Life is the Game

December 2014

An almost Christmas story about European fairy tales that have stayed to live in Kursk.


Building and collecting dollhouses is the European tradition that emerged in the XVI century. This hobby is new for Russia and is still not very wide-spread, though in Kursk, where, as it turns out, hereditary toy craftsmen live, the craft flourishes. When and who was the first to "strip" a dollhouse is unknown but the technique became popular among miniature makers, including the heroes of our article. Dmitriy Dovgal and his mother Elena share the secrets of the room box technique.

"It all began back in the middle of the XIX century from my great-grandfather cooper," Elena says. "He was a Swede, lived near Stockholm and used to make miniature dollhouses. He also owned a store. My Granny preserved all these secrets and transferred them to mother who could draw very well and dreamt of making toys. She planned to learn this craft in Zagorsk Handicraft College. However, due to the lack of money she had to part with the dream and burnt down all her drawings (several huge files) in a stove. But the impression of the childhood imprinted for the whole life and this folk craft captivated me and soon my son Dmitriy started to make toys too."

Dovgal the Junior graduated from Auto Mechanic College and works as a shipping agent. After work he hurries to his small studio where he builds his 1/12 scale dollhouses with furniture. 1-centimetre high books have bindings and can be paged through. Wooden furniture is cut and carved out of plywood; soft armchairs and sofas are made under the same technology as the real ones: separate parts stuffed with polyurethane foam are mounted on a frame and then tapestried by fabric. Lilliputian felt boots are made of real wool, a top hat is glued according to patterns and a frame for glasses is twisted out of thinnest wire. Tiny clothes, lacy table cover, teeny blankets and pillows, curtains and carpets — everything is sewn or knit by hands with… pins.

A kitchen with kitchenware, a flower shop and a hall with a fire place and a Christmas tree, a corner of the old Paris and a winter park, submerged Atlantis and a Santa Claus workshop... The kingdom of details. There is a school classroom of the Soviet times with no-spill ink pots on the tables, portraits of Pushkin and Gorky and banner "Peace to the World!" on the wall. A German toy shop features Christmas sales – shelves are loaded with many building bricks, dolls and cars, whereas a golden coated vintage cash register with bead buttons rings deeper inside.

What setting the author will reproduce tomorrow depends on what song, play or, most likely, piece of literature he will like most. Dmitriy Dovgal has many ideas, but in the nearest future he plans to implement a whole miniature city.