Vladimir Nuzhdin in the television show "House of Friendship"

On July 15th 2012 the artist Vladimir Nuzhdin and the journalist Irina Egorova are visiting Alexander Alekseev at the "Dom Druzhby" (House of Friendship) show on channel VOT ("Vashe Obshchestvennoe Televidenie") (Your Community Channel).

Alexander Alekseev: Welcome! Here at the set of VOT is Alexander Alekseev and this is the "Dom Druzhby" show. Our guest today is Vladimir Nuzhdin. Hello, Vladimir!

Vladimir Nuzhdin: Hello!

A.A.: Vladimir Nuzhdin is an engraver, and one of the founders of military-patriotic historical reconstruction. That, among other things, is what we're here to talk about today. Our other guest is a renown journalist, Irina Egorova. Hello, Irina!

Irina Egorova: Hello. I'd like to point out that Vladimir works in a rare engraving technique - the carving is done on stone and then cast in metal. He's the only artist in Russia and one of fifteen worldwide to use this method.

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A.A.: I see. So if we compare the traditional engraving technique with yours, the time it takes you to do one engraving is enough to make 10 or 100 traditional ones?

V.N.: Of course! All engravers who do hollow relief on stone say that working with copper is a piece of cake.

A.A.: So how's the demand on your work? What's the clientele like?

V.N.: In the past 15 years I've mostly been working for the Western market. In the West there are plenty of people who collect tin soldiers, tin engravings. Yet after I did a large project dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Triumph in World War II I became a well sought-after artist in Russia, too.

I.E.: Vladimir created a diorama for the 60th anniversary; with approximately two thousand figurines is became one of his largest works and earned him due prominence in Russia. Furthermore, in 1996 Vladimir was recognised as the best engraver in Europe.

Raparade of Victory
Diorama Parade of Victory

A.A.: So you're recognised in Europe. What about Russia? Do the scholars acknowledge you?

V.N.: (laughs) I've met quite a few of them. They're amazed that this technique persevered. It is actually an ancient art; hollow relief and casting was used to make all early banknotes and jewellery.

A.A.: What is hollow relief engraving?

V.N.: It is when an image is engraved on stone using a variety of chisels to create a 3D image. The final width is approximately 1.2 mm on both sides.

A.A.: Like the stone I have here?

V.N.: Yes, that's the cast.

A.A.: So, what needs to be done to get the final product?

V.N.: To make the final product, so, to cast the figure, you'd need to mix the alloy, calculate the pressure and plan the air exhausts to ensure that the mould won't crack. After that you take the two sides of the cast and pour the alloy in to make the figure. The whole process is done by hand.

St. George killing Dragon. Mould and cast.

A.A.: Now that is true artwork!

V.N.: That figure is based on "St George and the Dragon" by V. Carpaccio, painted in year 1450.

I.E.: And that's how playing toy soldiers lead to the creation of historical and military figurines. It all started with a childhood hobby, didn't it, Vladimir?

V.N.: Of course. Everyone played with toy soldiers when we were little. Every New Year's Eve my mother would put a little paper bag with plastic toy soldiers under the tree. My mother was a doctor and we weren't too well-off, but sometimes she'd get parts of syringes and other medical instruments for me. So I played with them, built things.

I.E.: And that lead to Vladimir becoming the mind behind the first military miniature expo in Saint-Petersburg; do tell us about it.

V.N.: The exhibition was organised by my maîtres, which were interested in flat tin soldiers. Mezenev V.F., Baryshnikov S.O., Vilinbakhov G.V. - these prominent artists are behind my love for miniatures. I was already quite good with chisels, so I thought I'd try my hand at making the soldiers. That's how I began making the first flat soldier miniatures in Saint-Petersburg, the first ones in Russia. My friends and I set up the exhibition of tin soldiers in the Suvorov Memorial Museum; there are around six thousand tin figurines stashed in its archives, all gifts from collectors.

russian archer
Russian Archer, one of first flat of Vladimir Nuzhdin

I.E.: You mentioned that you did a lot of work for western collectors. Are toy soldiers really as popular of a collectible in Europe?

V.N.: Extremely popular. There's a multitude of collectors' societies, some with tens of thousands of members. They exist not only in Europe, but also in America and Canada. I occasionally get orders from Brazil, too.

A.A.: Vladimir, you are a very active person; but art such as yours seems to require incredible patience. How do you tune your mind to your work?

V.N.: (laughs) It's true, I'm a choleric by nature. I'm very dynamic, very energetic - I just steer my passion into my work.

A.A.: Say, does your work provide you with gratification other than spiritual? How's the material well-being as of today?

V.N.: I'm well-known around the world; my work has been my only source of income for the past 20 years or so, and I haven't found myself in need.

I.E.: But it's different in Russia, isn't it?

V.N.: Yes, it is still a bit different in Russia. Still, in the last five years things have begun to change - there are a lot more collectors now, both amongst the altruists and the rich.

I.E.: Yet figurine collecting remains a hobby for the well-educated?


V.N. Yes, of course. To make an engraving based on this work by V. Carpaccio you'd need to know the history of its creation, the story.

