Nailya Koumysnikova – Goddess Umai

There are folk-arts, which intricate designs and impeccable craftsmanship incorporate the wisdom and ethnical legacy of many generations.

There are artists, whose immense depth and capturing creativity engage, empower, and energize anyone who interacts with them or with their masterpieces. 

And…..there is Nailya Koumysnikova who uniquely incorporates all these parameters!

Nailya Koumysnikova has been on a mission to revive and reimagine the Tatar Leather Mosaic Art (Kayuly Kün Sangate) for many years. Discovering centuries old leather mosaic technique in 1990ies and deciding to revive and recreate a pair of the Tatar boots for her mother (a famous Tatar actress Asiya Khairullina) turned into passion that permeates through everything Nailya apa creates and who she is.

Nailya Koumysnikova is a well-known artist in Tatarstan, Russia and globally who designs impressive works that are built on the spirit of the Tatar Leather Mosaic Art, the spirit of ancient ancestors of the Tatars and other nomadic people of the great Eurasian steppes who were the ones putting craftsmanship and deep spiritual meaning into leatherworks. Nailya Koumysnikova lovingly carries that legacy into her masterpieces. Her artwork, big or small, exude impeccable skill of aligning past with present that empowers the future. 

On April 26, 2023, Nailya Koumysnikova was awarded the Tukay Premiya – a prestigious in Tatarstan acknowledgement of a life-long dedication and contribution to the people, culture and legacy of Tatarstan. We are celebrating with Nailya apa thousands of miles away! We are so thankful for her wisdom, craftsmanship, creativity and humility. We are looking forward for many more years of productive artistry! Let Umai – the goddess of ancient Volga Bulgars – brings joy, wellbeing, and health for years to come!

Important notes:

  • We call Nailya Koumysnikova as Nailya apa, which is a respectful way to address to older than oneself lady in Tatar culture as well as to indicate a respectful connection and great appreciation.
  • Premiya has been established 65 years ago and is considered the highest recognition for contribution to Tatar culture. It is awarded annually on 26th of April – the birthday of Gabdulla Tukay, a classic Tatar poet and activist who promoted the Tatar language and is a staple of Tatar identity. 
  • Goddess Umai in the form of the bird is one of the favourite images in the artworks created by Nailya apa. For us, Nailya Koumysnikova is the Goddess Umai who personally and through her art brings peace, harmony and wellbeing!
  • If you want to be connected with Nailya Koumysnikova and custom order exceptional masterpiece, let us know.
Pair of Tatar Boots and a bag designed by Nailya Koumyskikova

Rescue a Heritage Language and a Handicraft !

A heritage language along with an ancestral handicraft are the most critical markers of the health of the community and versatility of the world! Those are, unfortunately, the ones that are being jeopardised in the modern world due to globalisation, assimilation, and industrialisation.

Within last 11 years the number of Tatar language speakers residing on their indigenous territories (modern Russian Federation) has decreased by 24%. It is over one million speakers less compared to 2010.

The picture is more dramatic with myriad of other minority languages according to the 2021 census that surveyed residents of Russian Federation. For example, among the ones populating the Volga-Ural region, the most endangered – the Mordvin language – lost 45% of the speakers. Although keeping the knowledge of regional and global lingua franca is important, it is critical to work together to protect all mother tongues, so caring, humane and vibrant community is a possibility.

  • If your mother tongue happens to be a lingua franca, then pick a language that is loosing speakers! Here is an exciting opportunity to start learning one of them – the Tatar! Take 8 weeks Tatar Language and Culture exploration course. It will be taught this summer (May 30-July 14, 2023) at Arizona State University and online. Take a dive to learn a new minority language:!
  • If you are interested to learn why it is essential to keep ancestral languages in use, consider reading the article by Brian McDermott, where he talks about Language Healers and the value of a heritage language as the most critical marker of the health of a community.
  • If you want to be inspired by the example, listen and support Carolina Cicha – a Poland’s singer and composer who uses the language of music to overcome existential crises and historical prejudice towards minority groups in Europe, particularly Lipka Tatars and Karaims.
  • If you are not into languages, learn a handicaft. Here is a suggestion: learn Tatar Leather Mosaic or “kayuly kün” ! The Tatar leather mosaic is a unique and impressive  alliance of the softest colorful leather cut into ethnic patterns and skilfully stitched together by hands. The pieces are aligned and attached to each other from the inside with the Kazan stitch  that looks like embroidery from the outside. To get inspired, just have a look at the bright leather flower design above that is stitched with vibrant silk threads and created by the prominent master of Tatar Leather Mosaic Nailya Koumysnikova who has contributed immensely to restoration, education and promotion of the unique ancient art.

