Matrioshka Dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, have long been one of my favorite things to collect. The ones with political figures on them are way to kitchy for me, but I love the traditional ones and some others.
I have several sets of them: a traditional black, red and orange one, a little bit like the image on the left. I also have a winter scene doll and inside are small Christmas tree ornaments, instead of smaller dolls. I have a kind of cool Biblical one that has Mary with the infant Jesus as the biggest doll, then three gray-haired saint-like men in chausibles (the three persons of the Trinity? Joseph and some other saints? don't know). Then the last littlest object is a tiny little candle.
My favorite nesting dolls are the ones that tell stories. Here's one of Goldilocks and the three bears. I like the story-telling dolls because, I guess, of the teacher/storyteller in me. I want to use the dolls to tell a story. My favorite set (that I own) tells the story of the turnip. I love this story because it shows how important a role everyone in the family plays--from the littlest to the biggest.
A farmer grows a huge turnip. When it's finally ready to harvest, he goes to his field and tries to pull it up. It won't budge. So he asks his wife to help. It still won't budge. He asks his children to help. No good. He gets the dog to help, the cat to help, and still the turnip won't budge. It's only when he enlists the help of the mouse that he is able to pull up the turnip. Pop! Turnip soup!
The turnip story dolls show, as you might guess, the different people/animals who help to pull the turnip out, starting with the farmer, then the wife, then the kids, then the dog, the cat, and finally ends with the mouse (or a rat).
In one of my unpublished-but-I-have-high-hopes-for stories (a tall tale about a western cowdog named Lightning Lulu), I use an echo of the turnip story. Lulu can't pull the flooded chuck wagon out of the river by herself. She needs the help of the cow, the cat, and all of the other animals. Finally, working together, they rescue the wagon.
Folk arts, like matrioshka dolls, the Russian Easter eggs, quilts, Japanese fans, and even origami appeal to me because of the stories they share. Crazy quilts show a lifetime of little scraps of clothing that a family lived in. The memories enfolded in a sheet of paper or a painted egg or a piece of cloth tell the stories of our lives and help us understand ourselves and others.