Friday, July 31, 2009

The Khrabroff Collection

There is a wonderful variety of characters and historical figures to learn about at The Alice, with research frequently focusing on one General or another. On the second floor of the museum, in a little space that houses cases of dolls, is a photo of a Russian General - General Nicholas Khrabroff, who originally came to the United States from Russia as President of the Artillery Commission. From 1915-1917 the Russian Artillery Commission was based in New York, its mission to negotiate purchase of munitions and other artillery supplies for the Imperial Russian government.

The arms shortage in Russia was so acute during WWI, that by 1916 Russian soldiers were being sent to the front lines without arms, hoping they would equip themselves with weapons recovered from fallen soldiers from either side. Efforts at weapons production in Russia were greatly stepped-up and attempts to procure weapons overseas were intensified. Then came great turmoil in Russia, spurred on partly by the poor treatment of soldiers and massive loss of life in WWI.

Mrs. Khrabroff looks on as Nicholas Khrabroff puts the
finishing touches to the base of a pair of dolls.

By December, 1917 General Khrabroff was still acting in his role to procure arms, despite the changes in Government occurring in his country precipitated by the Russian Revolution. There is still question whether he could have actually been representing his government in agreements he signed during this time, having been sent as a representative of the Imperial Government, which had been overthrown in early 1917. Eventually, it became obvious that he could not return to Russia and he settled in Thetford, Vermont with his wife and daughter, having lost his son in WWI.

A Mongolian Couple and the sketches
from which Mrs. Khrabroff worked...

In their new life in Vermont it is Nicholas Khrabroff’s wife who emerges to us through her Christmas gifts to Alice. The Alice T. Miner Museum holds, among other wonderful collections, an assemblage of hand made dolls representing various historical and cultural groups of Russia. The 30 dolls, usually in male/female pairs, were lovingly made and clothed in their traditional dress by Mrs. M.V. Khrabroff, who even included accessories and jewels for the fascinating figures. Among them are: Peasant twins sent to Alice in 1929; a Polish Noble couple sent in 1928; a newly engaged Ukrainian couple; Finnish twins; a Shaman or “Mongolian Priest” holding his drum; a “bridal couple” from the Volga River region that Mrs. Khrabroff refers to as “Mordvah”, sent in 1935. The Mordvins (also Mordva, Mordvinians) are among the larger indigenous peoples of Russia.

The sketches were done by a friend in Petrograd.

Accompanying these wonderfully made dolls, some of whom have hand painted faces, are affectionate and romantic letters written to Alice by Mrs. Khrabroff about her creations. Some of the letters include sketches of costumes, and separate notes written to Alice by the dolls themselves! These letters are usually safely stored in our archives and therefore out of the public eye. Right now, however, you can see a few of the sketches and postcard images that inspired Mrs. Khrabroff, paired with the figures she created, on exhibit at The Alice.

For this pair Mrs. Khrabroff worked from postcard images...

She recreated every wonderful detail, including costume colors.

Mrs. Khrabroff once wrote to Alice, "I want you, dear Friend, to be sure that I understand very well that the only thing which makes my rag-dolls a little bit interesting and a little bit worthy (oh! very little!) to occupy a very, very small place in your beautiful and rich museum - is the truth of the costumes. Next year I am going to send you the sketches which Oksana made of the Tartars from the ethnographic figures in our best museum in Petrograd... I want that the whole Russia in the great variety of her numerous nationalities, tribes and races would stand up before you as a token of love and gratitude for what Mr. Miner and you, our endlessly kind Friend, made for one of her unfortunate families." The costumes and details of these figures are magnificent! Mrs. Khrabroff was justifiably proud of her work, and would be thrilled, we feel sure, if she knew your curiosity about these little works of art would lead you to visit The Alice!

1 comment:

  1. What a unique treasure! I loved the detailed information and photos. The quotes from Mme Khrabroff's letters give such insight into the lost world of pre-Revolutionary Russian intelligentsia, people who were intimate with the highest creations of civilization.