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Delightful Wooden Nesting Dolls by Salakauppa Playfully Reimagine Traditional Designs

July 17, 2023

Kate Mothes

Nesting dolls shaped like bears.

“The Bears (polar bear, brown bear, panda, moon bear, and Misha)” (2014), linden, paint, and lacquer, 210 x 120 millimeters. All designs by Aamu Song / COMPANY, produced in Semenov, Russia. Images © Salakauppa, shared with permission

A saltwater food chain, a collection of vegetables, and an acorn maturing through its development stages are just a few of Helsinki-based Salakauppa’s custom nesting dolls. The brainchild of Aamu Song and Johan Olin, Salakauppa—sala means “secret” and kauppa means “shop” in Finnish—was founded a little over 15 years ago to showcase the duo’s contemporary take on traditional matryoshkas. Using linden wood, which is soft and easily worked, each doll is designed by Song, then produced by expert craftspeople in Semenov, Russia, who meticulously turn the pieces on a lathe.

The decorative toys date back to the late 19th century when the first set was conceived by folk artist Sergey Malyutin with the assistance of a wood carver named Vasily Zvyozdochkin. The basic design consists of a set of pieces that decrease in size, fitting into one another, and traditionally depict a mother doll whose children, including a baby, fit inside. Song and Olin playfully reimagine the possibilities of matryoshka sets by portraying a diverse range of families, flora, and fauna, emphasizing the joy of discovery as each set is opened to reveal its inner dwellers.

Located for more than a decade in a kiosk in central Helsinki, Salakauppa just relocated to a new storefront, which they describe as a “home and temple” for their ongoing Secrets series. You can find more on the shop’s website. (via Present & Correct)

Nesting dolls shaped like vegetables.

“Green Vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, artichoke, asparagus, cucumber, and green peas)” (2023), linden, paint, and lacquer, 120 x 180 millimeters

An installation view of numerous shelves of nesting dolls on a colorfully painted wall.

Salakauppa display. Photo by Paavo Lehtonen

Nesting dolls shaped like whales and other sea creatures.

“Sea Matryoshka (A whale eats a seal that eats a penguin that eats a fish that eats a calamari that eats a sea cucumber, and finally, there’s a plankton)” (2013), linden, paint, and lacquer, 250 x 120 millimeters

Nesting dolls shaped like onions on a shelf in front of a colorful wall.

Onion matryoshka display in Salakauppa. Photo by Paavo Lehtonen

Nesting mushrooms.

“Kärpässieni (A set of four nesting Fly Agaric mushrooms)” (2015), linden, paint, and lacquer, 140 x 160 millimeters

Nesting acorns.

“Oaknut Matryoshka (Tiny green oak nuts become big brown ones, then squirrel is happy)” (2013), linden, paint, and lacquer, 120 x 100 millimeters

Nesting dolls depicting a family in a sauna.

“Sauna Family (A peaceful löyly moment in the hot sauna)” (2022), linden, paint, and lacquer, 120 x 245 millimeters

Nesting apples.

“Apple Matryoshka (As apple flower falls like white rain in the late summer, tiny apple start to grow),” linden, paint, and lacquer, 120 x 110 millimeters

A set of nesting linden trees.

“Trees Lehmusto (Linden forest)” (2017), linden, paint, and lacquer, 260 x 150 millimeters

Interior view of Sarakauppa, showing numerous displays of nesting dolls.

Aamu Song and Johan Olin in Sarakauppa. Photo by Paavo Lehtonen


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