The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Filigree – A dying craft?

Malta Independent Wednesday, 11 November 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

Is this ancient craft, which has been handed down from one generation to the next, slowly dying? The Maltese seem to have lost interest in filigree because of a myriad of jewellery flooding the Maltese market. Nowadays, delicate and intricate jewellery is seemingly no longer sought after. Moreover, machine made filigree from the East is also finding its place in some shops at a much cheaper price. Therefore, Maltese filigree artists have two battles to fight. One is the competition from the East and the other is to try to make filigree fashionable amongst the Maltese, that is, to make filigree as innovative as possible to entice the Maltese market.

Filigree – Tradition & Innovation is an exhibition being held at Palazzo Castellania, 15 Merchant Street, Valletta until 13 November. Marika Azzopardi, the curator of this exhibition, told me that the aim is to promote handmade Maltese filigree and show how it can be traditional and innovative as well as diverse and flexible.

Filigree originated in Egyptian times. It was perfected by the Greeks and Etruscans from the 6th to the 3rd century BC and introduced to the Maltese islands by the Phoenicians. However, along the years Maltese filigree has evolved into a unique craft differing greatly from that of other countries. The making of filigree items became and still is a part of the Maltese heritage.

Maltese filigree is a delicate, complicated and detailed art form made by twisting fine silver wires or threads. True filigree can only be made by hand in a series of different small parts combined together to form the final piece.

Charmaine Gerada and Kevin Attard, who are both exhibiting their work at the Filigree – Tradition & Innovation exhibition, have learnt their craft not at school, but from their fathers. Later Kevin was trained by an artisan. Although both Kevin Attard and Charmaine Gerada use Maltese filigree techniques, their styles differ a great deal.

Charmaine Gerada has kept to the traditional style of filigree similar to that of her father, Charlie Gerada. She has 22 years experience in making filigree. She is passionate about her work and finishes each filigree object to perfection. It is difficult to find any flaws in her work as it is as precise and symmetrical as any handmade object could possibly be. She showed me beautiful crosses with intricate thread patterns which are delicate and utterly beautiful. She told me that it took her about 35 hours to finish a crucifix, while a candle holder with the same intricate design, but having much more work, took her nearly four weeks to make. On exhibit and also for sale, there are necklaces, ear-rings, Maltese crosses and the Maltese dghajsa.

Ms Gerada explained that the process of making filigree is broken down into two major parts. First flat silver wire is used to create the outline or frame work of the design. Then she uses twisted silver wire to fill the gaps with finer pieces of metal twisted in various ways to create depth and form intricate lace-like patterns. These are then soldered together. Very good eyesight and a lot of patience are needed to do this work.

Kevin Attard started his filigree career at the age of 16. He said that he first learnt this craft from the artisan, Raymond Falzon. For the first 10 years of his career Kevin Attard made traditional pieces, but he later tried to develop filigree into an innovative art. He was encouraged by an Italian art critic who urged him to be more daring in his work. He also got inspired when St James Cavalier opened as an art centre in the year 2000. Kevin used to go to a lot of exhibitions held there which also inspired him to be more creative and innovative in his work.

In 2004 he took part in his first filigree exhibition which took place at the Ministry of Culture in Gozo, which consisted of a combination of traditional and innovative filigree objects. In the meantime, he also started taking an active part in the theatre. This inspired him to be even more audacious in his work. He said that at that time he used to produce work which may have been ‘over the top’ as he never sold anything. He used to create filigree objects, not sell them, then melt them again and produce more work with the same material. He finally found the balance between being daring and innovative and creating something that the public appreciates and wants to buy. He still uses Maltese traditional techniques, but instead of adhering to the traditional designs, he creates more unusual ones.

Due to this balance he is slowly giving filigree in Malta a different twist. For example, for the Filigree – Tradition & Innovation exhibition he asked different Maltese artists to draw pictures of anything they liked. He then used the drawings to make filigree objects which are at the exhibition.

In Malta, filigree is said to be slowly dying with only tourists and Maltese living abroad buying filigree items. Thanks to exhibits such as this however, filigree is being kept alive. On Saturday, Kevin Attard’s works will be moved to Galleria Liberte, South Street Valletta in the General Workers’ Union building where they will be on show until 13 December.

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