Russian Stacking Dolls

I'm grateful that we are created in the image of a creative God.

And I love the folk art creativity of the Russian stacking doll. 

I've collected these dolls for over 30 years and this month I'm using my collection to decorate my mantle.

I started by putting a piece of old lace on the center of the mantle. As you can see, it had holes in it which made it a cheap flea market find. 

(Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what I mean.) 

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to use old lace so the imperfections don't show. And I love the delicate pattern in this particular piece.

On the left side of the mantle I displayed a doll unstacked. I bought this beautiful 12 piece doll (the smallest doll isn't shown) in Sergiev Posad, a town about 45 miles from Moscow where the nesting doll originated. I was there in 1994, and I bought the doll from the artist who hand-painted it. 

The ornate design and gold highlights are very traditional.

We were in Russia and Ukraine in 1994 on a tour. One purpose of our trip was to see our children who were attending a mission training school in Kiev at the time.

There's a wide variety of artistic skills and styles represented in my collection. 

I put the delicate lace beneath the dolls at the center of the mantle.

A friend brought me the large doll (in the center) when she and her husband went to Russia to pick up their son from an orphanage.

The doll to the left I bought on a street in Moscow from the woman who'd painted it. I think there is something especially sweet about the doll with her little handkerchief.

This is my finest doll which I bought in St. Petersburg, but it was also made in Sergiev Posad (it is signed on the bottom). It has 10 pieces, but I didn't display all of them.

Each doll has a different hand-painted country scene on her belly.

Sometimes scenes from Russian folk tales are depicted on nesting dolls.

Look at the sweet faces and details. I love their lacy scarves.

And they are just as beautiful on the back. 

I paid so little for these dolls in the early 90's. I couldn't afford them now.

I love the baby even though I rarely display her for fear she'll fall and get sucked up in my vacuum.

Below the mantle I displayed several dolls on lacy metal stools I got at Ross. 
I thought they had an Eastern European look.

Right: The bigger of these two dolls I purchased last fall in a Budapest thrift shop for $10. It has straw embossing. The doll has quite a few flaws, but it's still an interesting doll, and one I can let the older grandkids take apart and put together.

Above Left: I put this stamp set on a small end table in my living room. My daughter bought me these stamps to represent her 3 daughters because she knows how much I enjoy nesting dolls.

I also wanted to display 4 little pins I purchased in St. Petersburg.  As you can see from the back, they were very simply made with some kind of plaster, but they were so sweetly painted. 

I bought the one with the letter in her hand to represent the precious communication we had with our children at the time. This was before email was affordable/available everywhere, so I wrote my children in Ukraine long letters several times a week and sent an occasional fax. 

Phone calls were expensive, sometimes over $2 a minute, and phone lines were unreliable, but we still made calls to keep in touch. Our children were ages 18 and 20 when they went to this mission training. And the little pin to the left represents the praying I did for them while they were there..It was hard for a mom to have her children so far away especially during politically tense times, but I knew they were in the Lord's hands.

I placed these pins in my favorite little Hungarian suitcase (see it below and read about it HERE) with a piece of vintage lace. I tried putting it several places before deciding on a living room end table.

I arranged these dolls to highlight the difference between Communist and free dolls. All of these dolls were made before Communism fell. I started my collection in the late 70's, and it was rare to find a doll that wasn't the typical pattern--white and red flower design. 

I believe that's because Communism crushes the human spirit and seeks to destroy the creative image of God in individuals.  But it really only subdues God's image until it can blossom again.

The colorful wood-burned doll (front left) was an unusual find during that time period. I bought her in East Berlin in 1980. Crossing from West to East Berlin at that time in history was like going from a color photo to a black and white photo. Freedom is something we can feel, taste, touch and smell. And this contrast is similar to the difference I felt when I accepted Christ and went from spiritual death to spiritual LIFE!

This is my little historic nesting doll with 3 Russian leaders: Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Lenin. When we were in Moscow, we saw Lenin's tomb where his body has been on display since his death in 1924--creepy not only because he was a creepy person but because his body was still on display.

