In the history of Russian museums, it has never been so that one building held both historic and author’s dolls. Who needs old dolls in the digital age? Why is it essential to create new ones? Why are dollmakers mostly women? Olga Bogdanova, the head of ‘Exhibition Centre “Doll Museum of Perm”’ Autonomous NCO, reveals the secrets. 


The oldest doll on Earth was created 30-35 thousand years ago. It was made of mammoth bone. Author’s doll as an art form, in turn, originated in the early 20th century, firstly in France, then in Russia. Men dollmakers are believed to create more interesting images, as well as men cooks, men designers, and men hairdressers. So, why there are more women in the sphere? 

According to Olga Bogdanova, anyone can create a doll, including those who always thought they could not even draw. 

Any woman is an artist. It is in her nature to create, as any woman has many talents she may not even know about. According to Olga Bogdanova, anyone can create a doll, including those who always thought they could not even draw. Our interlocutress is a lawyer and an ecologist by training, but a painter, an inspirer, and a thought leader in the Doll Museum of Perm by vocation. 

Olga shared: “For example, sometimes, a woman who worked as an accountant for her whole life comes to our dollmaking courses. We tell her that she can do it. And it’s true: art and mysteries are where the woman is. Creating a doll, that woman unexpectedly becomes a tailor, a hairdresser, a sculptor and what not. Thus, all her hidden talents show up”. 

Inner museum 

The dolls that Ms. Bogdanova made are displayed in well-known museums of the world. To see her works in Russia, one has to visit Moscow’s State Historical Museum or St. Petersburg’s Museum of Dolls. It is now easier than visiting Perm. However, that city is the real doll kingdom in the window. 

Olga recalled in her memory the road to that kingdom, which was once originated at an orthodox exhibition: “I was asking for Father’s blessing, when he said that one of his friends had been collecting dolls for a long time. He asked me to donate them to a museum. That was the time I heard the word ‘museum’ inside me…” 

That is how, 5 years ago, the idea of establishing a museum turned up. At the time, dollmaking community existed for 10 years already. It gathered artists from Perm for the sake of collaborative art and exhibitions. Gradually, collectors of antique and Soviet dolls joined the community. The idea of preserving historical heritage and creating educational scientific platform appeared with the immersion into doll world. That is how the project of the Doll Museum of Perm called ‘Traditions and Modernity’ was born. The Department for Culture and Youth of Perm supported the project and provided placement for it. 

Perm school of dollmaking is considered one of the leading ones in Russia and was appreciated internationally. 

Ethnographer’s goldmine 

Olga’s museum collection comprises over 1000 dolls, from ethnic and ceremonial ones, which date back to 18-19th centuries, to author’s works of modern times. Surely, one cannot demonstrate all at once, but, according to Ms. Bogdanova, that is even better, as it allows frequent rotation of exhibitions. Besides, the museum also has the school of dollmaking, where one can learn to create dolls with different materials, from thermoplastics to papier-mâché and porcelain. Children and adults make dolls or toys manually. Excursions end with a small workshop. Thus, no one leaves empty-handed. 

Olga said: “Perm school of dollmaking is considered one of the leading ones in Russia and was appreciated internationally. The art of dollmaking is considerably new. Only in the early 2000s dollmaking became a separate kind of art together with recognition of the Union of Artists. At the time, specialised encyclopedias, learning materials, and magazines presenting authors and their projects, began to appear. Perm artists started crating at the time as well, using exceptional methods. It turned out that we were in the origin of it… Of course, like minds were uniting while regional dollmaking schools from Moscow, Perm, and St. Petersburg, were establishing”. 

From shamanism to a dollmaking school 

Ms. Bogdanova continued: “Ethnic situation in Perm influences our school’s recognition. That is truly an ethnographer’s goldmine. Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, which is adjacent to ours, is a place where shamans still live. Generations of those shamans could dispel clouds and summon the Sun. They used manually created wooden idols to do it. After conversion to Christianity, they accepted the religion, but never stopped shamanising. Komi-permyaks erected Christian statues in churches instead of creating icons. That is how the famous Perm woodcarving started. Our dolls possess allusions to legends and myths of Perm ethnos. Queer half-people half-animals, forgotten heroes of Perm Krai, characteristic colour schemes, personal world of every author with all their peculiarities and dreams together with the touch of modernity make the unique variety of our dolls. With the help of all that, they will always be recognised. That is how our dollmaking school started”. 

Doll Therapy 

Olga Bogdanova is now a well-known dollmaker. However, some time ago, being a first-grader, she was just playing with her friends: “Why did I choose to be a dollmaker? Dollmaking is a crosswalk between adult world and the world of children, between imagination and reality… Back in my childhood, we had a wardrobe with ‘cells’, which served as special rooms for dolls. Each doll had their own family. I could come, make a cell, and put my dolls there. Psychologists call it sublimation of circumstances, and we were just putting on scenes from our everyday school life. We recalled them and imagined how it could be. While playing, we were making our dreams come true or correcting mistakes of our relations…” 

Maybe that is how the unusual doll therapy originated in the museum as its direction. Museum’s psychologists are ready to help one know oneself through making a doll and communicating with it. Olga explained: “While making a doll, one opens up something from deep within. While one only begins to shape what will become a doll’s head, the psychologist can already tell, whether that person has inner problem, the ways of solving it, etc.”. In the children’s section, boys and girls learn to sew and create some simple folk toys and dolls. Teenagers try modelling. All that provides the understanding of dollmaking art. 

What is a doll? 

Olga is proud, that her organisation is an exhibition centre. In the history of Russian museums, it has never been so that one building held both historic and author’s dolls. That means, one of the museum’s halls demonstrates dolls, the oldest of which date back to the year 1800. Its visitors can learn, what a doll is, how ancient peoples started to make them and why, get to know the history of craft and industrial production of dolls, various collections and types of Perm traditional dolls. The second hall is dedicated to modern times. It presents “the progress of dollmaking art”, not a folk one, which was always a part of decorative and applied arts, but a fine and sophisticated work in a single copy. One cannot touch or play with it. The hall holds thematic exhibitions and dollmaking meetings providing experience exchange with the youth. 

Museum members work for education and science. They also organise programs for senior citizens and host family events. Preserving cultural and family values has always been a woman’s thing to do. It will also be highlighted throughout the International Artistic Exhibition ‘Global Museum: The Poles of World Culture Meet’ of the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum in St. Petersburg. 

‘The generation of those who did not play much’ 

Whom is your museum for? Olga answers: it is for people from 3 to 90. Once a 90-year old granny visited the museum and found a doll, which resembled the one from her childhood. Why does Olga need the project? In general, she needs it to express herself through the dolls, to somehow prolong the time for ‘the generation of those who did not play much’, and give someone an opportunity to immerse into childhood once again. It will suggest one to think, whether they need to throw their old dolls away. What are the other reasons? She wants her dolls, the dolls of her colleagues, and the museum itself help other creative people to start their own projects, like Anatoliy Sivak’s Museum of Soviet Toys, which recently originated in Perm. And, finally, it is for the present gadget-admirers. Sometime in the future, they will understand, what is the most valuable thing in the world, which holds the time joint… 

Tina Stankevich, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community 

SOCIAL INNOVATIONS #INFOCUS International Conference organisers:

United Nations Office in Geneva, National Association for Education Development ‘Notebook of Friendship’, NGO ‘Vector of Friendship’ organisation in special consultative status with ECOSOC, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva.

With the support of Presidential Grants Fund, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Government of the Perm Region, Rossotrudnichestvo, the Federation Council of the Russian Federation. 

Translated by Nikolay Boykov