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Metal Art: For the Public and for the Home
Lijana Natalevičienė
Jewelry and Amber
Artistic metalwork has traditionally included a large array of works of art, from jewelry, small sculpture, and medals, to large-scale decorative architectural objects and interior compositions. Various materials are used in metalworking—gold, silver, iron, bronze—as well as different means of production: hot (casting and forging) and cold (forging and hammering). Larger and more simpler pieces of iron metalwork are ascribed to blacksmithing, small and more subtle pieces are classified as toreutic works, while artistic pieces from precious metals such as gold, silver or platinum are classified as works of jewelry.
After the Second World War, jewelry pieces were the most popular metalwork items produced by the Dailė workshops. Their popularity was ensured by women eager to return to a more beautiful style of dress in peacetime, as well as by men searching for elegant tie clasps, cufflinks, and amber cigarette holders. The gold and silver jewelry mass-produced by other "fraternal" republics were too costly for most consumers and were also perpetually in short supply and very often formulaic in design. Consumers were thus drawn to family jewelry they had managed to hide and save during the war and to more inexpensive and distinctive locally made artwork. From 1945 onward, jewelry made from precious metals in Lithuania had to be appraised and stamped in Riga, Latvia (one more burden for Lithuanian manufacturers), another factor that contributed to the popularity of jewelry made from less expensive metals.
It was precisely during this time after World War II that leaders of the art world decided that amber was to be considered the Lithuanian "national material" for jewelry. The concept was not, however, a new one. It was based on the prevailing ideas of pre-war independent Lithuania, which considered amber to be the archetypal symbol of the Lithuanian nation. Raw amber was relatively inexpensive and accessible, pulled from the Baltic Sea or mined in the nearby Königsberg (Karaliaučius in Lithuanian) district, renamed Kaliningrad by the Soviets. The earliest period of Lithuanian jewelry making in the Soviet period was closely linked to the development of amber processing.
Jewelry items were made by the "Gintaras" (Lithuanian for "amber") workshop in Kaunas (opened in 1945), and also from 1946 on by workshops in Plungė, Kretinga, and Palanga, operating under the jurisdiction of the Dailė factory in Klaipėda. An amber workshop also operated as part of the Dailė factory in Vilnius during the 1950s. Amber jewelry was also made by master craftsmen working at Dailė in Kaunas. At the start, all of these crafts and creations were very popular, but over time, such a surge in the use of amber not only led to a fall in the mineral's value, but also to a drop in Lithuanians' desire to wear amber jewelry.
Early jewelry made from silver, copper, and other metals and decorated with amber were unimaginative—adhering to pre-war templates and using interpretations of ethnographic or neoclassical shapes—and featured small, smoothly polished pieces of amber set in exact openwork framing. Brooches with imagery of leaves, grapes, cherries, or insects were popular, while different types of beaded necklaces, often polished like precious stones, were also in fashion. Producers targeted the popular tastes of the masses, making few if any attempts to break out of prevailing stereotypes. Moreover, jewelry was often made using treated amber and little value was placed on appreciating and preserving the mineral's natural qualities. Indeed, "inclusions" found in tiny pieces of amber were considered defects. In this early period, nearly 70% of raw amber was discarded as production waste.
More positive developments took place in jewelry production in the mid-1950s. The Dailė factory in Klaipėda became the center of amber processing and production, bringing together a talented group of artists that, it was hoped, would advance the aesthetic quality of amber crafts. These artists included the sculptors Eugenijus Mikulevičius (b. 1928), Birutė Jociūtė-Mikulevičienė (b. 1926), and Genovaitė Blažytė-Guntienė (1927–1984), ceramists Vacė Kojalavičiūtė-Užpalienė (b. 1931) and Petras Balčius (b. 1935), and others, assisted by a host of skillful craftsmen and artisans.
Several different types of amber works prevailed in the early years of production: small amber mosaic pieces (portraits, landscapes with historical monuments, romantic scenes from folklore), made by amber artisans in Klaipėda (many by G. Blažytė-Guntienė) from small pieces of polished or coarse amber; so-called "reliefs", or wooden panels with relief landscapes, portraits, or figure compositions made from amber shards; as well as works made using the negative carving technique, often copied from designs made by Russian craftsmen in semi-precious stones, in which landscapes were carved into one side of larger pieces of polished amber.
