Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Goldsmiths Guild of South Africa: A brief moment

(SA Jewellery News,January 2013, pp. 12-13)

For a brief moment during the mid 1970’s, a number of local goldsmiths came together to create a better structured environment in which they could work. They formed the Goldsmiths Guild of S.A. It was a time of hope and enthusiasm, but it did not last long.  Even though all of the founder members enjoyed national recognition for their work, their technical and creative brilliance were not strong enough to withstand the forces that were working against them. Within a decade their dream of a better future fell apart.

Late in 1973, under Peter Cullman’s leadership, the Goldsmiths Guild of South Africa was born in Johannesburg. Other founding members were Erich Frey, Dieter Dill, Ewald Kratz, Liz Bezuidenhout-Kratz, Kurt Donau, Jochen Kessel along with Hartmut and Ilse Jäger. All, except for Liz Kratz, were immigrants from Switzerland or Germany. They were extensively trained and highly skilled precious metal artists with master’s degrees in design and goldsmithing along with qualifications in gemmology. The majority were schooled at Pforzheim in Germany.
A three page constitution was adopted at the founding meeting of the Guild. Their aim was to produce and promote high quality jewellery as an art form and to hold nation-wide and international exhibitions.  Another lofty ideal was to raise public awareness of the originality of South African designed gold and silver jewellery. The association was to meet from time to time to plan the implementation of its aims as well as to share information on new designs and techniques in experimental jewellery making( including the use of facetted gem-stones, mineral specimens as well enamel).

Figure 1: Founder members of the SA Goldsmiths Guild in 1973: Peter Cullman, Hartmut Jaeger, Ilse Jaeger, Kurt Donau, Liz Bezuidenhout-Kratz, Ewald Kratz & Jochen Kessel

The Guild created a logo (a smith’s anvil in combination with a stylized ring) that members were requested to stamp on their work in conjunction with their own makers marks as well as the caratage of the piece. After earlier attempts to establish a South African hallmarking system was abandoned in the late 1700’s, talks were taken up again since 1938 to establish a proper register, but no final agreement materialised amongst the members of the South African Jeweller’s Association of the time. The directive of the Goldsmiths Guild to its members to produce works with their own marks and guild’s stamp of approval, constituted the first real attempt to reintroduce a local standardised hallmarking system again. In an effort to differentiate their work from manufacturers who made use of mass produced techniques, the Guild’s constitution specifically stipulated that

            No jewellery of repetitive or ordinary nature may bear the logo stamp of the guild.

Membership of the Goldsmiths Guild was optional and recommendations made by the Guild were not binding to the local goldsmith community. From the onset the Guild gained representation at the S.A Jewellery Council. Nevertheless, the proper organisation of the Industry as a whole (which included the field of gemmology) remained open ended throughout the twentieth century.

At an Intergold jewellery competition held by the Chamber of Mines in 1974, members of the Goldsmiths Guild received 10 awards including three first prizes and the most outstanding design in gold. In 1977 Ewald and Liz Kratz won the coveted Diamonds International award. In 1975, two years after their formation, the members of the Goldsmiths Guild arranged their first group exhibition in Johannesburg to be followed by an exhibition in Stellenbosch later in the same year. A total of 120 pieces in silver, gold and platinum were on display. A number of other exhibitions were also held by twinning haute couture with artist jewellery. Jewellers and dress designers collaborated on designing clothes with fitting jewellery that was exhibited in fashion parades at the Rand Eater show. In 1979 the guild even opened a short lived Goldsmith Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg where they intended to feature permanent exhibitions by South Africa’s foremost goldsmiths.

Figure 2: Diamonds International Awards winner 1977- 18ct gold, diamonds and beads. Designed Liz Bezuidenhout-Kratz and made by Ewald Kratz
Given the individual and unique design of every piece they made, these goldsmiths were artists in their own right. Precious metals became their sculptural bases with which they combined texture, relief, line and colour to create jewellery of high quality. Precious stones were integrated in their designs to punctuate or emphasize aspects of their compositions. However, with youthful boldness, this generation of goldsmiths also expanded their palette of design materials to include organic elements such as wood and ivory. In some cases, copper and perspex were also integrated in their designs. They also celebrated the abundance of South African semi precious stones by absorbing these into their work. The imaginative captivation of unique colour tones inherent in stones such as tiger eyes, amethysts, agates, rose-quartz and jade in their creations, gave way to an increasing acceptance of semi-precious stones as part of leading jewellery design in South Africa.

Figure 3: A pendant by Hartmut Jaeger

Some goldsmiths used their well developed technical skills to collaborate with local painters and sculptors in giving expression to sets of jewellery and flat ware. For example Kurt Donau collaborated with Cecil Skotnes, Edoardo Villa and Hannes Hars on a number of occasions. In 2012 a pair of cuff links designed by Cecil Skotnes and made by Kurt Donau was auctioned for R9 500 by Stephan Welz & Co. in Johannesburg. In another collaboration, Erich Frey worked with Walter Batiss and Alexis Preller on creating jewellery ware and medallions. Frey’s legacy is also gaining increasing attention at auction. In February last year, at the Strauss & Co. auction in Cape Town, a collection of Erich Frey jewellery that contained bangles infused with elephant hair, were sold well above the auctioneers’ estimates.

Figure 3: Cecil skotnes and Kurt Donau collaboration. Silver and 18ct gold cuff links. Sold by Stephan Welz & Co. for R9500 in April 2012.

