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The Unusual Story About The Invention of an Air Ballon By the Great Scientist Montgolfier, About a Silk Skirt and the Hot Brazier

Neobychainaia istoniia ob izobretenii vozdushnogo shara o velikom uchenom mongolʹfʹe, o shelkovoi iubke i goriashchei zharovne
Необычайная история об изобретении воздушного шара о великом ученом монгольфе, о шелковой юбке и горящей жаровне

This unusual children’s book tells the story of Montgolfier, a French scientist who wishes to find a way to allow humans to take to the sky. He sits at his desk, pondering the problem for such a long time that he grows discouraged, fearing he will never find a solution. Glum, he walks home, but not before noticing some children blowing balloons. Entering his home, he asks Marta to start a fire, and when he notices the smoke from the fire blowing up a skirt hung up to dry, he gets the idea to sew a cloth balloon and use warm air to float. He makes his balloon and takes off, while all of the townspeople are awestruck. The book ends by explaining how Montgolfier’s work only was the beginning of an illustrious future for aviation. Now, the work of aviation has become even more useful and simple thanks to the collaboration of many scientists.

The book was written by Galina Vladychina (b. 1900, d. 1970). A noted Silver Age poet, children’s book author, and dramaturge, Galina Valdychina was a member of numerous underground publications, from “Bez Mus,” known for publishing Rukavishnikov in 1918, to “Yav,” a publication of imaginist poets. She was married to Boris Zemenkov, and together they worked on several children’s books.

Boris Zemenkov (b. 1903, d. 1963), was a significant Muscovite poet, artist, and “Moscoved” (expert of Moscow history) and a generally active modernist artist in the early Soviet period. After studying at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (Muzhvz), he joined the Red Army in 1919, eventually penning a book of war-time expressionist poetry. He briefly joined the expressionist group in Moscow, eventually leaving to join the radical Ничевоки (Nichevoki), an avant-garde group. He was known for spending his evenings at numerous famed literary cafes, and was acquainted with Sergei Esenin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The Unusual Story was published by Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard) — a publishing house for the Komsomol and intended to influence Soviet youth’s intellectual development — in 1927, with a lithograph cover. Seven thousand copies were printed at this date, and it is considered a notably rare find for rare book collectors today. 

Overall this story is particularly vital to understanding the Soviet obsession with aviation, science, progress, and collaboration. The writing is not very dense, and so it was likely intended for a very young audience, and the book is not terribly concerned with historical accuracy. The Montgolfier brothers did invent the hot air balloon, however, this book merges them into a singular Montgolfier, and the specific details of the invention have nothing to do with skirts and braziers. The illustration is remarkable for a number of reasons, most notably the mixture of childlike stick-figure style with more detailed and vividly colorful illustration, the latter being the style more typical of Zemenkov’s work.


Works Cited

“Владычина, Галина. Необычайная история об изобретении воздушного шара, о великом ученом Монгольфье, о шелковой юбке и горящей жаровне. Рисунки Бориса Земенкова.” Rarus’s Gallery, n.d.

“ЗЕМЕНКОВ Борис Сергеевич.” Энциклопедия русского авангарда, n.d.

"Molodaia Gvardiia." The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition. 1970-1979. The Gale Group, Inc. 3 May. 2019


Christy Chun, Hemani Kalucha, Michael Milam, Ivy Truong (SLA 221, 2019)


Pages included in this collection: