Thursday, July 29th, 2010
In the summer of 1902, Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876–1942), artist, stage designer and illustrator of Russian Folk Tales, traveled to the Vologda Province in the North of Russia to collect works of folk art. The photographs drew much needed attention to the condition of the wooden churches: “The state of the churches is most lamentable. In the hands of uncivilized people, they are being vandalized to the point of destruction or are ruined with ‘restoration’ to the point of being unrecognizable.”
In 2002, photographer Richard Davies saw Bilbin’s photos in a series of postcards, which inspired him to travel to the Russian North to find out which churches had survived. During his travels, the story of the hardships of the last century has been unavoidably felt; a story of Revolution, War, Communism and severe Northern winters. Many churches have been lost: some have been left to rot; some have been destroyed by lightning; countless others by ignorance, spite and neglect.
A few years ago, a reversing tractor hit one church—it tumbled like a house of cards. Fortunately, dedicated specialists and enthusiasts have managed to save many of the churches pictured. The photographs tell of the lives of resilient people who have lived through extreme times in extreme places—a story of the Russian North.
Wooden Churches – Travelling in the Russian North by Matilda Moreton and Richard Davies will be published later this year. www.richarddavies.co.uk/woodenchurches/