It is time for a hat! One-of-a-kind hat!

A recent encounter of a hat that is designed with Tatar Leather Mosaic technique excited the beginning of 2023! Wish this year is filled with new discoveries and learning opportunities!

A man on the photo (captured by V. Sucksdorff and Y. Blomstedt, now at Finnish Heritage Agency) looks like enjoying his warm hat or, maybe, the fact that he is married – the description mentions “wedding hat”. What can be more stunning than a groom with exceptionally decorated hat? It can easily beat a bride with exquisite Tatar boots…or can it?

The photo of a hard-working man resting on a grass in the village of Muujarvi of eastern Karelia’s (nowadays in Russian Federation) in the summer of 1894 pictures him wearing long boots and the hat.

The hat looks like the one that is commonly used by many ethnic groups populating the areas where cold is a daily normal (even during the summer months). The structure of this type of the hat has flaps that are intended to cover ears, chin, and neck. It is made of leather and fur to keep the head warm. In the description of the photo, the hat is referred as “turkislakki” or “karvaslakki” in Finnish. In Tatar (and several other Turkic languages) this type of hat is called “bürek/börek“or “kolakshchyn”. In Russian it is called “ushanka” or “treuh(ka)“. Interestingly, the words incorporate “ears” in both Tatar and Russian versions, emphasising the intentional design with ear coverings.

A closer look at the hat reveals so familiar Tatar ornamental patterned design attached from the inside by Kazan stitch. It is unknown how this unique “bürek” featuring exceptional decorations created with Tatar Leather Mosaic technique made it to the Scandinavian peninsula and where exactly it was crafted. The largest leather mosaic workshops had been historically located in Kazan area (over 1400 miles away from Muujarvi). Tatar people traditionally covered their heads with different types of hats made of fur, felt and cotton that are skilfully decorated with embroidery but barely with leather mosaic. The hat housed in the National Museum of Finland surprised us with the history and the potential of the Tatar Leather Mosaic.

A closer look to “burek” reveals Tatar ornamental patterns and Kazan stitch

Dirt or Snow, Tatar Boots are to glow!

As it turns out snow is the best canvas to display the splendour of Tatar boots (shchiteqler)! But to embrace the beauty and comfortability of shchiteqler during wet or snowy weather, one would need another piece of footwear – qalushlar. Those are the rubber low overshoes that would protect gentle leather and intricate ornaments from dirt and water.

Museum of Ethnic Cultures of Minzu University houses the Tatar boots with qalushlar on – that is how schiteqler were protect at the beginning of 20th century.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Crocs are contemporary alternative to qalushlar that care for my beautiful schiteqler!

The hope is that sooner then the beginning of 22d century the overshoes become made of ecologically-friendly materials: not from synthetic rubber of traditional qalushlar and plastic of Crocs (both are derivatives of crude oil), but of natural and renewable materials like dandelion: the special one that is abundant in Eurasian steppes where decorated boots began their charm. Kudos to Continental for engineering the innovative tires from plant kok-saghyz – a modest and powerful dandelion that is native to Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan). It is translated from Kazakh language (and also Tatar) as “root gum” and it’s impressive qualities were discovered by USSR/Soviet scientists in 1932.

Another footwear that Tatar people would put on to protect soft Tatar boots are either bashmaqlar or shchuweqler like the ones pictured below (middle) in the sketches by Tatar prominent sculptor and painter Baqi Urmance. Those sketches (started in 1970) were meant to serve as a decorative background for the Soviet-ideolozied museum of Tatar prominent poet Gabdulla Tukay in Kazan. They ended up not being displayed in the museum but they made it on this website! Urmance’s work masterfully depicts the dynamics of Tukay’s Kiseqbash poem (written in 1908) as well as skilfully showcases the busy life and Islam-dictated fashion of Tatars of early 20th century in the Tatar biste (neighbourhoods) of Kazan.

