Amber Manufacturing from Ancient Times to 21st Century

The 1950 saw amber jewellery restored to previously lost status of the original and inspired work by individual artists, alongside, new ways of utilizing amber in jewellery and artefacts were researched. The sculptor and designer Feliksas Daukantas (1915–1995) was the first to bring out the natural lucidity, tonal richness and multiple textural layers characteristic of amber and did much to raise the material, dubbed Baltic gold, to a new prominence.

In 1957, the production of amber objects in Lithuania was concentrated in organization, the Dailė Workshops of Klaipėda. Their Amber section employed professional artists as Eugenijus Mikulevičius, Genovaitė Blažytė-Guntienė, Birutė Jociūtė-Mikulevičienė and Vacė Kojalavičiūtė-Užpalienė. At the time, the output of amber products increased and the repertoire diversified. However, amber jewellery constituted the bulk of the output, amber pendants on chains came into fashion. Artefacts with amber inlays and small scale amber mosaics, landscapes, figure compositions and portraits laid out in amber on supports made of wood were becoming increasingly popular.

Lithuanian-made amber jewellery in the 1960s was renewed under a strong impact by the Modernist trend coming primarily from Estonian School. From the end of the 1950s, to specialize in metalwork, Lithuanians went to study at the Estonian Art Institute in Tallinn. Two artists, Liucija Šulgaitė and Janina Griciūnaitė, especially favoured Modernist forms and designs that revealed natural qualities and shapes of amber. Other jewellers, Petras Balčius, Liuda Vaineikytė and Albina Vertulienė, to mention some of them, tended to produce pieces that combined more traditional and sophisticated forms to please the popular taste.

Of major influence on the development of amber jewellery in Lithuania was the work by the graduate in metalwork from the Estonian State Art Institute Kazimieras Simanonis (b. 1937). He approached the amber ornament as an object of luxury and a sign of status, to be worn on very special occasions. He went to reinvent a piece of amber jewellery through carving, inlaying, filigree work, and the technique of welded silver that ideally matches the irregular shapes of the fossilized resin. Later on, other jewellers (L. Šulgaitė, B. Jociūtė-Mikulevičienė, P. Balčius, F. Pakutinskas) also applied silver welding in their work.

The work by Lithuanian jewellers was featured by international exhibitions. In 1971–1974, the exhibitions created by Palanga Amber Museum travelled the former Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Italy.

From the middle of the 1970s until the 1980s, amber was falling from favour with professional artists. The period was dominated by Modernism in Lithuanian arts and crafts, so different semiprecious stones were found as material better fit to reflect Modernist ideas. Crafting in amber, however, went on at the Dailė Workshops of Klaipėda. Of mention is the contribution by the artists Albina Vertulienė, Elena Augaitytė, Petras Balčius, Nikolajus Žoludevas as well as the folk artists Irena and Feliksas Pakutinskas, Regina Andriekutė, Jonas Liukaitis, Alfredas Jonušas, Joana Martinkienė and Dionizas Varkalis. The folk artists remained loyal to the established tradition in amber crafting, producing mostly strings of amber, brooches, bracelets and neck ornaments.

Palanga Amber Museum has been putting efforts to coordinate the exhibition activity and give an overview of processes and trends in amber crafting in Lithuania. In 1982, a country-scale exhibition of amber artifacts was put on and attracted, in four months, 240 thousand visitors. In 1986 the permanent display of the museum was renewed. The museum has organized a number of exhibitions featuring works by individual artists, L. Šulgaitė, K. Simanonis, F. Daukantas, B. and E. Mikulevičius, as well as shows of mass produce from the Dailė Workshops.

(Based on the article by Šatavičiūtė Lijana. Gintaro apdirbimo raida nuo seniausių laikų iki XXI a. // Žemaičių žemė. No 4 (41), Vilnius, 2003)



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