Estonia Folk Art

Well into the middle of the nineteenth century most peasant houses in Estonia were not equipped with chimney flues, and fireplace smoke quickly covered everything with thick layers of soot. Consequently interiors could not be richly decorated. Only the shapes and details of certain wood carv-ings on household utensils evince fine taste and high standards of workmanship. The forested northeast of the republic adjoining Lake Peipus was an important center for wooden furniture and utensil production. A hundred years ago about a thousand craftsmen, who catered to all Estonia except its islands, worked in Avinurme and its neighboring areas. Simple yet expressive techniques, such as carving and pokerwork, were used to make the contours of large geometric designs distinguishable even in the dark smoky interiors.

A taste for ornamentation is especially characteristic of the Estonian islanders from Muhu, Kihnu, and Saaremaa, as demonstrated primarily by their ubiquitous embroidery and, to a lesser extent, by the decoration of their wooden wares. The backs of chairs in peasant homes on Muhu Island are adorned with representations of plants, besides commonly used cosmogonic motifs. An expressive highlight, such as a rosette comprising several petals, an oval, a cross, or a heart, is generally in the center of the composition. The seats of these chairs are woven of rope, straw, or seaweed to form highly varied patterns reminiscent of twill weaves. Also worthy of note are the local beer tankards made up like barrels, which are often inlaid with dark or light wooden mosaic designs. Carved patterns are widely used for adorning such mugs, their lids frequently bearing stylized designs carved in low relief.

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