- Alexander Shutikhin, BIRCH BARK MASTER -

Our country is proud of craftsmen that deeply respect their heritage and the history of Russian land whole their life. Such love and devotion is hidden behind their simple appearance and working hands – we even can’t imagine it. Our first story is about wonderful craftsman that we were lucky to meet this winter.

How it all began.

Alexander Shutikhin was born in Kotlas, where he went to school, was in the army and then got involved into chain of occupations quickly replacing each other: constructor, plasterer, plumber and the list goes on and on.
According to Alexander, in difficult “perestroika” times just working was not enough – you had to survive. It was a good luck that freedom of occupation was in effect, and it was possible to earn proper money. Particularly that time, in 1991, that was the first time when he took a birch bark that was stored in his native village house. «Feelings are very important for me. Once I touched birch bark, I immediately realized that I like this material by touch, I like its softness, smoothness and elasticity, although I have touched a lot of materials for the whole my life. So, we both (material and me) found each other». Alexander’s wife is doing Mezen paintings; so together they started making souvenirs for selling. Then, after a few months, Alexander decided that it was time to get deeper into this art. So, he decided to go to museum where he could observe ancient goods and repeat after traditional craftsmen. Then he met art experts and unique masters that were introducing Alexander with the world of folk birch bark creativity more and more.  

Creative process.

«First, you should understand technology, then you progress alone with yourself, you experiment with different ornaments. For example, tujes (birch bark box). Its shape is traditional, technology is well-known (also in terms of handles and clasps). But here I can use ornament from architecture, fabrics, embroidery and clay».
Alexander doesn’t sign his works, as he considers that folk art is per se anonymous. Apart from that, in contrast to many creative people, he doesn’t suffer any creative torments because of any mistakes done in the process of plaiting. The only thing that might stop his work process is physical fatigue. Genuine, easy life approach and fantastic work capacity – all these qualities let him to be above many difficulties that craftsmen come across while creating and  realization of goods.

Realization of ready goods.

«I don’t see any competition. I produce about 1000 goods per year, at pretty low prices, that result in ready sale. Moreover, people are more enthusiastic about looking at something unique, handmade and normally they order a lot.
Private persons buy them more frequently. Sometimes I have individual orders and regular customers that buy 50-100 goods per year. In fact, I have worked out sale style based on old traditions. Before, it was accustomed that master used to create his goods, then he transferred it to second-hand-dealer that delivered the goods to city shops. So, I don’t deal. To my mind, master shouldn’t combine several occupations (for instance, marketing consultant, manager), master should handle only his work. Dealers realize goods in Moscow, Surgut, Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities with well-developed tourist trade. Now, gradually, interest towards folk craft is increasing».

Origins that are near to his heart.

Alexander Shutikhin got into studying origins of his family almost at the same time with starting birch bark activity. As a result of this search, he found out that his family name had been mentioned in 15th century. Also he discovered (via card indexes) the place where almost all his ancestry had lived. Actually, particularly in this area – Bushmanikha village, the Kirov region, - he spends half of his time.
«There were prosperous and honorable farmers in our generation: church wardens, coachmen and etc. Our house was with attic, house was quite big, with nice furniture, big windows and beautiful mirrors. All members of our family tried to have education. Many of them went to Peter, Moscow; very few relatives remained here. I feel great in the Bushmanikha village, I love local people and local roads don’t irritate me. I am very happy about finding my Native Land. Quite often people suffer from trying to find the better place, they don’t know where is their real Native Land … They just should see where their ancestors had lived, and this problem will be sorted out automatically. Normally I stay at my flat in Kotlas for 5-6 days, then I go to Bushmanikha for 5-6 days where I fire a furnace, work, go to forest to get birch bark. There is a real harmony».

Life philosophy.

«Primarily: you shall not take something that is not earned by you, meaning that “swag” is not allowed. Freedom and work are important. It’s better to lead a bit “poor” life but more free. Recently I have been reading the dictionary written by Dal, and I came across one of the meanings of the word “simple” – it was freedom. Freedom is in simplicity… and absence of fears. It is very important to be independent, to do your job in a high quality, take care about family, meet all commitments.
… If you love what you do, then you should do it, you should spend your time more and more doing it. You should try to turn your hobby into your occupation. My path was easy – it was just a good luck. But, quite often it doesn’t work as smoothly as in my case. Dont think only about earning more money. The main point is to do what you love and not pay attention to people that discourage from doing what you love».

Together with Andrew Polejaev Alexander Shutihin have quite famous internet resource
http://severberesta.ru/ that contains a lot of useful information about birch bark goods.

© GAYANAT project, 2014