Baba Yaga is a supernatural being (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs (or sometimes a single chicken leg). Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. She sometimes plays a maternal role, and also has associations with forest wildlife. According to Vladimir Propp’s folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor or villain, or may be altogether ambiguous.
Andreas Johns identifies Baba Yaga as “one of the most memorable and distinctive figures in eastern European folklore,” and observes that she is “enigmatic” and often exhibits “striking ambiguity."Johns summarizes Baba Yaga as a "a many-faceted figure, capable of inspiring researchers to see her as a Cloud, Moon, Death, Winter, Snake, Bird, Pelican or Earth Goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, phallic mother, or archetypal image”. [x]
Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (August 1876 – February 1942) was a 20th-century illustrator and stage designer who took part in the Mir iskusstva and contributed to the Ballets Russes. Throughout his career, he was inspired by Slavic folklore.
Ivan Bilibin was born in a suburb of St. Petersburg. He studied in 1898 at Anton Ažbe Art School in Munich, then under Ilya Repin
in St. Petersburg. In 1902-1904 Bilibin travelled in the Russian North,
where he became fascinated with old wooden architecture and Russian
folklore. He published his findings in the monograph Folk Arts of the Russian North in 1904. Another influence on his art was traditional Japanese prints.
Bilibin gained renown in 1899, when he released his illustrations of Russian fairy tales. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, he drew revolutionary cartoons. He was the designer for the 1909 première production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel. The October Revolution, however, proved alien to him. After brief stints in Cairo and Alexandria,
he settled in Paris in 1925. There he took to decorating private
mansions and Orthodox churches. He still longed for his homeland and,
after decorating the Soviet Embassy in 1936, he returned to Soviet
Russia. He delivered lectures in the Soviet Academy of Arts until 1941. Bilibin died during the Siege of Leningrad and was buried in a collective grave.