Happy New Year! I hope the holidays have been enjoyable and relaxing for you and your family.
This past Christmas time, my family and I took a day trip to New York City. And, as usual, my camera was by my side! I’m a pretty avid photographer, so I absolutely love visiting NYC – the city offers a wide range of unique, fresh photo opportunities.
We had a great time. We stopped by Bryant Park’s Winter Village (dubbed “Manhattan’s winter wonderland!”), which included an eclectic array of charming holiday shops, an ice skating rink, and of course, a fully adorned Christmas tree! I also tried a flavorful avocado sandwich and a very strong ginger smoothie, called the “Energizer,” at Joe & The Juice, a popular place to grab coffee or a bite and relax. Afterwards, my family and I took part in a free walking tour of SOHO, a trendy, historic New York neighborhood. And we closed out the evening with pizza at Lombardi’s – “America’s First Pizzeria” – and walked around Rockefeller Center and watched the holiday light displays.
My favorite part of the evening was definitely exploring Bryant Park’s holiday shops. I visited a “farm-to-fresh” stall that offered eccentric, yet cool hot sauces like as “Ghost Pepper & Blueberry” or “Chocolate Habanero.” At another place, I tried a garlic and parsley pretzel!
My favorite shop, though, offered a look into Russian culture and art. I hadn’t seen anything like it before! Called “St. Petersburg Collections,” the shop featured various beautifully painted, carved wooden sculptures, ornaments, and the traditional Russian dolls, all made by Russian artists from St. Petersburg, the old Russian imperial capital city. Fun fact: St. Petersburg is commonly referred to by native Russians as Питер (Piter) – St. Petersburg is just the English adaptation!
The hand-painted sculptures were artfully displayed on shelves or hung up inside the shop. The intricate and elegant designs were simply amazing.
Such sculptures are made out of linden wood, “a very soft natural wood that has been used for centuries by the master carvers of Europe,” according to this Etsy item description.
The Russian nesting dolls, however, were my favorite part of the shop. Called матрёшка (matryoshka or matreshka) in the Russian language, they are a timeless centerpiece of Russian art and culture, and often a popular souvenir for tourists to take home from Russia! According to the Firebird Workshop, the first set of Russian nesting dolls was created at the Abramtsevo estate, “an intellectual and artistic center” located north of Moscow. The Firebird posting goes on to describe how, inspired by a set of Japanese nesting dolls, Sergei Malyutin, a resident artist at the estate, planned and sketched the first set of Russian matryoshki. He enlisted Vasily Zvyozdochkin, a fellow resident and woodworker, to carve his design (fun fact – Zvyozdochkin made them from linden wood!), the Firebird posting notes, and then painted the bare dolls himself.
This particular NYC shop featured many colorful, animated matryoshki.
I also conversed with the Russian shop owner, who told me more about the creation of the dolls and the other sculptures. He told me that St. Petersburg Collections has been in business for more than 17 years, and artists from both St. Petersburg and New York work together to create the pieces, all of which are quite common in Russia and in Russian art in culture. He seemed especially proud everything in his shop is hand-carved and hand-painted!
“For me, it’s art,” he said. “Pure, simple, beautiful, Russian art. And I love it.”
For me, too, I believe that sums up the experience quite nicely.