The idols used to stand in every playground and kindergarten. We took them as a matter of course as if they had appeared on their own accord or had always existed.
Having grown up, the residents of the city started asking themselves: who had put the idols there and for what reason, why they were so gloomy and even creepy and more importantly—if there were any other idols left? URALNASH has made an investigation and found that the history of the wood statues is absolutely incredible. It all started with the idols in Park Lesovodov.
Idols in Park LesovodovOn the outskirt of Yekaterinburg, in the park near Sibirsky Trakt, they have been standing, silent forest guards, for 40 years, but not every resident of the city knows about their existence. Those who saw them, especially in early childhood, observe their powerful expressiveness, combined with a frightening mysterious look.
People call them sinister, demonic, disturbing. They are like horror tales materialized by means of wood. It seems that the idols walked out of the forest by themselves and stayed there since. Nevertheless, as any man-made things they have creators.
Two teachers of Forest Academy Valentin Tchernov and Gennady Povod and an artist Valery Gavrilov, who deserves our special attention, made them in 1976. In 1970’s Tchernov had an idea of combining two of his greatest passions—the history of the Urals and wood carving—in one work. What’s surprising, he decided to turn to the Rifey’s mountains (the old name of the Urals Mountains) and the time when they were first mentioned, to tell about ancient races that used to inhabit the territory of the modern Urals region. He offered his colleague Gennady Povod and the artist Valery Gavrilov, who was working in Forest Academy at that time, to collaborate.
An intricate combination of historical facts, rumors, myths, and legends were the main ingredients with which the sculpture group was created. The composition “Liberation of a man” was to tell about the infancy of the Urals: it shows the transformation of a man from a weak servant of Nature to a creator, it depicts the development of a man’s spirituality.
The idea was welcomed by the director of the Sverdlovsk forestry A.N. Kilyakov, and Forest Academy agreed to assist the artists in creating their idols. There was a nice place for the sculptures near Forest Academy in the young forest growth in Park Lesovodov (Park of Russian Foresters) that was founded in 1966. Tchernov, Povod and Gavrilov set to work. The main purpose of their work was not only to tell about the history of men settlement in the Urals but also to create a masterpiece. Valery Gavrilov made the sketches for the sculptures.
Valery GavrilovValery Fedorovitch Gavrilov has been and still is the most unrecognized and outcast person of the Sverdlovsk underground culture of 1970’s. He is referred to as a “legendary figure”. Some people admit that if they ever met a genius artist, it was him. He teetered on the brink between geniality and madness, his immense inner power was dark and destructive. Valery Gavrilov had his own vision of the world and tried to render his mystical views by paintings. Creating for him meant not just the ability to express his ideas, but the only possible way of living with surrealism as the only artistic method. Valery Gavrilov was born in 1948. Since the early childhood, he was showing a powerful talent. Being still underage he left his village Iliinka for Sverdlovsk, where he entered an art school. But during all the years of studying there, he failed to find any support or any like-minded people.
He tried to enter Leningrad Art Academy, but the teachers would tell him: “There’s nothing we can teach you. It’s you who can start teaching”.Gavrilov never became a member of an Artists’ Union; he didn’t have a personal exhibition during his lifetime. “Official art” didn’t accept him, and he wasn’t very keen on it either. Valery and his wife Zinaida were reckless leaders of the Bohemians in Sverdlovsk. They lived in a wooden house that was next to demolition in Ulitsa Gorkogo, 22. This house, and later- the Gavrilovs’ flat was a kind of a salon attracting all types of underground artists. Zinaida was a remarkable person as well and she made her contribution to the art process in Sverdlovsk. Before meeting Gavrilov she had been working as a waitress in a dining car, after the marriage, she created an image of “Zinozaur”, a society woman, and completely got the feel of this part. She wrote poems signing them Z. Poet, she painted, she and Valery issued self-made magazines with “absolutely schizophrenic contents”.
As remembered by eyewitnesses, their life was an “endless boozy-session”. Their house was full of everything: guests, their own six children, uncanny and beautiful Valery Gavrilov’s pictures. He painted incessantly, then rolled the paintings and put them on the cupboard where they were slowly decaying.
Valery Gavrilov tragically died at the age of 34, choking on vomit. His heritage numbers thousands of pictures, tens of thousands of drawings, hundreds of photographs and wood sculptures, several scripts, and a philosophical treatise. Most of his works are lost: the pictures simply didn’t live the wrong storage. By the moment when underground art was officially recognized, Gavrilov’s sculptures had been standing in the park for 10 years. At the height of the Stagnation Era in the USSR, with totalitarianism and social realism tendency, a monument to a Soviet underground art appeared on the outskirts of the city. Moreover— the government financially supported the constructing.
It was 1987, the period of perestroika (restructuring), when the first legendary uncensored exhibition called “Surikova, 31” took place, allowing the underground art of Sverdlovsk finally take the floor. Valery Gavrilov died but his pictures stayed.
