LITHUANIAN APPLIED DECORATIVE ARTS OF 20th: AMBER
 
Lilijana Nataleviciene
Until World War One production of amber in Europe was distributed in the following way: Germany 33 % of world production, Russia 30 %, Austria 24 %, France 4 %, Turkey 2 %, other countries 7 %. Amber production in Lithuania, as a constituent of the Russian Empire, was reckoned in Russia’s volume. The masters of Palanga took the first place in Russia processing 20 thousand kg of raw amber annually. Before World War One in Palanga all in all were from 300 to 500 amber masters. The biggest workshops belonged to earl Tiskevicius in whose lands the small town was establishing. Articles of amber masters from Palanga were in big demand in the international market and competed with those of German masters.
During World War One amber workshops in Palanga suffered losses. Some masters emigrated to Germany and Konigsberg. Later amber processing in Palanga never reached the prewar level by artistry and quality. The Germany’s monopoly for use of raw amber barred development. Prices and volume of imported raw amber depended on Germany (in Lithuania amber was found in insufficient quantity). Amber workshops operated not only in Palanga but also in Klaipeda and Kretinga. Individual masters were scattered through whole Lithuania. Bigger workshops were the following: in Klaipeda - “Tanner and Friedman Enterprise” (20-30 masters employed), in Palanga - “S. Gutman Successors E. and L. Gutman” (10-15 masters) and the Workshop of Brothers M. and G. Kann (10-20masters). Workshops with less than 4 masters were considered to be craft workshops and were not inventoried.
In prewar period amber workshops produced jewelry (brooches, necklaces, bracelets), cufflinks, cigarette holders, penholders, inkpots. Amber was used for incrustation of metal adornments, wooden boxes, furniture and other articles. Jewelry usually was of classic, unsophisticated form - necklaces of round beads of various size and length, brooches of polished amber, bracelets of glassy squares. Amber jewelry was in big demand in Lithuania. Every Lithuanian woman had to wear amber adornments, expensive as they were. 60-70 % of homeland production was realized domestically. After the world recession of 1929 Lithuania’s production and export of amber articles decreased.
In forties-fifties amber articles occupied an important place among other fine articles. In first postwar years they were produced by the Kaunas workshop GINTARAS and since 1946 by the Klaipeda art factory DAILE with its amber processing shops in Palanga and Plunge. Ground and polished necklaces and various brooches (often in form of naturalistic plants), animal-shaped souvenirs made up the main line of articles. Amber was polished in angular form as precious stones. Amber pieces with interesting inner texture or inclusions were regarded as non-standard.
Feliksas Daukantas, the sculptor and designer, played a significant role in improvement of artistry of amber articles. He was the first to stress natural amber properties - transparency, changing nuances of color, its many layers - and to restore specificity intrinsic to amber. This artist also designed articles out of leather and metal, but his most significant works of fifties were in amber: unique or serial adornments combined with metal, mostly silver. He minimally processed amber pieces used for jewelry. Irregular amber pieces in brooches, necklaces, earrings emphasized natural form, inner layers, transparency or opacity of amber (set of solid jewelry in light opaque amber, 1958).
In 1957 production of amber in Lithuania concentrated in the Klaipeda art factory DAILE where professional amber artists were teamed up, such as Eugenijus Mikulevicius, Genovaite Blazyte-Guntiene, Birute Jociute-Mikuleviciene, Vace Kojalaviciute-Uzpaliene. Tnak to this fact, output of amber articles increased, their line was continuously added. In that period amber jewelry was dominating. Chainlets with amber pendants were quite the go. Masters combined amber with forged, compressed, cast or filigree metal. Incrustations, mosaics of small format in amber were very popular. In 1959 G. Blazyte-Guntiene was the first to produce them out of polished amber strips or bigger pieces of coarse facture. Later landscapes, figural scenes and even portraits set on wooden board came into fashion. Beside works of good artistry, there were many superficial, salon-like works. After some time pictures, mosaics and incrustations were taken out of production.
