Natalia Maksimova: "Magic comes from childhood"

New Year's bustle is over, but Christmastide has just begun - 12 holidays from Christmas to Epiphany, when it is customary to celebrate noisily, walk among guests, arrange generous feasts and give each other gifts. This is a special time filled with sorcery, family traditions, amazing stories and, I'm not afraid of this word, miracles. Right now I want to share with you a conversation with Natalia Maksimova - the creator of fascinating Christmas decorations Nisa Toysthat we wrote about in the material about New Year's gifts and which for the first time this season were presented in Ogonyok. They are real magic that you can touch with your hands and give to loved ones, unique and inimitable. For a long time, with the whole team, we have not imagined winter holidays without these toys: for many years we have been decorating the Christmas tree with them both in Ogonyok and at home, giving these toys to friends for New Year and godchildren for Christmas, collecting collections and looking forward to December, to get them out of the boxes. Natalia is not just inspired by Soviet toys of the 40s - she uses authentic technology and finds Soviet materials for making. Perhaps this is the most beautiful embodiment of nostalgia that I have ever seen. There are acrobats, clowns, and gnomes, fabulous animals, children on sledges, huts on chicken legs, Christmas trees, chimney sweeps and many other images that we have loved since childhood. I asked Natalia about where she got her love for antiquity and how she started making toys, what they are made of and how long it takes to make, about rituals from childhood and family New Year traditions. Enjoy reading.

- Tell us how it all started?

- My polytechnic education has nothing to do with what I am doing now - I just wanted to do something with my own hands since childhood. It all started with knitting - I mastered this craft when I was four. Already at a young age, I came up with the idea of making fantasy panels from scraps of fabric - this was the best gift from me for any occasion. There were enough scraps of fabric - in the USSR it was difficult to buy good and fashionable things, and my mother sewed clothes for herself (the teacher of the technical school had to look like a brand). 

It seems that the love of handicrafts was passed on to me with genes.

- How did you come to toys?

- It seems that they have always been inside me. As far back as I can remember, I had a sewing machine on which I sewed all the time. And one day I wanted to give my parents a gift - this is how I sewed the first stylized bunnies: a girl and a boy. This is how my toy story began (smiles). Then I made another one - as a gift to my niece - and then I started sewing dolls, bears ... My favorites are bears with hard heads, which were made mainly from pressed sawdust.

I always liked everything old - it’s definitely from my mother, for her, old times have always been a source of inspiration.

Still, you can't knock the spirit of the 40-50s out of me (laughs). I bought such bears, dissected them, took casts. I bought some toys at auctions. In general, I always liked everything old - this is definitely from my mother, for her, old times have always been a source of inspiration. We have always lived in old apartments with high ceilings and old furniture. And probably this spirit of antiquity passed on to me - it calms me down. Old wood, carved elements are mine. In principle, I like the Soviet era: colors, objects, books.

- How did your cotton toys come about?

- Already carried away by Soviet toys, I once saw toys made of cotton wool somewhere. I don’t remember exactly where - most likely, my grandmother, because at our house there were only glass toys on the tree. And I thought: since I do everything with my own hands, why not make a cotton toy. And I tried it. The first master class that I watched on the Internet was for children: a woman showed them how to make mushrooms out of cotton wool. It was very touching to watch this: the kids are sitting, their hands are all in paste, everything is chomping (smiles). After it, I was finally convinced that it was interesting to me, and made my first toy. I can't say that the first pancake was lumpy, but even now I'm not always completely satisfied with my toys (laughs).

As a child, I did not have such small Christmas tree decorations - there were only big Santa Claus and Snegurochka, who fascinated me. Their faces were made of press sawdust, and their outfits shimmered surprisingly. I had these toys every year, over time they became more and more yellow, and, of course, something crumbled. And since toys were bought and changed infrequently then, we put them in order with our own hands - we glued broken glass on them. Yes, they beat the toys finely, crushed them with a rolling pin or a hammer - and sprinkled them on glue. 

We put them in order with our own hands - glued broken glass on them.

- I think that this manual labor has led to such excellent results. Everything from childhood!

Yes. And it was this glass sprinkling that gave the toy that very amazing shine, mesmerizing with its brilliance. Accordingly, I had a question: where can I get such a dressing for my cotton toys. I understood that I needed a hand-made sprinkling made according to the original Soviet technology: a glass ball as thick as a soap bubble is blown out, and then thrown into a special container, in which it is broken into small pieces. Nobody wants to do this now, but they found a grandfather, a former glassblower who worked in a pharmacy for many years and who even had Soviet glass left. It is he who makes glass sprinkles for me from time to time. When I tried it for the first time, I realized that

This is exactly the same sparkle that I remember from childhood. It was amazing.

- Your toys really shine amazingly. And what does the toy consist of inside?