Sketches by Baqi Urmance

If Baqi Urmace is the staple of Tatar visual arts, Gabdulla Tukay is the staple of Tatar literary arts, then not mentioning one more Tatar staple of musical art Salikh Saidashev would not be fair. Salikh Saidashev is one of the creators of Tatar music that was aligned with Soviet Union’s atheistic (absence of religion) ideology and aesthetics. Here is the glimpse of Saidashev’ & T.Gizzat’s musical “Merchant” (created in 1930ies) that vividly displays the new interpretation and stylezed reality of Tatar life – where religious Islamic practices were forced to be removed but the spirit of cheer and resilient community persist.

Wishes for 2022! Thanks to 2021!

Like everybody else, I have many wishes to come true in the new year! But, first, I want to recognize and thank the last year for things that came my way, particularly, this mind-blowing encounter on the internet. A hand-painted cold-cast porcelain miniature of a Tatar boot (shchiteck) designed by Raine Willlitts back in 2002 that had been patiently waiting to be found by me! What a discovery! This is a miniature replica of right boot that was worn by Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter. Caroline and her husband Armistead Peter traveled the world and claimed New York, Paris, Washington DC (Tudor place) as their homes.

Just by looking at the Caroline’s portrait that hangs in the Tudor place (painted by her husband in 1925), one can say that she was a fashionista. She, most likely, had been visiting fashionable salons and fairs around the world to keep up with the trends. Paris World Fair in 1925 (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts and Industrial Arts) was, probably, the place where she spotted unique Tatar boots that were featured in the USSR’s pavilion that impressed visitors with it’s futuristic designs and elaborate presentation of folk art of many diverse ethnicities of young Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics.

This exhibition in Paris of 1925 (world fairs once used to be grandiose events to showcase the country’s capabilities and potential) was the great opportunity for the newly established USSR (1922-1991) to display its uniqueness not only from the political stand (as socialistic endeavour with equality as the highest value). It vowed the visitors with exceptional, not-seen-before-by-Westerners plentitude of versatile decorative folk arts of multiple indigenous people. It signalled that the strengths of USSR is in it’s diverse ethnic backgrounds and skilled hands that were inherited from myriads of past ruling empires including Ottoman and Russian.

Les Bottes brodées-“itchegui” des Tartares de Kazan” (embroidered boots “ichigi’/”schiteck” made by Kazan (Volga) Tatars) were among the ones mentioned and boasted about in the official brochure. Tatar leather mosaic – the technique the “Tartares” boots were decorated in – is truly exceptional utilitarian art that captured the eyes of not only Caroline Peter but many others. Tatar boots were sought-after items that accessorised the looks of fashionistas of early 20th century.

Unfortunately, unfavourable progression in the USSR’s leadership attitudes towards ethnic minorities led to stagnation of indigenous people’s cultures, languages and folk arts including Tatar Leather Mosaic. My wish for the new year and years to come is that Tatar boots are back to production heights of the early 20th century (millions per year) and are desired by many.

Illustration of Tatar boots of 1925 Paris World Exhibition’s catalogue

How old is the oldest leather shoe?

The oldest (found so far) leather sandals were worn 6000 years ago! They were discovered in Cave of Warrior in Judean Desert in 1993.

The oldest all-foot covered leather soft shoe was found in the cave of Armenian Highlands in 2008.

The exceptional discovery was made by Soviet archeologists in 1947 in Pazyryk kurgans of Altai Mountains (south of modern city of Novosibirsk in Russian Federation), when the oldest ornamented leather boots were excavated from the burrows of Scythian nomadic tribes that had been waiting to be found for over 2300 years. All three recovered boots are decorated with intricate patterns and ornaments that bore sacred meaning for the owner.

The Tatar boots tradition is keeping the spirit and the leather craftsmanship of the nomadic heritage.

“Warrior Sandals”“Armenian Incognito”“Otze the Iceman”“Cave Moccasin”“Salt Man”“Siberian Beauty”“Roman Fort Lady”“Turkic Seamstress”
Isarel Antiquities Authority Article in Scientific JournalSouth Tyrol Museum of ArcheologyArticle in Science JournalZanjan Archeology Museum Hermitage Museum Saalburg MuseumNational Museum of Mongolia

Patchwork of life

Life, in many ways, resembles the process of patching: Present and past are pieced together, swiftly or diligently, and are generously inducted into memory via patched and patterned designs. One of the most expressive way to display memories is the folk art, especially, the most eloquent and patiently-crafted ones, like  American South quilting and Volga Tatars leather mosaic

The dearest friend of mine, Lizzie, told me once, patiently and joyfully, about the power and beauty of the quilts created by Sarah Mary Taylor that involved symbolic connotations rooted deeply in traditions and beliefs of African-American culture. The Tatar leatherwork, similarly, source its inspirations from the symbolic ornaments of Turkic nomads that tell the story of what matters. 