Everyone could take part in an exhibition. Everyone and their dog. Arrogance mixed with lameness. A wonderful collection of complete sh... And suddenly among all of them – Valery Gavrilov’s picture “Redoubling of Madonna”. We were stunned. I still can’t buy this picture.Evgeny Roizman, the mayor of Yekaterinburg, about the exhibition “Surikova 31”, quotation from the magazine “Ural”, 2007, №4, “Yekaterinburg Artists’ Museum Assembly”.
The line of people willing to see the exhibition was two blocks long. It was there, that Evgeny Malahin (or old man Bukashkin), Viktor Gardt, Valery Dyachenko, Viktor Mahotin, Valery Pavlov and many other remarkable artists of Yekaterinburg were able to exhibit their works for the first time.
Valery Gavrilov’s idolsThus, we have found out what kind of person Valery Gavrilov was and now it’s time to return to the sculptures in Park Lesovodov.
The composition “Liberation of a man” includes 17 wood sculptures, though initially there 18. At first glance they seemed to be put haphazardly, as if in a hurry, but if we look again, examine theme more attentively one by one, the idea of the composition becomes clear. They are moving from ancient folklore conceptions, connected with the Greek mythology, to history, religion and present times ideas.
A photo album devoted to the sculptures in Park Lesovodov is a courtesy of an artist Felix Smirnov, the son of Valery and Zinaida Gavrilov.
According to the photos in the album, the sculptures used to stand along the stone paved paths and every idol had its own explanatory labels. In the beginning of the composition there was a stand with historical data and quotations. The main idea of the set was to spark the interest of the spectators in ancient history of the Urals, which is unknown to the most of the people living nowadays.
The album helped us to decipher all the images, here are some of our descriptions. You can find the photo album in the end of the article.
The first sculpture—Greek historian Herodotus.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
“Herodotus is the father of history” (Cicero) Herodotus was the first among antique scientists in the fifth century who wrote 9 books on history that are still extant. In those books one can find brief and partly fictional information about Rifey mountains (today they’re called the Urals) and the river Iset’ valley.
Love—the most peaceful figure of all.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
The girl feels protected by her lover, he’s a man and he’s strong. The young man has a skin of the killed beast on his shoulders, its head turned downwards as a symbol of its helplessness in front of a man’s power. The creators of the statue made the characters look loving and respectful to each other. Herodotus wrote about the Issedones that their women are equal to men.
The Issedones—an ancient people who used to live at the territory of Southern Siberia and the Urals.
Arimaspi (Arimaspian)—a representative of another ancient nation of the Rifey Mountains.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
The warrior with a sword, frantically riding a beast-like horse symbolises aggressiveness, which is characteristic to the people of Rifey Mountains. Two birds of prey above him are ready to have a feast on dead bodies. The Arimaspi were considered to be one-eyed. Modern historians explain it as a tradition of the Arimaspi to wear a little bronze mirror on their forehead, the glitter of it used to intimidate enemies.
Ancient people considered the Arimaspi to be at war with the griffons who guarded the gold in the North of their settlement, and at war with the Issedones who lived in the South. The sculpture Combat depicts everlasting struggle of two great nations.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
Here are an Issedone and an Arimaspi in a mortal combat. Herodotus writes that the Issedones are the most warlike and mighty of all men. Their power is reflected in the sculpture. The Issedone precipitated the Arimaspi from his horse. The culmination of the fight is coming.
The combat is ended; the Issedone-conqueror is blowing a tune of victory with his horn.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
The conquered Arimaspi at the feet of powerful Issedone is pathetic in his horror of retaliation. Faces seen from the enemy’s side are twisted with hatred of deadly feud. An image of a bull’s head symbolizes wealth and aggressiveness of the Issedones. This tradition is common for various nations, as an example—horned masks of German people in Middle Age.
The same sculpture, another view—the head of the bull. One of the last sculptures in a composition—Miner.
Valery Gavrilov’s album.
Since the ancient times people of the Urals had been extracting gems, gold and metal ores. It is shown in the figure of a miner, who’s working with his hammer in the mine. Along the figure of the man there’s a crystal that symbolizes richness of the mountains. Two sculptures: a miner and a female reaper are symbols of the “every man’s labour”.
Female Reaper—at first we regarded this image as peaceful and calm. Having examined it more attentively we found out that this charming young woman with a scythe is a dark goddess Mara, who was cutting threads of life with her sickle. A butterfly on her dress is nothing more than a face of an old man yelling with horror. Nevertheless, the sign tells us something different:
We shouldn’t forget that the sculptures were made in 1976, at that time creating a dark goddess Mara in a park would have been something surreal. It’s not clear whether the author concealed that image in his sculpture on purpose or it was just the way to express his individuality.
...The figures of a female reaper and a miner symbolize inseparable labour unity of sickle and hammer working for the good of society.
On some sculptures you can still see signatures of the authors, names and quotation from the classical literature. The others either had no signatures from the beginning, or the sculptures sank and the letters have been hidden in the concrete basements. To find some of the inscriptions we had to get into the waist-height nettle. Every sculpture is a peculiar surrealist masterpiece.
