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Scynthian and Ancient Rus Traditions in the art of Ukrainian Jewelry

The great sage Socrates, once passing by a jewellery store, was reported to loudly cry out, Isnt it amazing how many things there are in this world that I dont need! I have to admit that all my life I have been doing my best to follow Socrates in my approach to jewellery. I wanted to regard precious ornaments in a philosophical, or even dismissing way. But whenever I see the eternal and always fresh beauty of the deep-blue sapphires, of the shining diamonds, of the moving purity of pearls, of the Slavic periapts with their ancient symbols, or Scythian-style gold decorations, I feel like exclaiming together with Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation!

All the jewellery pieces that you can see here on these pages have been designed by Anna Dmytriyeva, a 30-year old jewellery designer. She was born in the city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia; she studied at the Urals Applied Arts School in Nizhniy Tagil and at the State Industrial Art Academy in St Petersburg, Russias leading applied arts school of higher learning. She majored in metal art work, and since 1992 she has been designing and creating jewellery. Her works were shown at 10 jewellery exhibitions held in Russia in recent years.

Since 2000, Anna Dmytriyeva has been living in Kyiv and at present she is one of the foremost designers of the Kyiv Jewellery Factory. She won the top prizes at contests held at the prestigious Yuvelir-Ekspo-Ukrayina 2001 jewellery exhibition (her Garden of Eden was awarded the Best Decoration Created with the Use of Ancient Technologies Prize) and at the Yuvelir-Ekspo-Ukrayina 2002 exhibition (her Girl Friends silver bowl for business cards was awarded the Best Silver Decoration Prize). Ms Dmytriyeva talked to WU senior editor, Myroslava Barchuk about her art and the state of the craft and art of jewellery in Ukraine at present.

You were born in Russia and lived and worked for quite some time in St Petersburg. May I ask what motivated your coming to Ukraine? Was it love?

It was! A perfect guess! I fell in love with a student who majored in sculpture at the St Petersburg Industrial Art Academy and married him. It turned out he was from Kyiv and we moved from St Petersburg to Ukraines capital. When I saw Kyiv, it was love at first sight. It differs a lot from St Petersburg which is a cold, majestic and even severe city. I like it too but Kyiv has a special charm of its own there is so much of light in it, a very special kind of warm light. When I went on a visit to the city of Lviv I was impressed by its architecture and a European atmosphere. It is a refined place with an atmosphere of a central European city, and at the same time its a profoundly gemutlich place. So as you see it was love that brought me to Ukraine.

Is the Kyiv Jewellery Factory also a place that you love?

Its my destiny, if you want. It was thanks to an ad I saw surfing the Internet that I went to work there. The ad said hat they wanted an artist-designer. Next thing I did was to turn up at the factorys personnel department with some of my works and I was hired there and then. I regard it as a piece of tremendous good luck the factory is the biggest enterprise of its kind in Ukraine. About half of all the jewellery made in Ukraine comes from this factory which has old traditions of excellence. The famous Yosyp Marshak jewellery factory that produced high-quality jewellery at the end of the nineteenth century and probably many families of people who have lived in Kyiv for several generations still have jewellery that was made by Marshak was a precursor of todays factory which has grown manifold since then. We produce over 5,000 jewellery items annually, both in mass and individual production. Every year, fifty percent of the items we produce are new ones.

Do you design jewellery for mass production or only one-time items?

Both. Most of my work is doing designs for mass production but I also do individual pieces, putting all my heart into it. The factory gives me all the materials I need for this. As far as mass production pieces are concerned, we, designers, work out about fifty new items monthly.

After I create a design, I submit it to the Artistic Council of the factory, and once it is approved it goes to master jewellers who turn my design into an actual item. The time it takes to make a piece of jewellery depends on the technique and technology used be it casting, electroplating, punching, stamping, or whatever else it may be. When the item is made, it is presented to the Artistic Council, and then, if it is approved, it is launched into mass production.

Can you create your own jewellery, without relying on the skills of master jewellers?

Yes, I can. One of the things I prefer doing myself is applying enamel in the polymeric enamel technology process. I find it interesting and exciting. Earlier, I worked in the baked enamel technology. This technology has a long tradition of several centuries and at the same time it is widely used in many European countries. Many artefacts, both for use at home and in church, decorations included, that date to the ancient time of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine are made with this technology used. There are several kinds of enamelling: cloisonne, champleve, basse-taille, encrusted enamelling, etc.

Enamelling is a very difficult process. In the cloisonne technique, for example, thin strips of metal are bent and curved to follow the outline of a decorative pattern; they are then attached, usually soldered, to the surface of the metal object, forming miniature walls that meet and create little cells between them. Into these cells, the powdered enamel is laid and fused. After it has cooled, the surface can be polished to remove imperfections and to add to the brilliance. The cloisonne technique is particularly suited to objects made of gold.