Amber mosaic creations were not a Soviet-era invention. Larger pieces (watches, boxes, snuffboxes, etc.) were already being inlaid by Palanga amber artisans in the early 20th century. Only after trained and qualified artists began working at the art workshops, however, were more complex and intricate scenes and paintings created for interior decor. It would seem that artists, craving creative inspiration, sought to expand the scope of amber craftsmanship. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1960s, conventional wisdom began to maintain that such squandering of amber resources was not viable in the longer term and was, perhaps, even contradictory to a minimalist life style. As a result, amber mosaics, reliefs and negative carving pieces soon fell out of fashion.
Modernisation in the design of jewelry and accessories was influenced by the changing position of this particular field of art itself. Jewelry grew in prestige, artisans eagerly embraced innovation, and an active campaign of promoting amber was undertaken by the press, with the energetic support of such people as the museum professional Pranas Gudynas, art historian Stasys Pinkus and, in particular, artist Feliksas Daukantas, who authored numerous articles advocating for the sustainable use of amber and public appreciation of its unique beauty. Also significant was the influence of Estonian jewelry making and its embrace of the more restrained designs of Scandinavia, which reached Lithuanian audiences via the work of artists graduating from the Estonian Art Institute (Tiiu-Ene Vaivadienė, Vytautas Budvytis, Elina Budvytienė). The geometric patterns, clear-cut designs, and unburdened nature of clothing popular in the 1960s, increasingly also introducing exotic elements or traces of sub-culture and folk art, demanded laconic, large and expressively shaped jewelry and accessories.
Changes in Lithuanian jewelry coincided with a greater interest in decorative accessories around the world. Several significant jewelry exhibitions were held in various countries in the 1960s, and many were soon held regularly: an international retrospective jewelry exhibition in London in 1961, featuring work created between 1890 and 1961 (including historical pieces from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum), and later, exhibitions at the Jewelry Center in Pforzheim, Germany and in Tokyo, Japan, in 1970.
New trends in Lithuanian jewelry revealed accessories that, while unassuming at first glance, were nevertheless visibly different: large silver bracelets (both made in 1960) by V. Budvytis, Sofija Rimantienė's brooches (1960–1961), T. E. Vaivadienė's accessory sets (Dabartis [The Present], 1958; a necklace and bracelet set, 1960). The pieces were emphatically simple, but they stood out from the clothing they complimented, revealing the specific characteristics of their metals. Their surfaces were adorned with simple and easily appreciated stylized designs.
Like all forms of Lithuanian art crafted in the 1960s and 1970s, jewelry and accessories also began to feature ethnographic details, clearly evident in pieces by Jonas Prapuolenis, S. Rimantienė, Petras Balčius, Liuda Vaineikytė, Albina Vertulienė, and others.
What changes were taking place in amber jewelry? In the 1960s, jewelry designers sought to display amber in it most natural state, accentuating innate drop, oval, or circular forms. Metal chains and mounts were meant to highlight the mineral's natural beauty. New types of neckwear appeared alongside traditional favorites like beaded necklaces and bracelets, such as chains and strands with amber medallions and pendants (featured in designs by Liucija Šulgaitė, F. Daukantas, E. Mikulevičius, and Irena Pakutinskienė), or strands strung with small pieces of unprocessed amber.
The advance of the new approach to amber work was encouraged by the creative work and publications of Feliksas Daukantas (1915–1995). In the amber jewelry pieces he created in the 1960s, Daukantas emphasized minimalism, laconic forms, democratic trends, and the search for unity of detail. At the start of his artistic career, Daukantas worked like a sculptor (true to his professional training in that field), creating minimally adorned small amber figurines resembling amulets, and also experimenting with negative carving techniques. Later, however, he distanced himself from such work and began creating a type of amber jewelry design that stood out from other accessory pieces of the time.
