Hidden Treasure: Local Russian Nesting Doll Shop, One of the Largest in the World | Watauga

If it weren’t for the very large Russian doll perched outside the front door, it would be easy to miss the Golden Rooster, despite being one of the largest producers of nesting dolls in the world. world.

Located on NC Hwy 194 out of Boone is a gallery overflowing with porcelain figurines, ornaments, toys and, of course, nesting dolls.

“This showroom is like a hidden treasure for the Boone community and the High Country,” said Walton Conway, Founder and Owner of The Golden Cockerel.

Conway, a native of North Carolina, grew up in the midst of the Cold War and experienced rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“I just wanted to meet real, real people, real Russians and not for a political purpose, but just as a person,” Conway said. “I wanted to become America’s ambassador to kind of break those tensions.”

After moving to the UK as a freshman at university on a study abroad program, Conway decided he needed to keep traveling. He then moved to Germany and continued to travel through Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

“It gave me a taste of what it could be,” Conway said. “Russia was like the most forbidden land, and my goal was to learn Russian and go to Russia.”

After a few years of study, Conway traveled to Russia to teach English in 1991.

“And so began the cultural exchange,” Conway said.

Starting a Russian nesting doll business was not on Conway’s agenda when he arrived in Russia. Shortly after his arrival, the Soviet Union began to fall.

Conway described the situation while he was there: the economy collapsed, inflation soared, and food was hard to come by.

“Well, everyone was freaked out,” he said. “So I decided to help some of my friends by starting a business with them.”

After collectively deciding that Russian nesting dolls were the pinnacle of Russian tourism, he started the business.

With unemployment so high due to the fall of the Soviet Union, many people were on the streets selling nesting dolls to tourists. Conway and his friends started buying the dolls on the street and reselling them to other businesses.

As demand grew, the business continued to grow.

In 1993 Conway returned to the United States. With her new job as an English professor at Appalachian State University, Conway waited to see if the nesting doll business would continue and thrive.

“It seemed to thrive with a lot of interest,” Conway said. “So I stopped teaching and then devoted myself full-time to creating a workshop in Russia.”

The Golden Cockerel was officially established in 1993. With its own workshop, the company was able to create its own designs and oversee quality and production.

Sourcing nesting dolls from villages around St. Petersburg, Golden Cockerel collaborates with over 500 artists from across Russia.

“Many, many different artists are represented here. Keeping a lot of hands busy,” Conway said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the doors of Le Coq d’Or were forced to close, as well as their workshop in Russia. With all the uncertainty, Conway feared they might be forced to close permanently, despite having been in business for almost 30 years.

Regardless of the pandemic, when the Golden Cockerel reopened “there was a flurry of retail energy”.

“Our gallery sales have kind of doubled,” Conway said. “Because we had a very good year and our production staff was at a minimum, we are now struggling to produce enough products to meet demand.”

In addition to the nesting dolls on the Golden Cockerel website, many old and rare nesting dolls are presented in the gallery, along with photographs illustrating the process of their creation.

Regarding the quirky and peculiar Russian nesting doll business, Conway said, “the rest is history, as I said, and now I don’t know how to get out of it.”

The Golden Cockerel is located at 1651 NC Highway 194 N. in Boone. For more information, visit their website at Goldencock.com.

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