The Appeal of Nesting Russian Dolls

by Lynne Ober


Lindsay, 5, paints while her mother holds her doll.

The appeal of nesting Russian Dolls is universal – from the smallest child to the wisest adult, everyone smiles as each doll is opened to reveal another doll. 

Pelham Library sponsored a hands-on seminar that taught participants how to make their own set of Russian dolls.

“This is fun,” grinned Jacob, 8, as he worked on his first doll.  “I love to paint and she [Marina Forbes] makes it easy to know what to do.”

History says that the first Russian nesting doll set, also known as Matryoshka, was made in 1890 in the workshop "Children's Education" situated in the Abramtsevo estate near Moscow.  The owner of Abramtsevo was Sava Mamontov, who was an industrialist and a patron of the arts.  Russian wooden dolls with nested smaller dolls were called Matryoshka.  In old Russia the name Matryona or Matriosha was a very popular female name among peasants.  Scholars say this name has a Latin root "mater" and means "Mother" so this name was associated with the image of a mother of a big peasant family who was very healthy and had a portly figure and lots of smaller children (i.e. nested dolls).  Subsequently, it became a symbolic name and was used specially to image brightly painted wooden figurines made in such a way that they could be taken apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.  There are usually six dolls in one set.

Russian folklorist, lecturer, and artist Marina Forbes from the New England Language Center in Rochester presented the workshop.  She used humor, stories, music and tips to teach her pupils how to paint traditional nesting dolls. 

“I chose my colors because I liked them together,” said Lindsay, 5.

Forbes has been teaching for more than 20 years and is a licensed guide of the hermitage Museum in her native city of St. Petersburg (Russia) and leads several customized tours to Russia each year.  In June of each year she leads a tour back to her home city of St. Petersburg for small groups of travelers.  She is currently Director of International Programs at the New England Language Center in Rochester.  The center offers language instruction of more than 16 foreign languages as well as an intensive English as a Second Language program.

Forbes is listed on the New Hampshire Humanities Council Roster as well as the New Hampshire Arts Council Rosters for Traditional Arts, Arts in Education and Very Special Arts (VSA).  She offers between 75 and 100 presentations and workshops each year on Russian art, life, history, and culture throughout the New England area.  In addition to her interest in folk lore, she is an active artist and art teacher, focusing on watercolors, traditional Russian icons, and Russian nesting dolls. 

She worked with family members to paint and create unique sets of Russian Matryoshka dolls while telling stories and introducing the audience to Russian music and culture. As her students worked on the nesting dolls she drifted from student to student, showing them how to improve on their painting technique, and offering tips.

In her presentations, Forbes draws on her own personal experiences to paint a vivid, thought provoking, and often humorous picture of both the old and new Russia, but she also displays some beautiful nesting dolls that have been painted in peasant style.  These dolls gleam from the high sheen of the paint.  Students learned about traditional Russian dress, steps to Russian dances and steps, but none of them lost sight of their goal to produce a painted set of five nesting dolls by the end of the workshop.

“I want mine to look just like that,” said one munchkin pointing to one of the display dolls.  “It’s so beautiful and this is lots of fun.”


Painted family of nesting dolls.


An Icy Adventure

by Lynne Ober


Brandon experiment with colored water and ice.

“It looks like a dinosaur egg,” announced Joshua happily.  In fact it was a large block of ice made by Pelham’s Librarian, Miss Debbie, who had filled balloons with water and frozen them for four days.

Miss Debbie led the participants through a thorough examination of their ice.  They found bubbles, cracks, clear and cloudy ice.  Some of them had bumps; some had an indentation on the top.  The ice balloons were mainly smooth and very cold.  The ice was hard and it was heavy. 

All of them were intrigued by what they saw when they looked very closely.  It was a huge surprise to discover that ice can assume a large number of different crystalline structures.  Ice can actually form more crystalline structures than any other known material.