Thanks for letting me share my collection and my March mantle with you. Since you've already "Come On In," please stay awhile and check out the rest of my blog, especially my home page which features one-minute devotions each weekday. I'd love to have you subscribe to these devotions (use the feedburner tool on the sidebar). 
If you liked this post, please take a look at my one-minute devotion about my collection:  Nesting Dolls.


  1. Enjoyed this post. I liked learning a bit about the history of these dolls and the object lesson shared about our freedom in Christ.

  2. This is a great analogy - I have two sets of stacking dolls. One I bought in the Ukraine in 1991 when I went with my college Jazz band on a tour of the USSR, and one from 1999 from our Russian exchange student. I love your display, and your story.

  3. This post brings back wonderful memories of the time I spent in Moscow in 1994. I have two Matryoshkas which I dearly love. They are both beautiful and meaningful.

    I use a little double sided tape to keep the tiny ones in place in my china cabinet. It works very well.

    Love your collection. Thanks for sharing:)

  4. What beauty and meaning. They look wonderful on and around your mantle. I've given each of my three daughters stacking dolls, but they were purchased at a store specializing in Eastern European goods right here in the midwest. Enjoyed the tour here!

  5. Gail, I enjoyed reading about the history of your stacking dolls. They're beautiful, as are the displays you've arranged. You're very creative!

  6. Thamk you for sharing your dolls. My grandmother came from Ukraine when she was 12 years old, 1937. They lost everything in the war. I wish I had some reminders of her childhhod simce she would never talk about it.

  7. Thamk you for sharing your dolls. My grandmother came from Ukraine when she was 12 years old, 1937. They lost everything in the war. I wish I had some reminders of her childhhod simce she would never talk about it.

  8. Beautiful! I have a mantle in the house I moved to two months ago, and I haven't decided what to do with it yet.

  9. Wow - these are some really beautiful dolls. Thanks for taking these wonderful pictures and showing them off. I have more of an appreciation for the art of hand painting these dolls now!

    Thanks for linking up to the Take it on Tuesday blog hop!

  10. Hi Gail...I LOVED your post, because I LOVE these dolls!!! I actually made a large embroidered stuffed doll for a cousin's daughter years ago...before I would have thought of taking a picture of it! I sure wish I had, and now I want to make some more of them!

    I loved your sharing from going from death to life!!! How awesome is our LORD, and the power and life of His Spirit!!!

    I found your blog just tonight through Shanda's site
    and your blog was the very first I looked at because of your dolls!!! Just HAD to check them out! Like have lived and very interesting life!!! ♥♥♥

  11. Your dolls are beautiful. I was very surprised when a friend gave our twins some of these dolls for their 4th birthday. I never viewed them as toys. However our girls have played with them for hour after hour. They have been great for fine motor development as well as their imagination. They are really special.

  12. You have a beautiful collection. I have a typical nesting doll set with red scarf and red flowers. It was given to me by a family that I attended for home birth. Now my granddaughter likes to take the dolls out, lining them up on a table.

    I will read your devotion about nesting dolls!

  13. I LOVE nesting dolls! What fantastic pictures. Thanks for sharing at oopsey daisy!

  14. Hi Gail - I have always been fascinated by those stacking dolls but never found any and i haven't travelled. But i think I will let my fingers do the travelling and see what i can find out there in cyber space. your collection is awesome
    God bless

  15. Love your matryoshka collection. I have a modest collection myself. Since I am Russian, I have a special love for them and the lacquer boxes as well. Unfortunately, it continually shrinks as I pass some on to my daughter. My son prefers the lacquer boxes. All but a very few were well before the "wall" came down.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely collection!


  16. Gail, We got some of those little magnet ones too when we were in Russia. Fun!

  17. Thank you for sharing, Gail! These dolls are absolutely beautiful and I so enjoyed reading about the history that goes with them.

  18. What a beautiful collection of dolls you have. I am so glad that Jesus lives in both of our lives. To be transformed by God's love is a desire that covers my entire life. Thank you for sharing your God's truth and for sharing your collection.


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