The Malta Independent 29 May 2024, Wednesday
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Artisans open their doors to welcome the public as part of European initiative

Sunday, 26 March 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Written by Esther Lafferty

From tomorrow until Sunday, 2 April more than 60 artisans across the islands will be opening the doors to their creative spaces and inviting people in to view their processes, their materials and methods; to watch bespoke pieces coming to life in the hands of a talented maker and even take part in a workshop. These European Artistic Crafts Days (EACD) are an initiative to encourage everyone to explore the local streets, to discover the beautiful creations often made in hidden or unexpected art spaces and to explore both traditional and innovative processes that "elevate the everyday", highlighting the value of objects that surround us yet are often overlooked.

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Stephanie Borg, one of the nation's most-loved artisans is delighted to be opening her Rabat townhouse studio as she celebrates 15 years of her creative venture. Her art is inspired by old Maltese doors, ironwork and the colourful pattered old tiles beneath our feet (the designs of which she collects like a magpie) and lining the floor of her studio spaces. Her main objective is to encourage locals to remember the beauty of their everyday surroundings, to raise awareness about our culture and heritage, which she sees as a contribution to their preservation. "I see myself as an artist and a designer primarily," she smiles, "as everything I do starts with pencils, paper and a drawing. Some ideas I then develop digitally, others I work on with ink on paper, applying many washes to get the opaque colour I am looking for. I love bright colours - I think they reflect the flavour of Malta where the sun is so bright and there's such a contrast between the strong colours where the sun shines and the dark shadows."

During the EACD, Rachel is showing visitors pieces from eight different collections, each of which she adds to every year, and the range varies from wall art inspired by village street scenes to ceramics and cushions recreating old tile designs. 


During the week, visitors will also have the chance to see these traditional tiles being created using traditional methods passed through the generations as well as striking limited edition ceramic tiles - or Lucentini - a 21st century innovation by Charles Cordini who draws on the island's history and tradition to design and make individually hand-carved hand-decorated works of art in styles ranging from the modest to the magnificent shimmering with gold. Encompassing everything from lampuki and lemons to Queen Lilibet, they're fit for the fanciest palazzo yet small enough to add bespoke charm to any home.


There's sculpture in Valletta in Amelia Saint George's studio, near the city gate, where she sculpts animals, heads and abstract forms in clay. She's inviting visitors to come and touch the clay and explore the making process. At each of the four work stations, there'll be a various piece of sculpture in progress as well as finished sculptures in bronze and clay including both a life-sized mouse and a life-size Labrador. Amelia will be demonstrating how to make a sculpture with a small-scale piece, explaining how from her clay pieces she makes a latex mould in which she creates a wax copy of the original on which to make fine amendments. The finished piece is then cast in bronze at a foundry.


The only artistic bronze foundry in the Maltese Islands, also open for EACD, is in Luqa where visitors have the chance to visit bronzesmith Christopher Chetcuti,  son of the late Joseph Chetcuti, a sculptor and painter who opened the foundry in the early 1990s, who won the Premju Gieh L'Artigjanat award in 2021 for the best Artisanal Product of the year, in the non-precious metals' category, together with the Endangered Crafts award for 2021. Here you'll see the blazing fire and the tools and you can discover all the steps of the bronze casting process - from mould-making to patination, Christopher's favourite step in which the final bronze sculpture comes alive under his fingertips.


Over in Gozo, in the heart of Victoria, artisan Tonya Lehtinen is inspired by a zero-waste strategy; repurposing salvaged fabrics to create panelled clothing with blocks of bright colour, tote bags and more. In her extraordinary new workspace, with golden stone balustrades and two walls of crispy-folded fabrics in white and bright colours, light pours in from above onto a bank of sewing machines. Chat with Tonya about her many projects and her olarfast dyes, sun-print kimonos and eco-printing workshops (one of which is taking place at the Valletta Design Cluster during the week); hear about her plans to repurpose seat belts and use innertubes for jewellery and ask about the new "fan-cage lights", a new design that's all set to go in the summer. Also, just a few hundred metres from Ta' Dbiegi craft village, visitors can drop in on award-winning jeweller Tara Lois whose work has been featured in Vogue magazine. Tara specialises in incorporating inherited jewellery, especially rings, into modern designs, updating the original piece into something that's contemporary, characterful and a pleasure to wear to keep family memories alive. "I even made a bangle using the silver of an antique tea service," she remembers "and I kept the textured rim of the sauce boat to add into the cuff!"


Tara is also developing her own jewellery collection which includes a series Malta Hills inspired by the landscape around her. Created using sustainable satin-finished sterling silver, each pendant is hammered by hand into her chosen shape to which she adds glass elements that represent the sunset or sky, for example. See the gently tapering hill of Zebbug or the curved shape of the hill that's home to Nadur with Ramla Bay below sparkling in bright blue Maltese glass.


To help visitors find the workshops and art spaces open to visitors, Malta Crafts Foundation has published an interactive online map (https://goo.su/0k2BKao) that shows the location of the artisans taking part, further information on opening hours and available workshops. 

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