- It is almost all of cotton wool. Moreover, it is important for me that everything is Soviet - and my cotton wool is also Soviet. Many do not believe me and wonder where I got so much cotton wool. And I bought everything I found, because I understood that it was not eternal. Each toy has a frame made of wire, always Soviet (laughs)! On top of it is Soviet cotton wool wrapped in Soviet threads. And then there are the main layers of cotton wool.

On the Internet, I found a document with a patent for the manufacture of cotton toys from the 40s - and it confirmed that I was doing everything right.

Moreover, this Soviet cotton wool is fundamentally different from the modern one. I have a lot of different versions of it, and I understand how it behaves. For some details, I also use other materials: for example, a cardboard drum, I make very thin bows from napkins, and aprons are cotton wool with decoupage on top. 

Originals of toys of the post-war years from Natalia's personal collection

    In my toys, the cotton wool is completely saturated with paste, so I have them dense, and not soft, like my baby Santa Claus and Snow Maiden. At first I was worried that this was wrong - I want everything to be identical to the Soviet originals. On the Internet, I found a document with a patent for the manufacture of cotton toys from the 40s - and it confirmed that I was doing everything right.

    - How long does it take to make one cotton toy?

    - The complete production of one toy - with a face, coating, painting - takes 24 working hours. This is the minimum if you work quickly. But, of course, I do not make each toy separately from scratch - I have blanks. I usually create one toy in three days. But sometimes I get so carried away that I can't stop - once I worked 26 hours straight without sleep, with breaks for food.

    - Remember when you first made those toys that we see now?

    - I remember exactly that it was the year of the Monkey, because I made monkeys for the Gesheft Garage Sale festival (laughs). So, in 2016.

    - Did you yourself decide to take part with toys in Gesheft or someone encouraged you to do this?

    - The first time my toys were on Gesheft without me. One of my acquaintances, who loved my bears very much, offered to present the toys at the festival at the stand of her daughter. I gave literally 10 boxes - and they all sold in one fell swoop. Then I thought that next year more could be done - and since then I have participated in the New Year's Gesheft every year.

    - Where do you get your inspiration?

    - Looking at Soviet toys on the Internet. I love them. Even glass toys can be made from the same cotton wool, you know.

    When I take a toy in my hand, I immediately feel it.

    Toys seem to flow through my veins when I touch them with my hands (smiles). Although some do not like them. I remember how once I gave a couple of antique, even century-old dolls for sale at the Starokonny market. And I heard the girls passing by called my dolls scary. And I look at them - and it seems to me that they are beautiful. People have different perceptions.

    - I am sure that a child has the purest sincere perception. The children's reaction to your toys is fantastic. Any child, seeing your monkey or your bear in the Ogonyok, begins to go crazy with delight - for him it is very beautiful.

    - Yes, because original Soviet toys were developed by professional artists based on children's perception of the world.

    - Do you have assistants? Are your children involved in making toys?

    - No, no, this is a very individual area. Here, literally one finger movement can ruin everything. And sometimes on the contrary - the hands themselves do what the head cannot understand. Once my daughter helped me - she made boxes. 

    Hands themselves do what the head cannot understand

    This is really a big help, because each box is made individually for each toy. I do not like it when the toy dangles or barely fits into the box.

    - What is New Year for you?

    - The most important family holiday for me is Christmas, and New Year is a magic that comes from childhood. This is the hope that everything will be fine from the new year. The smell of a tree, tangerines, gifts. That is why every year we buy a living tree - I am against artificial ones. Before the New Year, I try to cook a lot, so that we can celebrate at least two days later.

    The most important family holiday for me is Christmas, and New Year is a magic that comes from childhood.

    And until Christmas, when we meet, we say to each other not “hello”, but “Happy New Year, Happy New Happiness!”. I don’t know what new happiness is, but we are used to talking like that since childhood (laughs).

    the end

    We talked with Natalia in her spacious apartment in the center of Odessa, where the workshop is located. Parquet floors, high ceilings and an abundance of books and photographs on the walls only heighten the feeling of love for everything that is steeped in history. This is what the toys that we have come to love so much over the years convey. We looked at books on needlework, old issues of the Ogonyok magazine, Soviet postcards and everything that Natalia keeps in memory of such a bright childhood from the past millennium. Traditionally, we share the secret - below you will find several titles of books on needlework that inspire the master, and advice for all our readers in the new year.

    From Natalia:

    Books: "Manufacture of toys from cotton wool" (D. Krivolapov, 1937), "Christmas tree toy" (V. Lapkovsky, F. Oveshkova, V. Danilevsky, 1944), "Toys from fabric" (M. Isergina, N. Bartram, 1947) ...

    Continuing my traditional family congratulations, I want to wish everyone in the new year to find their new happiness!

    Photo: Nikita Zhuravlev

    Editor: Diana Remizovskaya

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