Miss Debbie talked to them about glaciers.  Did they know that glaciers were really huge ice cubes?  They giggled.  She told them about one of the first scientists to study glaciers and how he built a cabin on the glacier.  Then he went home and it was three years before he could return.  The cabin had moved from its original site.  Why?  Because glaciers move.  She showed them some beautiful photos of glaciers that were in books in the Children’s Section of the library.

Then it was time for some fun.  “Hold out your hand,” Miss Debbie instructed before placing a small hill of salt into each up-turned palm.  “Put some salt on top of your ice and see what happens.”

The ice melted in little rivers.  Miss Debbie had the children look at the patterns made by the running water.

Next they drizzled colored water onto their ice.  The dyed water made additional paths.  “Cool.  A blue water fall,” said Joshua, who immediately wanted to add some green die to his waterfall.  Lily liked the fancy designs that she made on her ice with the colored water.

But Miss Debbie wasn’t done with her tricks.  First they learned about snow flakes from Miss Debbie and then she taught them how to grow ice crystals.  “We can make our own snow flakes.”

Before they left, they learned how bodies react to cold and what can be done to protect themselves from the cold.

“This was so much fun,” cooed one of the participants, whose mom immediately said, “That came from my son who didn’t want to come.”


New Design Team Ready to Begin High School Project

by Barbara Jester

Representatives of the new architectural firm hired by school officials to design the future Windham High School say they are ready to get to work in earnest.

Fred Urtz, president of Lavallee/Brensinger of Manchester, said his staff is ready to get underway on January 2, 2007 and are committed to having the school ready for opening day in September of 2009.

School officials had terminated the former contract with the architectural firm of Team Design, also of Manchester, after a significant period of negotiations failed to progress to the district's satisfaction.  Problems with Team Design came to light this past July when the lowest bids on building construction and site work came in at $13 million over the allotted budget.  Discussions of building a smaller high school than originally intended also did not appear to be fiscally feasible for the school district if Windham stayed with Team Design.

by Barbara Jester

During the school board meeting on Tuesday, December 19, Chairman Bruce Anderson presented a brief chronology of the history which lead up to the decision to build Windham High School and what has transpired since that time:

  • From 1962 to 1994, Windham High School students attended Pinkerton Academy in Derry.  In 1994, no more Windham students were accepted at Pinkerton due to a lack of space.
  • Beginning in 1994, Windham has had an agreement with the Salem School District to tuition high school students to that town.  The current cost is about $5 million per year.
  • In 2002, the search for land on which to build a local high school began.
  • In 2003, Windham residents voted to terminate a long-term agreement with the Salem School District.
  • In early 2004, Pelham voters turned down a proposed cooperative high school for Pelham and Windham students.
  • In April of 2004, the Windham High School Committee was formed and Team Design, an architectural firm, was hired.
  • In July of 2004, committee members recommended construction of a core high school for 1,400 students, with classroom space for 1,000 students be built.
  • In November of 2004, a purchase and sales agreement was signed for property on London Bridge Road on which to build a high school.
  • In January of 2005, the estimated cost of the high school project was projected at $43.8 million.
  • In March of 2005, 77 percent of voters at the annual school district meeting approved the proposed land acquisition and construction of Windham High School.
  • In February of 2006, road engineering problems were encountered and the construction project was delayed.
  • In June of 2006, Harvey Construction was hired as the construction management firm.
  • In July of 2006, construction site and building bids were issued; the lowest of which came in $13 million over budget; after which extended negotiations with Team Design began.
  • In August of 2006, a special town meeting was convened to correct a land ownership mistake discovered during the surveying process.
  • In November of 2006, the contract with Team Design was terminated.
  • In December of 2006, selectmen voted to convey 9.7 acres of town-owned land needed for the high school site, due to an error in ownership caused by lost monumentation along boundary lines.
  • In December of 2006, a contract was negotiated and signed with Lavallee/Brensinger of Manchester to design a smaller high school for Windham at the amount remaining in the construction budget.
  • Site work is scheduled to begin in January and continue until May of 2007.
  • Foundation excavation is expected to begin in June of 2007.
  • Completion date of the new Windham High School is slated for September of 2009.

