September 1, 2021

Baba Yaga Village

         Baba Yaga is a fascinating magical figure from Slavic mythology.  The easiest description is to say that she’s a witch, and that certainly gets you into the right ballpark, but she has some interesting and unusual features.  Her appearance is witchy enough: an old crone, hideously ugly and ferocious-looking, bony-legged and with a long nose.  Often she is a cannibal or otherwise murderous, and she is the villain of plenty of folktales.  On the other hand, sometimes she functions more as a wise woman or prophetess, offering assistance and advice to questing heroes.  Sometimes she’s ambiguous, or both helpful and harmful in the same story.  In some folktales there are actually three Baba Yagas, sisters, each of whom is more knowledgeable - and fiercer - than the last.
        My favorite thing about Baba Yaga is her wonderfully distinctive house, which is perched atop a pair of chicken legs!  She often has an unusual vehicle, too: a mortar and pestle in which she can fly around, thumping the ground as she goes.  For some time I had wanted to do a block print of the chicken-footed house, which is just such a fun idea.  There were a couple of directions this went in my mind.  First, if there were multiple Baba Yagas, then perhaps their family included not only sisters, but generations.  Perhaps there might be a village of Baba Yagas, grandmothers and granddaughters.  So now I had three Old Baba Yagas, three young Baba Yagas-to-be, and three chicken-legged houses.  These houses, although clearly small, would be more like “cottages” than “huts,” well cared-for and clearly magical.  In designing these I researched the izba, a traditional Slavic wooden cottage, which often has wonderful carved and painted decoration.  I had a lot of fun making the different designs of my three Baba Yaga houses.
        I placed this tiny village in the midst of a dark forest, as befits Baba Yaga’s association with wild nature, and added the deer as a further symbol of their connection with wildlife.  I also gave them plenty of chickens, though.  And finally, I put a firebird above the little village, because magical folks need to stick together.
        The level of delicate carving needed to depict all these fine details was a challenge, and I had to push myself.  On the whole, I’m quite pleased with how it came out.  I also really like how the sky sets off the tops of the trees.  So, no, this does not illustrate any particular fairy tale, and I make no claims of “authenticity.”  Rather, it is my riff on those elements of the Baba Yaga mythology that most appealed to me and sparked my imagination.
        How would you like a house on chicken legs?  It sounds very useful, but I can’t help suspecting that if my house walked around I would have continuous motion sickness!

[It Takes a Flock, rubber block print by AEGN, 2021.]


Olga Godim said...

I don't think I would like to live in a moving house, chicken legs or not. Everything inside would have to be nailed down, so it didn't shift constantly. All the shelves and tables would have to have a raised edge, so nothing slides to the floor. Definitely not convenient.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Good point, Olga. Maybe it would be built like the cabin of a ship!