Daukantas used a sparing approach to processing his amber, leaving his pieces with some unpolished areas, cavities, or patches of matte surface, and showing an equal appreciation for both clear as well as cloudy or opaque amber material. Minimalist and richly elegant jewelry pieces by Liucija Šulgaitė adhered closely to the Daukantas style. After she was forced to leave her position at the Lithuanian Art Institute in the 1950s because of her resistance to the Soviet regime (resuming her studies at the Arts Academy in Riga some years later), Šulgaitė continued to design jewelry pieces for more than ten years, living as best she could from her work under her given circumstances.
Daukantas' style revealed itself through his own unique aesthetics: simplicity in jewelry design, the natural shape of the amber, accentuated colors and textures, and a more "technical" approach to mounting and setting amber and metal that was unique to Daukantas.
Kazimieras Simanonis (b. 1937), a graduate of the Estonian Art Institute, is also credited with introducing new trends in Lithuanian jewelry design. In contrast to the minimalist trends prevalent at that time, Simanonis considered jewelry and accessories to be objects of luxury and social statement, and he accordingly designed his pieces to be worn as elaborate ornamentation for special occasions. Simanonis' creations were large and sumptuous, with intricate, Baroque mountings and combinations of different materials and textures. Any given piece of jewelry was created using various techniques: engraving, incrustation, filigree, or blanching silver, which Simanonis popularized in Lithuania.
Read more: Kazimieras Simanonis.
Lithuanian jewelry designs, in particular the amber work for which Lithuania had become famous, were shown at World's Fairs in Montreal (Expo '67) and Osaka (Expo '70), as well as the international industry and trade exhibition in London in 1968. Amber jewelry by Milda Eitmonaitė (1931–2009) earned a diploma from the international jewelry exhibition in Jablonec, Czechoslovakia in 1971, the first international recognition awarded to Lithuanian jewelry. Like linen, amber became an integral part of Soviet Lithuanian culture as a representation of the nation's unique heritage. Selected exhibitions from the collection of the Palanga Amber Museum toured many countries that were part of, or considered friendly to, the "Soviet Bloc": Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East Germany, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden.
The intensive development of amber work and often amateurish, sometimes even kitschy production shaped a rather negative public perception of the Baltic Sea mineral. Elite and unique designs by artists were accessible to only a few persons who could appreciate their artistic value. For quite a long time, amber's low cost and its relative accessibility (most valuable goods were difficult to obtain in Soviet times) served to discourage most Lithuanians from turning to amber as an accessory.
The plasticity of metals
Decorative forged and cast metal (copper and silver) panels, vases, plates, and candlesticks, all designed (by T. E. Vaivadienė, E. Budvytienė and others) in the simplified, decorative style characteristic of that period, were displayed at exhibitions held throughout the 1960s. Building on her foundation in the art deco style that she mastered in the pre-war period, K. Petrikaitė-Tulienė cut and shaped enchanting, expressively posed small sculptures from metal sheets.
Plastic arts made from metal began appearing more frequently in Lithuanian interior designs in the 1950s, including forged, moulded and shaped works from iron and other metals. Artists created decorative panels, grilles, advertising boards, partitions, chandeliers, weather vanes, signs, and fireplace accessories. Laimutis Ločeris created compositions from metal wire for the interiors of the Neringa Café and Hotel (1959–1960). Openwork metal partitions by K. Petrikaitė-Tulienė adorned cafés in Kaunas (Lithuanian Dancers [Lietuvaitės šokėjos] at the Tulpė Café in 1961, and Jūratė and Kąstytis at the Jūratė Café in 1962), while Tiiu-Ene Vaivadienė designed metal panels for architectural projects.
Metal works crafted for architectural projects were influenced by trends embracing archaic designs. Decorative iron partitions, rough, unpolished ornamental window and fireplace grilles, and forged ferrous metal pieces with traces of finishing harkened back to an antiquated style, calling to mind the work of traditional artisan metalsmiths. An example of such work was a decorative wall partition made in 1968 by Lionginas Virbickas for the Art Foundation's store (now the exhibition hall of the Lithuanian Artists' Union), a decorative entrance gate for a bar in the Artists' Union Hall in Palanga (1971), and Leonas Glinskis' iron door designed in 1970 for the “Sodžius” reception room in Bačkonys.
