GUEST POST- Claire Atwater on The Bone Mother: Arresting images from Russian folklore

Illustration of Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin, 1900.

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin, 1900.

Happy 2012 everyone! To start the year off with some beautiful images, today’s post comes from a dear friend of mine, historian and writer Claire Atwater. In addition to her awe-inspiring knowledge of obscure history, historical fiction and film, Claire also has one of the most vivid and beautiful imaginations of anyone I’ve ever met, and it is a treat to hear more about one of her sources of inspiration: a stunning set of early 20th century illustrations from Russian folklore, by Ivan Bilibin.  Read on for more about her take on his amazing work…

Illustration of pike by Ivan Bilibin.

Pike, by Ivan Bilibin.

Since childhood I have had a recurring dream where an impossibly old woman with wild pale blue eyes, iron teeth and strong, spindly fingers is braiding my hair. She is always whispering into my ear and I can never quite make out the words. Though always similar in content, this dream has varied in tone from terrifying and sinister to deeply comforting.

I am certain that the woman in my dream is Baba Yaga, the fabled crone who turns up repeatedly in Russian Folklore. A sort of demented fairy godmother, Baba Yaga flies through the air in a mortar using a pestle to steer. Her cottage rests on live chicken legs and goes whirling and screeching through the air until Baba Yaga is summoned by someone very brave or very foolish. She is the Bone Mother, nature spirit, equal parts witch and wise woman.

Illustration of frog princess by Ivan Bilibin.

Frog Princess, by Ivan Bilibin.

Why has my subconscious adopted a feral hag as mentor and spiritual guide? Because of the artwork of Ivan Bilibin. Bilibin, a late 19th/early 20th century illustrator and stage designer drew inspiration from early Russian architecture and Japanese prints to create delicately wrought and unusual works of illustrative art. My mother had
procured a collection of beautiful Russian folklore, set to Biliban’s work and as a child I was utterly captivated by the strangeness of the foreign folk stories and the striking portraits that accompanied them.

In many instances the illustrations in the books we read as children are the first works of art we learn to appreciate. On the pages of these fables, aesthetics are ingrained and will go on to influence our artistic sensibilities in ways we may or may not be cognizant of. Through folklore and fairy tales we receive some of our first tuition in national identity, history, social anthropology, and are inspired through words and imagery, to broaden our scope for imagination.

Illustration of Koschey the deathless by Ivan Bilibin.

Koschey the Deathless, by Ivan Bilibin.

Illustration of Firebird, by Ivan Bilibin.

Firebird, by Ivan Bilibin.

Illustration of Baba Yaga Red Horseman, by Ivan Bilibin.

Baba Yaga’s Red Horseman, by Ivan Bilibin.

 

// More about Baba Yaga and other Russian folk characters can be found here, on Old Russia; for more on Ivan Bilibin, browse Artcyclopedia here; and click here for the website of the International Folklore Society.

// Thank you so much to Claire for the fantastic post and wonderful illustrations!

 

 

//

Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:

anne siems painting transparent translucent body snail girls

About these ads

12 thoughts on “GUEST POST- Claire Atwater on The Bone Mother: Arresting images from Russian folklore

  1. Pingback: Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin – Russian Illustrator «

  2. Pingback: Russian Fairy Tales: “The Feather of Finist the Falcon” Part Two « The World of Fantasy Fiction by Ledia R

  3. Thank you so much for reminding me of Bilibin’s work. A friend gave me a present of some of the folktales in russian many years ago but I lost the books and am so glad to see these again.

  4. For my fellow MSTies, I get an extra chuckle from this. She was in – although not named – the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “Jack Frost”. She was a bit more of comic relief in it, having a fight with the “hero” (a self centered jerk who gets turns into a bear) over which way her chicken legged home should face.

  5. Pingback: A cluster of rats | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  6. Pingback: The Illustrated Circus World, 1934 | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  7. Pingback: Canaries playing pianos: an incredible installation by Robert Gligorov | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  8. Pingback: GUEST POST: A jar of pickled moles, haunting trees, Friday disasters and anatomy museum corpses- a smorgasbord of interesting things from curator Neil Lebeter | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  9. Pingback: 17th century palm-reading chart | The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

  10. Hi there, I discovered your web site by means of Google at the same time as looking for a similar matter, your web site
    came up, it appears to be like good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello there, simply become aware of your blog thru Google,
    and found that it is truly informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels.
    I will be grateful for those who proceed this in future.
    A lot of other folks might be benefited out of your writing.
    Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s