A visit with an Altaian artisan

Seremei KunanakovAnother stop on Jennifer Castner’s October mission to Altai was a visit to the artisan community in Kupchegen. There she had the chance to see a number of impressive examples of traditional Altaian items – everyday household tools made from bone, metal, wood, and leather, sculptures, clothing, fur, wool, and felt items and much more. The Altaian people are well-known for their husbandry when it comes to producing metal, leather, and wool products that were used by the formerly nomadic, now semi-nomadic people in everyday life.

Inspired by a series of skilled crafts exchanges between Montana and Altai Republic as a result of support from our Altai Assistance partners, 35+ artisans have come together in the village of Kupchegen to form a cooperative venture. The indigenous Altaian metal and leather workers, wool processors, felting experts, and wood and bone carvers all reside in the tiny village of Kupchegen in Altai’s Ongudai District. Just recently, they attracted the attention of Governor Berdnikov, who allocated funding sufficient to build a building with work and meeting space. WWF-Altai-Sayan has provided critical micro-loans as seed funding to support some of these talented craftspeople as well.

During Jennifer’s visit to Kupchegen village, she took the opportunity to visit with Seremei Kunanakov, a master saddlemaker, leather and blacksmith in his home workshop.

Altaian saddle

One of Seremei’s Altaian saddles

There she saw how he created every element of the saddles and leathergoods using traditional Altaian designs with direct links back to the Scythians and images we see today on artifacts found in Altai’s ancient burial mounds.

Seremei was among those who traveled to Montana to meet with American craftspeople, and he has put his experiences to work, using many new techniques, tools, and approaches to the work.

He hopes to expand his production and sell more of his saddles and smaller items, but needs more tools, leather dyes, etc. He’s excited to move into the new cooperative workshop, where he can work in a larger space and in collaboration with Kupchegen’s other artisans.

Together, they are optimistic that they can attract tourists to the village and sell their wares to local Altaians and visitors.