The use of other types of metals, meanwhile, produced opposite results, lending a feeling of lightness and playfulness to the work. In creating their interior designs, artists avoided strict narrative structure, emphasizing instead the rhythm and stylized motifs of their compositions, as well as the specific traits of the chosen material. Works by sculptor Kazimieras Teodoras Valaitis (1934–1974) demonstrated the plastic characteristics and possibilities of metalwork: decorative partitions (for the Žirmūnai Restaurant, 1968) and panels (Saulė [Sun] at the Dainava Café, 1963; and panels created for the Palanga Café in 1965 and the Šaltinėlis Café in 1970), as well as decorative detailing designed for the Vasara Café in Palanga in 1965.
Lithuanian artists were often invited to design decors for Soviet pavilions at international exhibitions and fairs. Valaitis created metal artwork for the Lithuanian hall of the Soviet pavilion at the Leipzig Fair in 1966, the Soviet pavilion at the Expo '67 World's Fair in Montreal, Canada, and the USSR pavilion in São Paulo, Brazil. The design team of Tadas Baginskas and stained glass artist Ginta Baginskienė created many works for similar exhibitions: a decorative wall piece for the minerals exhibit at Expo '67 in Montreal, panels for the USSR pavilion for Expo '70 in Osaka, the “Fisai '72” international industry and agriculture exhibition in Santiago, Chile, as well as a special panel entitled Geological Map of the USSR for a Soviet geological exhibition in Paris in 1971. A metal wall piece by Kazimieras Simanonis was installed at the Soviet diplomatic mission in Guatemala in 1969.
Metal artwork compositions were among the earliest contributions to architectural art, favored by architects for both their durability and their decorative characteristics. From a stylistic perspective, metal works were most often attributed to the second trend emphasized by Soviet art theoreticians, namely the creation of expressive, unconventional dynamic forms, rich with their own inner energy, that reflected the rhythms of contemporary life. Through such works, in their view, “residential interiors also became animated, light, asymmetric and transformative.”


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Sources and links


Taikomosios dailės ir liaudies meno paroda
Katalogas, Vilnius, 1950
Lietuvių dailė. Литовское изобразительное искусство
Sudarė Pranas Gudynas, Eduardas Jurėnas, Vilnius: Valstybinė grožinės literatūros leidykla, 1954
Taikomoji-dekoratyvinė dailė
Albumas, sudarytojas Juozas Adomonis, įžangos autorius Stasys Pinkus, Vilnius: Vaga, 1969
Taikomoji dekoratyvinė dailė
Albumas, sudarytojas ir įžangos autorius Juozas Adomonis, Vilnius: Vaga, 1972
Taikomoji-dekoratyvinė dailė
Albumas, sudarytojas Stasys Pinkus, įžangos autoriai Tadas Adomonis ir Stasys Pinkus, Vilnius: Mintis, 1965
2010, Nr. 3
Декоративное искусство СССР
1961, Nr. 7
Rūta Pileckaitė
XX amžiaus Lietuvos juvelyrika: nuo aksesuaro iki priekūnio
Vilnius: LDS leidykla, 2008

Internet sources

Virtual access to the Palanga Amber Park exhibition "Gintaro mozaikos" (Amber Mosaic)
Virtual exposition „Lietuvos taikomoji dekoratyvinė dailė“ (Lithuanian Applied Decorative Arts)
Virtual exhibition „Palangos gintaro dirbtuvių meistrų darbai Palangos gintaro muziejaus ekspozicijoje“ (Palanga's Amber craft in the Amber Park Museum exposition)
Palanga Amber Park virtual exhibition „Pirmieji Palangos gintaro muziejaus atvirukų rinkiniai“, I dalis: „Gintaras“ (Amber Park Museum postcard sets, part I: Amber)
Vilnius: „Vaga“, 1973. Collection online:
Palanga Amber Park virtual exhibition „Pirmieji Palangos gintaro muziejaus atvirukų rinkiniai“, III dalis: „Янтарные изделия“ / „Gintaro dirbiniai“ (Amber Park Museum postcard sets, part III: Amber Goods)
Maskva: „Planeta“, 1976. Cllection online:
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