Matryoshka dolls (Russian: матрёшка, IPA: [mɐˈtrʲɵʂkə] (listen); also known as babushka dolls, stacking dolls, nesting dolls, Russian tea dolls, or Russian dolls) are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. The name matryoshka, literally "little matron", is a diminutive form of Russian female first name "Matryona" (Матрёна) or "Matryosha".
A set of matryoshkas consists of a wooden figure, which separates at the middle, top from bottom, to reveal a smaller figure of the same sort inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on.
The first Russian nested doll set was made in 1890 by wood turning craftsman and wood carver Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo. Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a long and shapeless traditional Russian peasant jumper dress. The figures inside may be of any gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby turned from a single piece of wood. Much of the artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be very elaborate. The dolls often follow a theme; the themes may vary, from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders. In the west, matryoshka dolls are often referred to as babushka dolls, babushka meaning "grandmother" or "old woman".
The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 at the Children's Education Workshop by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and designed by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter in the Abramtsevo estate of Savva Mamontov, a Russian industrialist and patron of arts. Mamontov's brother, Anatoly Ivanovich Mamontov (1839–1905) created the Children's Education Workshop to make and sell children's toys. The doll set was painted by Malyutin. Malyutin's doll set consisted of eight dolls—the outermost was a mother in a traditional dress holding a red-combed rooster. The inner dolls were her children, girls and a boy, and the innermost a baby. The Children's Education Workshop was closed in the late 1890s, but the tradition of the matryoshka simply relocated to Sergiyev Posad, the Russia city known as a toy-making center since the fourteenth century.
The inspiration for matryoshka dolls is not clear. It is believed[by whom?] that Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin were inspired by eastern Asian culture, for example the Honshu doll, named after the main island of Japan, however the Honshu figures cannot be placed one inside another. Sources differ in descriptions of the doll, describing it as either a round, hollow daruma doll, portraying a bald old Buddhist monk, or a Seven Lucky Gods nesting doll.
Savva Mamontov's wife presented the dolls at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, where the toy earned a bronze medal. Soon after, matryoshka dolls were being made in several places in Russia and shipped around the world.
Ordinarily, these are crafted from Linden trees. There is a popular misconception that they are carved from one piece of wood. Rather, they are produced using: a lathe equipped with a balance bar; four heavy 2 feet (0.61 m) long distinct types of chisels (hook, knife, pipe, and spoon); and a "set of handmade wooden calipers particular to a size of doll." The tools are hand forged by a village blacksmith from car axles or other salvage. A wood carver uniquely crafts each set of wooden calipers. Multiple pieces of wood are meticulously carved into the nesting set.