of the Urals. One could buy up piecesincluding prerevolutionary works!for hardly anything and carry off literally tons of cast iron.


Female Athlete. Kasli, middle of 20th century

At the turn of the twenty-first century there were entirely serious discussions about repurposing this famous factory (which is located in Kasli, a small town in the Chelyabinsk Oblast with less than twenty thousand residents)or closing it entirely. But this enterprise, which will mark its 250th anniversary this year, managed to stay afloat: It was acquired in 2004 by one of the largest Russian mineral extraction and metallurgic companies, which produces coal, iron-ore concentrate, steel, and iron plating.

Significant sums were invested in renovation and development, and today the factory isnt doing badly at all, even judging solely by economic indicators: The factory is continually expanding the assortment of products it releases, and the hundreds of workers involved in its manufacturing produce tens of millions of rubles each year.

The time has long past when collectors could travel through cities and towns, gathering tons of Kasli molding for themselvesfor instance, the current price of a prerevolutionary statuette, small bust, candelabra, or serving tray can reach thousands of dollars or more.


Saint George. Kasli, 1990s.

Like the price, the demand for Kasli metalwork rises every year. Of course, as yet this demand continues to be confined to within Russia: foreign collectors are still more interested in European metalwork, especially German.

Of course, popularity has its downside: the number of forgeries is growing, especially since a casting mold can be created fairly easily with the help of a computer and 3D printer. On the other hand, a more or less complete catalog of Kasli metalwork was published for the exhibit An Art Born of Fire: Artistic Metalworking of the Urals in the 18th-21st Centuries at the Kolomenskoye museum park. Experts hope that this will help correct the situation to some degree.

Georgii Osipov

Rubric:
Subject:
Tags:

New publications

Anatoly Solovyev has spent more time in open space than any other resident of Earth. He exited his ship sixteen times while in orbit, spending a total of over three full days of his life in open space. On the eve of Cosmonauts’ Day Anatoly Solovyev told us about breakthroughs in the study of outer space, the prospects of colonizing the Moon or Mars, and why we need to study astronomy in school.
<p align="JUSTIFY" style="margin-bottom: 0cm;"><font color="#00000a"><font face="Times, serif">The Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem, Fig Sunday, Flower-bearing Sunday, or just Palm Sunday—its a holiday that has been observed the week before Easter since the very first centuries of Christianity. Hardly anyone knows that in medieval Russia this holiday was celebrated with a colorful procession, involving both the tsar and the patriarch.</font></font></p>
On 7 April a bilateral meeting called Strategic Dialogue: Russia and India took place between Russian and Indian experts. Its organizers were two long-time partners: the Russkiy Mir Foundation and the Observer Research Foundation in India. The meeting was scheduled to precede the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and India, celebrated on 13 April.
The “Great Game” and the War of Shadows were names given to the late nineteenth-century rivalry between Russia and Great Britain for influence in South and Central Asia. It was a geostrategic and political struggle. But it was also a duel between the intelligence agencies of two powerful empires and took very many interesting turns.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the treaty to sell Alaska. This event so surprised the public at the time that it caught spurred discussions and remained in the papers for almost a year. And the deal had no shortage of critics on either side.
After the Revolution, the Russian emigration spread as a large wave across the whole world. According to approximate numbers, up to 2 million people fled from Bolshevism and more than 400 thousand found a home in France. In foreign lands, these exiles had to face the difficulties of life and take up work—some in factories and restaurants, others becoming taxi drivers. There were also those who managed to maintain a spiritual connection to Russia, while also integrating into the ways of French life and contributing much to their new homeland by placing their talents and energy in its service. Here we will start telling the story of the Russian émigrés who enriched French culture.
The family became a subject of academic study not so long ago — in the 19th century. Nonetheless, research on the family comes out with impressive regularity. There’s nothing surprising about this: families are what make up a society. When you study the history of a particular family, you inadvertently come to know the history of a generation. What did the typical Russian family look like before the beginning of modernization in the 20th century?..
“Petersburg grew atop the bones of its builders”—this myth is so persistent in both popular opinion and the work of historians who don’t specifically study this topic that it has hardly been discussed seriously until very recently. Meanwhile, this story has a few interesting twists in it.