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amber and lithuanian art

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amber and lithuanian art

The waves of the Baltic Sea used to throw amber ashore since olden times. Its articles can be found in archaeological treasures, and amber beads have become part of a national costume. The outlook on amber as a national symbol and the image of a Lithuanian girl wearing amber beads was formed in the period between the late 19th century and the early 20th century by the writers and poets of the national liberation movement. It has survived in the nnational cultural memory up to the present days.

Artists consider amber to be a complex material. The shapes of its pieces present a great diversity, and the process of its grinding and polishing unfolds a host of shades, textures, whitish fibres seen inside the piece, some hardened semi-transparent “tiny clouds”, and air bubbles in the clair mass. The dug out or cast out amber by the sea is coated with a “rind”, which prevents from seeing its inside. The mysterious inside uunfolds itself only after the process of polishing. Amber – the hardened resin which was dripping down from the trees fifty million years ago. The shape of a piece depended on the place of the accumulation of resin, i.e. whether iis accumulated on the trunk or roots, and flat small pieces also acquired their shape inside between the rinds. Resin is of a dark yellow colour, transparent, and the bright whitish insertions in the clear mass appeared only due to the foaming of resin.The foaming resin originated the non-transparent yellowish, white amber. The so-called blue amber was born under the impact of iron admixtures, and the black – under that of charcoal. Even a strong wind might have effected the appearance of amber – not fully hardened mass rippled and left an expressive texture.

Amber gives many possibilities to an artist, the only thing to do is just to choose what attracts you. If one imagines the relationship between an artist aand material as a dialogue striving for mutual understanding, amber could be called a very talkative interlocutor. Whereas to perceive the artist’s words, which witness the mysterious spiritual kinship and are close to his creative credo, is difficult, indeed. At present and in the past, the greater part of amber adornments in Lithuania is produced by folk masters (artists amateurs) and craftsmen.

We had only few professional jewellers up to the end of the 70s. The most prominent among them – FFeliksas Daukantas and Kazimieras Simanonis – devoted much attention to amber. The mentioned and other artists created standarts for a serial production of amber adornments at the state enterprise “Dailė”. The stylistics of their adornments became an example for artists amateurs.

In the course of time, the production of amber adornments (they were in great demand in the former Soviet Union) started to curry favour with mass taste. Amber became for lithuanians material for a souvenir production. A predominant opinion was that amber was not suitable for a valuable adornment. Amber disappeared from the horizont of professional art quite for along time because older artists worked less with amber and the new young generation, which emerged in late 70s (the majority of them were awarded the qualification of specialists in fine metal work at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn), came with new ideas. The traditional conception of an adornment as a decorative whole of a stone and its metal frame was substituted by an aspiration not only for a decorative but first of all for an artistic expression. Adornments were enriched with symbolic signs, pictures and inscriptions, which give rise to thoughts and associations – the disclosure of the ddecorativeness of an amber piece did not become a dominant task of the young generation.

The early current decade witnessed the first attempts to change the prevailing outlook to amber: in 1990 an exhibition of jewellry in amber was held at the Museum of Applied Art. However, it was Kazimieras and Virginija Mizgiris who took a programmed initiative to stimulate the jewellers’ attention to amber and return it to the sphere of creative searchings of contemporary professional art. In 1992 K. Mizgiris, photo artist and author of the album of photographs depicted the seaside dunes, and his wife opened a museum-gallery in Nida, the most picturesque health-resort in Lithuania. They arranged an exposition, which familiarizes the visitor with amber, the gift of nature, as well as with a section of adornments by artists and folk masters. When stimulating artists to work with amber, they created possibilities to arrange exhibitions in this gallery, some ten artists exhibited their works at least once.

However, Nida is a health-resort, and out of season life comes to standstill there, but the people charmed by the amber exposition wanted to see it in the capital. The idea to open an amber museum-gallery in Vilnius was realized in tthe spring of 1998, but the gallery in Nida also continues its activities. It took the gallery expert V. and K. Mizgiris to accumulate the collections of eight artists, among them of the most prominent Lithuanian jewellers, seven years. The museum-gallery in Vilnius displays them splendidly: it a convenient to view the works placed in glass-cases, they are well enough lighted, and the sand at the bottom of the glass-cases creates a perfect atmosphere for amber.

This review was written on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition Amber in Lithuanian Art, which started in May of 2001 and will be open throughout the summer. The Amber Gallery was established in Vilnius three years ago, and many initial ideas have been successfully implemented since then. Twelve exhibitions were arranged. The major exhibitions presented artworks of Birutė Stulgaitė, who preceded the movement for bringing amber back to the professional art, as well as creations of young artists Sigitas Virpilaitis, Eimantas Ludavičius, Jonas Balčiūnas and Vaidilutė Vidugirytė, Solveiga and Alfredas Krivičiai, who have been winning fame rapidly. In 1999, the Gallery was invited to enter The International Amber Art Contest of the Baltic Countries in Germany. Then, the Gallery arranged elimination competitions that attracted

altogether 25 well-known as well as less known artists. Eight participants were selected to represent Lithuania in The International Amber Contest, where Jonas Balčiūnas and Vaidilutė Vidugirytė gained the 3rd place.

Another contest, arranged by the Gallery, was called A Piece of Amber. In my mind, the Gallery owner Kazimieras Mizgiris’ love with primeval amber, created by the Nature, gave birth to this idea. Under terms of the contest, the artists had to use a large single amber monolith as the bbasis of their artwork. Eighteen artists of the senior, middle, and younger generations, who entered the contest, presented different approaches to the application of amber in art.

The retrospective exhibition Amber in Lithuanian Art (13 artists, 47 artworks) gives visitors a possibility to take a look at the creations of the most potential Lithuanian art professionals. The Lithuanian audience is already familiar with many of the artworks, presented here, from the previous exhibitions. However, the context of these artworks could bbecome a novelty, because the retrospective exhibition assists the visitors in seeing what they had been keeping in their mind. Thus, in my opinion, the jewellery of Birutė Stulgaitė, Žilvinas Bautrėnas, Vytautas Matulionis, whom we may refer to as the cclassics of Lithuanian amber art, represents the ever-modern Classic. However, the innovations of the artistic principles, applied to amber jewellery by the younger generation – Sigitas Virpilaitis, Jonas Balčiūnas, and Vaidilutė Vidugirytė seem to have succeeded in passing the test of time and might become the Classic as well. The exhibition has allowed us to contemplate about the input of the Post-modern generation to Lithuanian art.

Artworks by Žilvinas Bautrėnas and Vytautas Matulionis, presented at the exhibition, belong to the collection that has already been introduced on the website of the Amber Gallery Museum. The brilliant individual manner of Birutė Stulgaitė has not changed much in the last few years. The artist is presenting new artworks, but they even strengthened mmy belief that her luxurious jewellery is qualified by modest elegance and the unpretentious adornments, created from leather and strings, have a touch of high style elegance. The jeweller Ąžuolas Vaitukaitis, an active participant of exhibitions, has been creating in a more decorative manner. His lapidary artworks are constructed from large and unique pieces of amber.

Sigitas VIRPILAITIS arranged his solo exhibition at the Gallery, and has become famous for introducing Post-Modernism into Lithuanian jewellery art. Lithuanian and other amber jewellery iis not very open to the principles of the Post-Modernism, because the traditional approach to amber is deeply rooted ...

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