“It comes down to economics,” School Board Chairman Bruce Anderson said during a meeting on Tuesday, December 19 at the Windham Town Hall.

The original projected cost of the new high school was $43.8 million, including a core facility for 1,400 students and classroom space for 1,000 students.

Anderson explained that about $2 million was paid to Team Design for the work they did earlier this year.  Of that, some was spent on site permits, all of which will remain valid.  The Windham School District will also be retaining site plans configured by Team Design.  Those plans are said to have a value of about $350,000.

Dr. Anderson said some people have said they want the school district to sue Team Design for their failure to adhere to the contract, but school officials feel it would just result in too much money being spent on legal expenses, as well as school construction being delayed even more than it has been already.

Under the new proposal, Lavallee/Brensinger will be designing a high school for 800 to 850 students.  The proposed facility would total 170,000 square feet, as opposed to 240,000 square feet for the original concept.  The core facility of the new design is anticipated to be able to handle 1,000 students, expandable to 1,400 students in the future.  The cost of the architectural and engineering designs for the new plans is estimated at $1.4 million.

The original plans for London Bridge Road to provide access to the future Windham High School remain unchanged, Anderson said.

Dr. Anderson said that Lavallee/Brensinger has had extensive experience in designing new high schools.  In recent years, they have undertaken 12 major high school projects, including Bow, Sanborn Regional, and both Nashua North and South.  The architectural firm was also instrumental in the construction of the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, the expansion of Manchester/Boston Regional Airport and the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord.

President of the firm, Fred Urtz said he's been in business for the past 30 years and even though they have taken on other major projects, educational construction remains at the core of their practice.  “We like to solve problems,” Urtz said, in regard to moving the Windham high school project forward to an on-time completion date.

Urtz said his company is using none of the former architect's drawings (Team Design).  “We are starting over,” he said.  A design workshop was scheduled with school officials on Thursday, December 21 to get the process underway.

“It's the same goal, just a new team,” Dr. Anderson said.  There will be more flexibility with the new design and the project will be under cost restrictions, he said.

As for the construction management company, Harvey Construction, spokesman Karl Dubois said that the “goal is to fast-track the project.”  “A 2009 opening is not a concern,” Dubois said.  He said plans are to do site work between this coming January and May and to begin the building foundation next June.  Urtz said that his firm and Harvey Construction have worked well together on numerous past projects.

Dubois said that Harvey Construction will work within the remaining approved construction budget.  The entire project will be put out to bid in three phases, he said.  The cost Dubois has quoted is $135 per square foot (for a total of 170,000 square feet).  As for any proposed add-ons to built on to the new high school, Dubois said a menu selection of such choices will be presented to voters at a future time.  He did caution, however, that “the longer you wait, the more it will cost.”

Urtz said the most cost-effective time to approve add-ons would be in March of 2007, before any bids are solicited for the project.  Some residents attending the meeting felt that this coming March is too early for the school district to ask for more money for the high school.

School board member Beth Valentine presented high school enrollment projections for the next 10 years.  In 2014, it is projected that the high school population in Windham will increase from the existing 800 to about 823 students; that is projected to climb to 875 in 2015 and then make a large jump in 2016 to 970 students.  “This (smaller-size high school) will sustain us through the year 2015,” Valentine said.

“The core philosophy has not changed as to how students should be educated in Windham,” Dr. Anderson said.  “Those beliefs remain unchanged.”

As for where Windham high schoolers will go to school in the meantime, Superintendent Elaine Cutler said she has been negotiating a tuition agreement with the Salem School District through 2009.  “If we have needs, they will meet them,” Cutler said.

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