I.E.: Perhaps we should move onto historical reconstruction. Vladimir is not only a great artist that works in a rare technique, but also one of the founders of the historical reconstruction movement. Was it the toy soldiers that caused you to get into historical reconstruction, Vladimir? Saint-Petersburg is considered the cradle of this movement. How did it begin? It appeared around 20 years ago, didn't it?

V.N.: No, it started in 1976, over 35 years ago.

I.E.: And it was in the underground back then?

V.N.: Of course. The authorities actively discouraged all propaganda of the Tsar regime. Our involvement with tin soldiers and tabletop battles was already "against the creed of the workers' and peasants' society".

military reconstruction
Russia, fortress Koporie. Battle between reenactors, 1979.

I.E.: So you literally shook the foundations of society?

V.N.: Yes. It was considered that we tore up the foundations of the community by advocating the Imperial uniform and games. We not only promoted the uniform, we did our best to act according to the era we were reconstructing, which drove the authorities mad. "Sir, how dare you?" was the standard answer to a policeman's "What do you think you're wearing" - it was really quite shocking for them.

I.E.: Have you been in situations like that?

V.N.: Yes-yes. We'd been taken in many times for the uniform.

I.E.: In uniform? (laughs)

V.N. Well, of course; but that's not all. When we were uniformed for the Napoleonic wars or as hussars, all was well - people thought we were filming something. It was with the White Guard uniform where the problems started; we were forced to explain why we're dressed as followers of the last Tsar, and asked whether we have the official permission to wear the uniform.

I.E.: Let's talk about the widely-celebrated 200th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon on the 26th of August according to the old calendar, and on the 7th of September in the modern one. There are lots of events and festivals with members of the historical reconstruction movement; but very few can actually join in.

A.A.: Few people can afford it.

Festival Borodino, 2012.

I.E.: Not only few can afford it, there spectator capacity isn't too good, either. The re-constructors revive the historical dress, elements of everyday life, selected stages of battles. It is all very impressive, but it's a pity that so few can witness it in the flesh. Today we're paying homage to Borodino, the greatest battle in the history of Russia. Yet our knowledge of the events that passed is rather abstract, isn't it?

A.A.: Overall, yes. Some people might be quite upset that Napoleon didn't actually conquer Russia, as he turned out to be not that bad of a person.

I.E.: You're thinking along the same lines as Talleyrand back then. He said to Alexander the First: "The Russian Emperor is civilized, while the Russians are not; the French are civilized, while their Emperor is not". He'd offered a union of the civilized Russian Emperor with civilized French people.

V.N.: That did indeed occur.

A.A.: Imagine it actually came to be?

I.E.: A union of Russia and France... The history would be so different.

V.N.: If that had happened... Firstly, we would have had 50 or 60 years less of serfdom. The French society was amongst the most progressive and free in Europe at the time. Napoleon had carried liberal values to backwater Europe.

I.E.: The ideas of democracy!

V.N.: The idea of true democracy! European countries resisted, of course, Russia chief amongst them. Bear in mind that only Saint-Petersburg and Moscow were progressive, it was all very different in the country. Lords didn't want to let their serfs go, so he wasn't interested in progressive reforms. That is why the character of Napoleon is so appealing; the cause for so many young people wanting to wear the uniform of his era. At the moment, me and a friend of mine are writing a book about people who are into military & historical reconstruction. It is going to be called "Strange People".

A.A.: "Strange" being the people who do military & historical reconstruction?

V.N.: Yes; and those who look at historical re-constructors. Many people consider us pretenders, while that is not actually true. By dressing according to an epoch we want to feel how people lived and fought back then. It's rather hard sometimes, too; for example when you need to run out in the fields in a wool attire and it's 30 degrees Celsius.

Vladimir Nuzhdin
Festival Borodino, 2012.

A.A.: Is that what being in character is about?

V.N.: Yes. It's also an attempt to emulate the manners, speech, attitude of the people back then. People change when they become serious about reconstruction.

I.E.: So you put on a uniform jacket and feel different?

V.N.: Of course we feel different. It even changes the way to stand; sort of calls for a better posture.

I.E.: Are all elements of the dress replicated precisely?

V.N.: It is imperative. Everything is sown by old patterns, which have a lot of nips and peculiarities. My wife encountered a few of them when she tailored my first costume. To be honest, these little details make the dress significantly more comfortable and ease movement.

Festival Borodino, 2012.

A.A.: What about the buttons? They need to be cast, don't they?

V.N.: Yes, they're cast. I used to do that a lot, and still sometimes do. Many re-constructors request them.

I.E.: Certainly, the more people get into military & historical reconstruction, the better and healthier our society will be on the whole. We talk a lot about civil society; historical reconstruction is one of the stones it can be built upon.

A.A.: Unfortunately, this is the end of our today's programme. Today we were joined by Vladimir Nuzhdin, an engraver and one of the founders of the military & historical reconstruction movement, and a prominent radio journalist, Irina Egorova. Thank you for joining us; and goodbye!

I.E.: Thank you!

V.N.: Thank you!