Display of washing and dyeing fabrics.

Textiles at the Russian Museum of Ethnography

Published: July 12, 2017

(Tour included as part of the Art and Museums program for Summer, 2017)

Russia is a vast, diverse nation of many ethnic groups which inhabit drastically different social and geographic spheres. The Russian Museum of Ethnography, located in central Saint Petersburg, serves to catalogue and preserve the many customs of Russia’s numerous cultural subpopulations.

Museum of Ethnography exterior.

Currently the Russian Museum of Ethnography displays its significant collection of indigenous costume and textile artifacts. What hallmarks this collection is the scheme of its curation which, unlike the majority of other state collecting institutions in Russia’s cultural capital, is designed as an immersive narrative of domestic and rural life. Russia’s largest population group, the ethnic Russians, occupy the entirety of the ground floor exhibition space.

The narrative begins there with tilling, planting, and harvesting machines, which are introduced as the foundation of the textile objects which populate each and every home across Russia. These agricultural devices are accompanied by some traditional fiber cleaning and separating machines. In the hall following, visitors will find the spinning and weaving instruments. Following these is a display of washing and dyeing. Finally, the Ethnographic museum displays a fantastic array of finished cloth fabrics and patterns which are then shown as sewn into clothes, towels, bedding, and all other imaginable textiles required by the common household.

Loom used to weave traditional fabrics.

Also included in a ticket to the Museum of Ethnography is a journey through the Russian Baltic biome, where visitors can experience various coats, rugs, and even a baby cradle sewn from the hides of reindeer and other hearty northern creatures. Most delightful is a waterproof coat, displayed once on a mannequin and again on a figure seated in a kayak. This coat is delicately stitched from the water repellant innards of sea animals. Visitors may circle the aforementioned kayak, and in this close proximity, imagine themselves on the hunt for sustenance in the frigid Baltic waters.

Baltic costume on display in the lower hall.
Waterproof raincoat made from animal intestine.

The upper floors of the Museum delve into the less numerous but nonetheless colorful border groups within Russia’s current and former borders, including the Tartars and Central Asian groups. Various cross-cut interior displays meticulously detailing the cultural habits of each group, such as mealtimes and leisure activities.

A definite highlight of this sector is an impressively massive yurt, insulated with hanging and floor carpets woven in patterns quite exotic to the foreign eye. This yurt contains a multitude of thick pillows, quilts, and a full wolf hanging from the frame. Life-sized figures of a family sitting on the floor reenact mealtime, complete with pans, dishes, and other cutlery.

The approachability of this museum is unrivaled. With many exhibits free of glass and other traditional restrictions, the colorful scenic reconstructions of daily life and tremendous collection of original indigenous items certainly make this institution a must-see on any visit to Saint Petersburg.

Textile and Costume Display at
The Russian Museum of Ethnography

Hours: Tu 10:100- 21:00 Weds. – Sun 10:00 to 18:00, Closed Mo.
Admission: 250 RUB/adult, 100 RUB/student, 50 RUB
(Tour included as part of the Art and Museums in Russia
Program through SRAS for Summer, 2017)

About the author

Sophia Fisher

Sophia Fisher is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sophia believes that the exponential development of communication technology has made Russian language skills critical in all professional fields. In August, Sophia will return home to her native Ohio for a final semester at The Ohio State University, where she will receive a diploma in art history and Russian language. After graduation, Sophia plans on pursuing a career in arts management or public relations.

Program attended: Art and Museums in Russia

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Museum Studies Abroad