In fifties a significant step was made to restore specificity of amber articles, to look for new applications of this semiprecious mineral and to impart the author’s individual style to jewelry.
Between 1961 and 1975 of discussed period amber articles were made taking cues from the theoretical and creative activities of Feliksas Daukantas, from his theory of natural amber presentation. As previously, amber jewelry was a rather poorly developed sphere. However, Lithuanian adornments underwent strong updating, due to the Estonian school of jewelers, as since late fifties the Lithuanians studied fine metal processing at the Estonian Art Institute in Tallinn.
Further development of amber jewelry was influenced by creation of Kazimieras Simanonis (born in 1937). He finished the Estonian Art Institute, the chair of fine metal, and returned to Lithuania in 1965. His conception of jewelry differed from that of Feliksas Daukantas who emphasized minimalism, ascetism, democratic tendencies and potential unification of metal details. K. Simanonis treated the piece of jewelry as an object of luxury, representation, a thing that is not worn everyday, but on special occasions only. The artist revived craving, incrustation, filigree, the silver boiling technique, applicable for minerals of irregular form. Later this technique was experimented by other designers of amber jewelry (L. Sulgaite, Birute Mikuleviciene, P.Balcius, Feliksas Pakutinskas). K. Simanonis drew inspiration in forms of nature. His articles of jewelry are asymmetric, different-fractured, dynamic, expressive (medallions, 1970). The tendencies of decoration and representation intensified at the next stage of development of jewelry. Lithuanian articles of jewelry were exposed in international exhibitions such as “Expo’68” in Montreal, the international exhibition of industry and commerce of 1968 in London, “Expo’70” in Osaka. The adornments by Milda Eitmontaite made of cast and toreutic metal with amber earned the diploma in the biennial of jewelry of 1971 in Jablanec (Yugoslavia). It was the first high evaluation of Lithuanian jewelry. Between 1971 and 1974 the exhibitions of Lithuanian amber articles formed from collections of the Palanga Amber Museum traveled through Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy.
In mid seventies professional artists lost interest in amber. It remained only in works of loyal artists, first of all, Feliksas Daukantas (1915-1985) who further developed the minimalist, designer-type, ascetic-form trend in jewelry. At this stage he refused any decorating details and composed jewelry only from an amber piece and metal ring, chainlet or some other functional detail. In contradiction to the earlier period, the artist polished amber fully and cut it into designer’s geometric structures - circles, squares which had nothing in common with forms found in nature.
Eduardas Daukantas (born in 1948) created amber jewelry as well. The jewelry of that time by Kazimieras Simanonis who worked in the Vilnius art factory DAILE was connected with his job. Amber remained the main field of creation for the artists employed in the Klaipeda art factory DAILE (Albina Vertuliene, Petras Balcius, Nikolajus Zoludevas) and the whole team of folk masters (the Pakutinskas, Irena and Feliksas, Regina Andriekute, Jonas Liukaitis, Alfredas Jonusas, Joana Martinkiene, Dionizas Varkalis).
In 1982 the republican exhibition of amber articles was opened in the Museum. In 1986 the exposition of Museum was updated. Some personal exhibitions were arranged there (of L. Sulgaite, K. Simanonis, F. Daukantas, the Mikulevicius, Birute and Eugenijus), the exhibition on serial works of the Klaipeda art factory.
Between 1991 and 2001 Lithuanian artists ignored amber, leaving it to folk masters. The latter retained historical traditions of amber processing. Mainly they designed necklaces, brooches, bracelets, neck adornments. Sometimes professional jewelers (K. Simanonis, S. Virpilaitis) applied amber in their works. However, very few devoted themselves to amber. Birute Stulgaite (born in 1952) was among them. In contrast to F. Daukantas and K. Simanonis, she did not oppose this mineral to metal, but very organically integrated it into entirety of article. She regarded amber as whimsical and complicated material, hard to harmonize with metal.
 
Lilijana Nataleviciene
Translated by Marija Valiene
  

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