November 03, 2023

Fedor Alexandrovich Zhiltsov, Пугала в саду / Scarecrows in the garden

 photos (around 1980) by A.S. Milovsky

The creation in the image above is one of more than thirty scarecrows that in the 1970s/80s decorated a garden located in Vertlovo, a small village in the Yaroslavl region of Russia, about 250 km northeast of Moscow.

Life and works

This rather special art environment was created by Fedor Alexandrovich Zhiltsov (1900-1984), who was born into a peasant family in the village of Chukholza, near Vertlovo. 

The photo below shows him in old age, sitting next to one of his creations, and looking at another.

As a young boy Zhiltsov loved to draw pictures and he also enjoyed cutting out all kinds of figures from paper, a skill he had learned from his mother. There was also a resident in the village who had a hand-painted scarecrow in front of his house, an example that inspired Zhiltsov when he later started doing this himself.

When he was eleven years old, he worked for eight years as a laborer on a farm outside his hometown and after this job he had to serve in the Tsar's army, fighting in the wars of that time.

After his time in the army, Zhiltsov developed himself as a veterinarian, mainly caring for horses. He married when he was 29, the couple settled in Vertlovo and they got three sons and a daughter. 

Retired in 1960, Zhiltsov began making scarecrows, at first to scare birds away from his garden, but later mainly because of the satisfaction he got from making such creations. He made them freehand, without using any pattern or drawing, working elongated poles of ash wood with an axe, a saw and a knife as his only tools.

The scarecrows got a human appearance by providing them with a headgear, a face, red lips and the suggestion of an upper and lower body. His scarecrows had movable arms, one pointing upwards, the other downwards. Connected to an axis the arms could rotate, rising en felling alternately.

The images in this post mainly show isolated creations, but in the art environment as a whole there were also some ensembles to be seen, often military-like groups led by a commander. One of Zhiltsov's sons was also depicted as a young soldier, together with his young wife in a blue dress, both waving to each other.

Residents of the village of Vertlovo, which today has few inhabitants, brought Zhiltsov items to dress up his creations, such as buttons, belts, medals, swords and pots that could serve as caps. They also asked him to make a scarecrow for their own garden, which he did.

Zhiltsov's art environment got little publicity

In the early 1980s, Zhiltsov was interviewed by Alexander Sergejewitsj Milovsky, who prepared a book on Russian folk art, which was published in 1982 entitled Скачи, добрый единорог (Ride, Good Unicorn).

This probably is the only publication with a good description of the art environment and its creator. I would like to acknowledge that the text of this post is based upon the information in the article in Milovsky's book.

But then, in 2004, an article was published in a Yaroslav's newspaper, informing its readers about the creation of a museum dedicated to scarecrows. The article briefly mentions Fedor Zhiltsov and his art environment. It is reported that Zhiltsovs died in 1984 and that his house became neglected and empty, with a collapsed roof and a completely overgrown garden. It is also was stated that several scarecrows manufactured by Zhiltsov, came into the possession of relatives and neighbors.

Milovsky's book

A wooden sculpture of a man with rotating arms like Zhiltsov made, can also be found in the art environment made in the 1990s by Anatoly Varlamov. On the roof of his house stood a sculpture of astronaut Yuri Gagarin with arms rotating along his body. This site has also gradually disappeared.

* Alexander Sergejewitsj Milovsky, Скачи, добрый единорог (Ride, Good Unicorn), PDF-edition, 1982, -196 p
* Article (September 2004) on the website of a newspaper published in the Yaroslavl region

Fedor Alexandrovich Zhiltsov
Vertlovo, Yaroslavl region, Russia
this site doesn't exist anymore

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