Gallery Revisits Small Wonders of Childhood

Halfway up the stairs is the stair where he sits, a Christopher Robin look-alike in a striped shirt and suspenders. He picks up a worn teddy bear and the picture is complete. He is Sergei Romanov, an artist and toy collector who is one of the inspirations behind the Roza Azora Gallery, a tiny gallery and shop devoted primarily to the whimsical objects of childhood.


On the stairway beside Romanov is a schoolboy's satchel, a Young Pioneer doll that looks like a Soviet antique but was made by Romanov, and a nearly life-sized doll with a knowing expression and a cascade of dark, wavy hair flowing from beneath her straw hat.


"You could really be jealous of her," said a man passing by the gallery. "It's not every woman that has such gorgeous hair."


The gallery, squeezed around a staircase in the back of the Shon Gallery, a shop of Asian and Russian antiques, is filled with handmade dolls -- new, old, literal and conceptual.


Loosely speaking, the gallery's theme is childhood, but cluttered amidst the dolls and puppets are old candy tins, an iron from the 1940s, a gentleman's liquor flask and shaving set and a porcelain tea cup painted with a portrait of Lenin. There are also crafts, antique dresses and artwork -- fanciful hats and wooden sculptures -- by some noted artists.


Exploring the Roza Azora gallery feels a bit like rummaging through an attic, which is exactly what the artists had in mind. Pre-revolutionary postcards, modern earrings made with one-kopek coins, and wristwatches turned into functionless and funky bracelets are displayed in the drawers of an antique chest. To look at them, you simply sift through the drawers; it is the kind of place where they will not mind if you sit on the floor and read the messages penned on the back of the postcards.


Nearly all the objects in the gallery are for sale.


"Unless, of course, an artist is too sad to part with a particular piece. But in that case you can order a piece just like it," said Romanov, whose own collection of more than 2,000 Russian toys and dolls, which he keeps at home, is not for sale. "I sell only the pieces I make myself. The antiques I just can't sell. To me, they're like living things."


Prices at the gallery are reasonable, although that does not mean they are low.


While postcards sell for 1,000 to 3,000 rubles (50 cents to $1.50) apiece and the Pioneer doll that Romanov made is priced at 50,000 rubles, the large dolls by Lena Yazykova sell for between $1,000 and $1,500. But the dolls are sculptures more than they are toys; one of them, a prim and proper-looking woman in a black dress and hat, stands beside the staircase, her hands resting lightly on the bannister and her eyes glancing imperiously at the activity around her.


The gallery opened a month ago, but the artists involved were loosely affiliated for about three years, working independently in studios and apartments and coming together occasionally for exhibits. Their gallery will be a welcome discovery to anyone has tired of seeing the same souvenirs in every shop.


The artists featured include the well-known Estonian designer Violeta Litvinova, who has several dramatic and fanciful hats on display, and Andrei Bartynov, whose contemporary black jacket covered with buttons and snaps, and weighing in at seven kilograms, is priced at $2,000.


Among the most charming and unusual antiques are six handmade Christmas tree ornaments brought in by an elderly women who had saved them from childhood. Made of worn fabric and burlap, they depict a fisherman with a net, a babushka and other characters. They are worn and tattered looking, but like most of the things in Roza Azora, have the enchanting look of childhood.





Roza Azora Gallery, 12A Suvorovsky Bulvar, inside the Shon Gallery. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. Tel. 291-4579. Nearest metro: Arbatskaya.