Both folk art forms, leather mosaic and patchworked quilting, display, in their unique ways, the universal wisdom that aggregates nuances of individual lives: beautiful, meaningful and precious lives… 

Precious Lizzie’s life is lost: Life that was filled with good deeds for humanity and nature. Life that gave so much power, care and warmth to those around and in need. Imprints of Lizzie’s tender soul is gently embedded now in the colorful mosaic and patchwork of so many people’s memories whose lives were touched by Liz, including mine!

Rest in peace and warmth, Liz!

Languages matter! Cultures cannot survive without them!

February 21 is International Mother Language Day.  Supporting  and celebrating  linguistic and cultural diversity are of the highest importance to maintain and sustain world peace and social justice.  It is crucial to preserve the linguistic and cultural differences in order to make the world versatile and interesting place to live in, to help foster tolerance and respect for others – such needed qualities to have for each of us these days.Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 9.44.03 PM

Out of 7000 world languages more than 50% are endangered . My mother tongue, Tatar language, is among potentially threatened to disappear due to several factors including the absence of the nation-state that would promote language use on governmental level. Many indigenous languages , including Tatar, face potential extinction due to deliberate reduction of minor languages instructions in public schools.

How can minor languages be preserved? On individual level, we can start by  recognizing the need to secure the future of a language and be intrinsically motivated to keep it alive, either by utilizing one’s own mother tongue or by learning a new language. Want to start with Tatar?

Here is a sweet taste of it: beautiful folk song “Umyrzaya” (Early Spring Flower).

Explore some Tatar phrases. Listen and repeat a story. Learn Amazing interactive short topics  (unfortunately, only available in Russian). Take a free online Tatar language course. 

Let’s be pro-active in securing the future of languages! We need a world with many languages that are building blocks for cultures that enrich our societies and live to be vibrant, meaningful and understanding of inherent differences.


Need cards in Tatar? Check out

Need an inspiration?

Need an inspiration or something to brighten up your day? All you need is to find couple pairs of beautiful boots and multiply them by three…and boost of energy is guaranteed.

The chiteks (tatar boots) that made my day are recent discovery from Kazan flee market. They belonged to Tatar folk dance group that performed in 1980ies in Tatarstan, USSR. The boots have holes in the thick soles telling the story that they were worn till the “last breath” and served well to their owners. It is estimated that the dancers performed at least 15 dances per show, 3 shows per day almost every weekends and holidays within two to three years. The boots were made by hands of footwear masters in Tatar Opera & Ballet Theater’s workshop in 1970ies.

tatar leather boots

Center design created by “Sahtian” and surrounded by Tatar boots created by Tatar Opera & Ballet workshop

Celebrate and Learn a Skill!

What an amazing idea was to create a movement that showcases and celebrates skills, vocation and trade! WorldSkills movement (that was born 70 years ago) has been inspiring young people to develop passion through learning skills that unite, help solve problems, empower and give purpose. WorldSkills 2019 competition was held Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia  this summer (August 22-27, 2019)! It is very exciting and promising to see that youth is inspired and dedicated to learn and practice skills. Desire to perform and master a skill can make you powerful! Powerful to make a difference, to lead meaningful and purposeful life! Powerful to restore, re-ignite, recover ancient arts and trades that have been struggling to survive in modern times.

Look at these inspiring young ladies: They are keeping the ancient skill – art of Tatar leather mosaic  – and turning it into a flourishing and popular brand!

Young ladies of Bulgari companyIMG_4583

A young company “Bulgari” makes leather goods incorporating traditional leather mosaic technique, modern designs and edgy looks. The company is run by young ladies, who believe that the power (and joy) is in finding the passion in one’s roots: Tatar Leather Mosaic made a perfect cut for them.

What an example to follow! Let’s look to our roots, heritage, backgrounds! Let’s search for some skills that are on the brink of disappearing! Let’s re-discover, re-learn, bring them back to life! It will make us better, kinder, more patient, more grateful!

If you want to buy exceptional leather goods, to learn Tatar Leather Mosaic technique, let us know.