The sculptures are made with an outstanding attention to details. They are covered with symbols and small figures all the way around.
Yekaterinburg Municipal Duma deputy Konstantin Kiselyov’s words on the Gavrilov’s sculptures are quite accurate; you can see his post on a Facebook profile.
“V. Gavrilov’s paintings were widely recognised long time ago. His geniality borders with insanity. He is compared to Salvador Dali and other great artists. And the comparison is true. His wood sculptures slightly reminded me of Vigeland Park in Norway. We can dispute about comparisons, but the fact is—Valery Gavrilov and his collaborators’ wood sculptures are monuments of art and history. And for me it’s a fact without contradiction. I don’t know if their status formalized in a legislation or not, and if not it must be done within a short time.
In the mid-70’s those sculpture could appear only in a forest, on the outskirts of Sverdlovsk. Or in a mental asylum, at Agafurovs’ (an asylum in Sverdlovsk was built near the summer cottage of merchants Agafurovs), where Valery Gavrilov had a bad luck to be for some time. Nowadays the best place for them is in a specialized museum or in the grounds of Yelsin Centre or any other place in Yekaterinburg under security and restorers surveillance.
It’s always like that: a global masterpiece, recognised by the most of people is unprotected, decaying, we’re losing it. And we’re going to be sorry...“
You can find the idols at the clearance on the left from the main entrance in Park Lesovodov and along the path. The bus stop is “Lesopark” (buses 1, 026, 31, 32, 047, 64), the closest point is Sibirsky Trakt, 36, Forest Academy.
Other idols of YekaterinburgFirst, there was that composition “Liberation of a man”. Then, as a result of a chain reaction, similar sculptures started to appear all over the city.
Some of them were made by Valery Gavrilov, some by other artists; it was something like a craft guild. We’ve found several of still existing idols.
In the same park, but a bit farther from the entrance, at the parking lot, there are 4 more sculptures. They are similar in manner to those of Valery Gavrilov but he didn’t take part in the making.
The composition is dedicated to Yermak’s campaign in Siberia (Yermak was a Cossack who started the Russian conquest of Siberia). There’s a sign on the first sculpture: Vastitude. Siberia. What thought is seeking to enter my soul? Yermak”.
The sculptures depict epic heroes, peasants and the Tatars. They look rather modernized, especially an epic hero with a rifle, in wellingtons.
Having examined the sculptures more attentively we came to a conclusion, that the epic hero with a rifle is different from the other three. He has no concrete basement, he’s smaller than the others and made in a different manner. But there’s a statue of a frog-princess in the other part of the park, which bears some resemblance to it. There are also some other plainer figures: gnomes, old men from fairy tales, bears.
There are 4 sculptures by the Bazhov’s memorial house (Bazhov was a Russian writer) in Tchapaeva st, 11: a portrait of Bazhov, the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, Danila-master and Kokovanya old man with Daryonka and Silver Hoof (the characters of the Bazhov’s tales). Felix Smirnov, who with his father took part in the sculpture creating, confirmed that their author is Valery Gavrilov.
Apart from the Bazhov sculptures Smirnov and Gavrilov made a complex “At the pike behast” (a Russian folktale) in Ulitsa Vosmogo Marta (8 Marta street) and a complex near Stone Bridge in Malysheva st. And after that they were travelling around the Sverdlovsk region, making so called “small-scale sculptures”—namely playgrounds—in towns and highly populated collective farms.
Opposite Mayakovsky Park, next to the restaurant in Mitchurina st. 21ba, there’s a sculpture complex “Town musicians of Bremen”. These figures differ much from the previous ones. Gavrilov didn’t take part in their creation.
In the Park Zelyonaya Roschta at the entrance from Ulitsa Narodnoy Voli st., there was to 2017 a lonely sculpture. It looks much newer than the others. We assumed it to be Mother-Nature.
In the Tchkalov’s Park in Yougo-Zapadny district one can see a group of half-ruined wood sculptures depicting characters from Russian fairy tales. They are not 5-metres statues with many faces aimed to look like pagan idols, they are plain figures made of a single piece of wood. According to our childhood memories, exactly the same stood in our playgrounds and kindergartens.
In the court at the crossing of the streets Schyorsa-Belinskogo there’s still a part of a complex themed on the story by A. Volkov “Urfin Jus and his wooden soldiers” (one book of the series “The wizard of the Emerald city”).
There used to be two rows of soldiers in a red uniform (swings) and in a blue uniform (pull-up bars), wooden Scarecrow the Wise, shining Tin Woodman, and huge Emerald city – a slide. The Emerald city was burned down in the beginning of the 90’s. The Tin Woodmen resisted vandals for a long time but in the end was defeated; the Scarecrow had disappeared even earlier. Next to the soldiers there are remnants of an unrecognizable animal statue in a sitting position.
And finally—here are some pages from Valery Gavrilov’s photo album on sculptures in Park Lesovodov.
English translation: Anna Sitnikova