Incidentally, I used this technique when I was preparing my graduation work I created a set of enamelled copper plates and cups. None of the items had any seams. Only decorative elements were done in wax, first, then moulded in copper and soldered to the items.

Do you follow any particular trend in the art of jewellery?

Many Ukrainian jewellers follow the traditional lines but without any narrowed-down historical associations. I tend to follow the modern trends in jewellery, in which materials that once were thought to be incompatible are used: gold of different tints, leather, strict geometric shapes cubes, cones, circles. Ive been the student of the history of art all these years and I continue to find inspiration in the works of ancient art. I particularly like Scythian and Byzantine motifs, archaic forms, pagan art, solar symbols, representations of womens faces in ancient art.

How old are the jewellery traditions in Ukraine?

Oh very old. They date back to the early medieval times of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine. Unfortunately, during the Soviet times, these traditions were broken with and their revival has begun fairly recently. Strange as it may seem, there is even a positive element in it, since we have began to reappraise things, to create new aesthetics which is based on the old traditions and yet has many new elements in it which give enough room for creative imagination.

Does Ukrainian jewellery find its way to exhibitions and shows held in the west?

Not much. We do have different approaches to the art of jewellery. The western approach aims at bringing in new techniques and technologies, very sophisticated ways of treating the surfaces, of attaching elements to each other, but all this sophistication turns out to be sometimes detrimental to the general appearance of jewellery pieces. By contrast, Ukrainian jewellers are traditionalists. But all the same the works of designers and jewellers from Kyiv did collect a number of awards at the jewellery exhibitions in Japan, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain for their very high level of artistry and workmanship. Incidentally, the Kyiv Jewellery Factory was awarded the International Quality Platinum Star at a contest held in Madrid in 1999.

I find a considerable difference between individual pieces created by Ukrainian and western jewellers not only in the colour of gold or in the way the precious stones are secured in jewellery pieces, but also in the general aesthetics of these pieces. Or is it too subjective?

No, it is not. There are a lot of differences. I think it would be correct to say that the western jewellers prefer laconic forms with elements of industrial design, and well-defined geometrical shapes, whereas we in Ukraine still use the Baroque forms, with all those curving lines, flower and drop-like elements. Perhaps, with the passage of time well move on closer to modern western type of jewellery design, but at the moment the Ukrainian tastes in jewellery remain traditional. Its not just conservatism I see in it a reflection of certain mental features of a Slavic nation.

Your individual jewellery pieces do bear the influence of Slavic traditions, and that is why at some archetypal level we relate to them, they are close to our hearts but will such pieces produce any reaction in people of the western mentality?

Its a very interesting question. I think a person of different cultural and mental traditions will also feel emanations of our ancient culture and these emanations will stir a positive reaction in these people. Take, for example, our reaction to the Celtic or Mexican themes in modern art arent we fascinated with them?

One of my works which was very dear to me was exhibited at the Sofiyska Brama gallery and it was purchased and taken to Canada. The thought that it has crossed the ocean to live a life of its own on a distant continent warms my heart.

Which materials do you like to work with best of all?

I like to work with 18-karat gold which is of a nobly yellow colour. The reddish tint in gold so popular in Ukraine is less to my liking. I like sapphires and emeralds and also semi-precious stones of unusual cuts and faceting. Its a new trend in jewellery design, to use such stones. I like working along these new lines, they give so much room for letting your imagination go.

Looking at your works I cannot say they are creations of abstract fantasy. Take, for example, this mythological bird phoenix.

I put some symbolism into every piece I create. The phoenix that rises from the ashes is a sort of a modern periapt, an amulet protecting against evil. It is also a symbol of eternal life. In general, I find it to be significant that for hundreds or even thousands of years, gold and precious stones were used to create pieces which reflected the eternal human values. Ukrainian jewellers are no different in this respect.

Did you get to meet Ukrainian jewellers from cities other than Kyiv?

Yes, I did. In Lviv I met jewellery designers and artists whose works I find very appealing. Their works are of a very refined kind and of a very high artistic quality, with Ukrainian motifs elegantly introduced. No wonder the quality is so high there is a school training jewellery designers in Lviv the Lviv Decorative and Applied Arts Institute.

There were many unexpected turns in your life. What do you think the future holds in store for you? Do you have any ambitions or dreams?

Like any other artist, Im ambitious and slightly vain. I have a dream to establish a trade name, my own trade mark that is. But to achieve that I have to continue to be working at my own distinctive style, to find my own creative approach, to realize my creative impulses. All of these things are what every artist dreams about. Or so I think.

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