Filigree: a workshop with Susanne Matsché

Dates: 25 to 29 July 2016
30 hours
Cost: 700 euro + 22% VAT
Deadline for enrollment: June 20, 2016

Due to popular demand and success, Alchimia offers again a workshop on filigree from July 25 to 29 2016, with Susanne Matsché (www.susannematsche.com), an Austrian-American-German jeweller, specialized in this very particular method adapted to contemporary jewelry.

Take some time, just like this ancient technique requires, to carefully read Susanne’s account over her encounter with filigree, and the richness of its possible creative uses, in contemporary jewelry and beyond.

* When I went studying to Moscow as a young exchange student from Vienna (previously I had studied design for 2 years), I came across filigree which was hugely popular in the jewelry department there, and at first it seemed oddly exotic…but a good teacher managed to draw my attention to the magic of it. He taught me its secrets and I dived into the world of silver ornaments – one year of intense technical training. When I came back to Austria I experienced a cultural shock, and the pieces I had made were shocking for the department (not their style at all)! It took me a while, but after creating a few special pieces, I processed this clash. 

Ever since, filigree has played an important role in my works. Up to this day I am directly or indirectly influenced by this experience. Handing on my knowledge in the filigree workshops I teach, and introducing the technique to students of contemporary jewelry, is so interesting because I can perceive the wide variety of approaches to this ancient technique and the amazing different paths on which the students are taking the fine wires.

* The fine silver wire with which we work in the workshops is very soft, it has an almost textile quality, suggesting associations with techniques usually untypical for metalwork, like stitching, weaving, binding, wrapping…

Due to its softness the wire/the fine silver elements can also be used in a very organic way, as if the parts of the piece of jewelry were growing and flowing. Sometimes I see a vine and I think of various wires winding around the rigid structure of the fence…

* I find it intriguing to start out from a thin plain wire, like a first line in a sketch, and to first build a two dimensional surface from there, then moving on to the third dimension. Working with filigree is also about the excitement of working up all the elements from scratch (even the special solder) into a delicate, three-dimensional piece, which is a great source of inspiration for the students’ work and an opportunity for them to integrate this knowledge into their own previously acquired set of skills.
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* In contemporary jewelry there is an overall tendency to create large, sculptural pieces. Working with this fine technique is definitely a challenge, because one’s attention gets drawn to the detail. A colleague of mine, who had never seen my work in real life, was amazed to find that some of the pieces he had seen in pictures were actually smaller than he had thought. The intricacy of this technique and the effort and time it takes to create large surfaces, can be an interesting motivation to “think smaller” (and this doesn’t necessarily have to always refer to the physical size of the piece).
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* The roots of the filigree technique in jewelry lie in ancient mediterranean cultures (the Phoenician, Etruscan and Greek Empires). With the rise of the Constantine Empire in the first millennium BC, the technique was introduced to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Filigree was, and still is, used in many parts of Latin America (as introduced by the colonial powers) and the Oriental world (from Northern Africa all the way to the Arab peninsula) as well as Asia. Filigree was also practiced throughout Europe (from Portugal, Spain and Italy, through the Alpine regions, all the way to Scandinavia, the Baltic states and the Balkans). In many parts of central and Western Europe today however, the technique is barely used anymore. The high cost of labour made it hard to produce and its distinctive style became generally unpopular in mainstream jewelry in Europe during the 20th century. 

Since ancient times the challenge of this technique was “to use minimal amount of precious metal to create an object of maximum size” (Oppi Untracht, “Traditional Jewelry of India”) and it remains an interesting challenge for today’s young jewelers and a sure source of inspiration!

*Among the things I always find inspiring is to look at traditional pieces and costumes from all around the world. Often they involve filigree. It is not only inspiring to study the actual pieces, but also the context and the way they were worn. One of my favorite examples is the national costume of Zeeland (a region in the Netherlands) where women wear the most amazing headgears.

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* In today’s world full of efficiency and simplifications, it can be rewarding to take some time for a closer look at such an ancient and intricate technique, which is so slow and so loaded with ornaments. I find that taking this step “backward”, can lead to unexpected steps forward/sidewards/inwards,… or it can lead to an in-depth examination of the present (work), with its underlying ideas and approaches.

* The word “filigree” is often used not only in relation to jewelry, but in general to poetically describe something fine, light, fragile and delicate, regardless of the dimensions. Many things, from sugar decoration for cakes to the work of the ingenious engineer Gustave Eiffel are all associated with “filigree.” When entering the German word “filigran” into an internet search engine, apart form jewelry one finds entries about insects, botany, tattoos, even construction of concrete bridges. No matter what size, “filigree/filigran” is a fascinating principle dealing with the use of the structure’s lightness to create space. Therefore, I believe that inspiration for fine pieces can be found anywhere, on the streets, in a hardware store, on a map, in a forest…

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