Arboretum News

Sharing Traditions: Ukrainian Grain Dolls

As we prepare to show appreciation for the harvest on Thanksgiving, a recent class at the Arboretum explored the way another culture celebrates harvest season by making Ukrainian grain dolls. The class was a part of the Arboretum’s TogetherTime: Family & Intergenerational Programs, and it was inspired by a grant the Arboretum gave to the Dnepropetrovsk National University Botanic Garden in Ukraine.

The Arboretum raises money to grant public gardens around the world through donations collected as a part of Arboretum Garden Travel Tours.

In 2018, the Arboretum granted $1,000 to help the Dnepropetrovsk National University Botanic Garden launch an educational program highlighting botany and cultural traditions. The program offered classes for children and their parents based on five themes: The Warmth of the Family Hearth, Christmas Traditions, Green Holidays, Herbal and Grain Dolls and Garden in a Pocket.

Students holding grain dolls
Parents and children hold up the grain dolls they made at the Dnepropetrovsk National University Botanic Garden.

The Dnepropetrovsk Garden’s Herbal and Grain Dolls class inspired Arboretum educators to create a similar class at the Arboretum. “I thought it was an interesting opportunity to connect with another culture,” says Reba Luiken, coordinator of informal interpretation at the Arboretum.

Student making grain doll at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
A student works on her grain doll during class at the Arboretum. Photo by Reba Luiken.

Luiken developed the class by researching the grain dolls, which are made using scraps of fabric filled with grains. The dolls are designed to give as gifts, and are meant to bring good luck for the harvest. She modified instructions she found online here and here.

Grain doll.
Completed grain doll. Photo by Reba Luiken.

Using scraps of fabric provided by the Arboretum Auxiliary and volunteers, along with grains, 10 sets of children and adults put together the dolls using traditional techniques. Each child went home with a doll to enjoy or give and the skills to make more. As Luiken heard from one parent: “It was challenging, but it’s the right amount of challenging.”

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