Figure 3: A sea urchin brooch in gold with diamonds and a pearl by Peter Cullman. 
(Optima, September 1970, p110) 

However, the conditions in which the Guild did its work conspired against their successful growth. Chief amongst these was an unresponsive and largely indifferent government that looked upon the profession with suspicion. More often than not, local goldsmiths were regarded as potential illicit traders of raw precious metals. Consequently, little was officially done to nurture and develop an organised community of resident gold- and silversmiths. Only in 1987 was the South African Jewellery Association formally recognised as a representative body by the government.

Political instability caused by the policy of separate development along with the job reservations act further compounded the problem of rooting an indigenously sound and prosperous goldsmiths association. Whereas little formal training and job opportunities for black South Africans existed in the sector during the 1970’s, white goldsmiths had to deal with increasing international sanctions that made exposure of their work very difficult, resulting in having to work in a small local market.

 Also internally, within a few years of its formation, the Goldsmiths Guild began to neglect the mandate contained in its constitution. Already in the early 1980’s their group exhibitions began to dry up and some failed to implement the recommended hallmarking system. During the late 1970’s members of the Guild began to emigrate to other countries, especially after the Soweto riots in 1976. Over the years that followed, all of the founding members of the Goldsmiths Guild of South Africa took their considerable skills to settle elsewhere. Along with political instability, a sharp increase in theft and violent crime compelled most to emigrate from South Africa. Peter Cullman relocated to Toronto while Erich Frey and Dieter Dill returned to Germany. Kurt Donau resettled in his native Switzerland. Ewald and Liz Kratz as well as Hartmut and Ilse Jäger emigrated to Australia. 

Figure 4: Gold and silver pendants, Walter Batiss and Erich Frey collaboration
By the late 1980’s membership numbers have dropped to such an extent that the Guild was not deemed to be a viable association anymore and the remaining members amalgamated with the Jewellery Manufacturer’s Association.
The formation of the Goldsmiths Guild of SA represents a notable effort to create an organisational platform for the advancement of high quality local jewellery. Unfortunately, due to the constraints at the time, it was destined to become only a momentary flash in the pan of our local jewellery making history.

                                                          Figure 5: Kurt Donau

Early indigenous South African jewellery design

(SA Jewellery News, August 2012, pp.33-34) 

Some jewellery manufacturers from the mid twentieth century became early explorers of African inspired work in the world of precious metal artistry. Thematically, their naturalist expressions of African animal, plant, cultural and mineral bounty have laid the foundation for the development of a South African design style that continues to be built upon and reformulated up to the present. Also, progressing from the singular use of precious metals and semi-precious stones in the early days, the use of mediums have diversified to any combination of varied indigenous materials such as ivory (not yet banned during these early  years), wood, bone and even animal hair paired with semi/precious stones and often a mix of metals.

Perhaps it is fitting that the first full time female goldsmith in South Africa was also responsible for initiating a South African jewellery design aesthetic that grew organically from her perceptive engagement with her adopted fatherland. Like Walter Batiss a few years before her, Else Wongtschowski also celebrated in her work the art making of our African cultures. What’s more, she was one of the first of her generation who appreciated the wealth of design possibilities locked up in the use of the abundance of Southern African semi-precious stones. These two actions lay the groundwork or fundamental matrix from which a South African styled jewellery aesthetic would slowly emerge.  At around the same time during the mid twentieth century, the workshops of Haglund in Johannesburg and Joe Calafato in Pretoria also took up the challenge to produce African inspired jewellery ranges and flatware that contributed greatly to the development of an indigenous artistic appreciation of the African world in which they were operating.

Figure 1: The first female South African manufacturing goldsmith, Else Wongtschowski in the early 1970’s.

Else Wongtschowski (née Reinheimer) was born in 1914 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. In 1933 she relinquished a career in medicine in favour of a goldsmith apprenticeship in Frankfurt. At the onset of the Second World War, she immigrated to South Africa. She worked for Kurt Jobst for a year after which she opened her own studio.

Ms Wongtschowski and her husband Hans were ardent mountaineers and have mapped a number of hiking routes in the Drakensberg as recorded by the Mountain Club of South Africa. In the mountains they came across bushman rock paintings. In 1949 this served as the inspiration behind the creation of a bracelet containing representations of bushman rock art. She was the first local jewellery manufacturer to set the tone for the development of a South African jewellery design theme that was later to become known as safari jewellery. She was known as an innovator and was also the first to introduce multi-coloured bracelets (often with stones she collected herself) to the South African market.

Her design inspiration was instinctual rather than analytical, guided by the particular combination of semi-precious stones at hand. She was of the opinion that it is …Far better to have a well fashioned semi-precious ring or brooch than an ill designed diamond ornament.

From the mid 1950’s, like Else Wongtschowsky a few years before them, Haglund Jewellers in Johannesburg began to create jewellery designs with themes depicting traditional African cultural life and wildlife images. The nephew goldsmiths Hans Blum and Rolf Waizenegger were the owners and they also gained inspiration from Bushmen rock art for some of their souvenir jewellery designs. But they went further and extended their collection by adding cultural images, such as head dresses, village life and animal studies to their design portfolio. The anthropological tones inherent in their work have contributed to its collector’s value.

                                                Figure 2: Early Haglund expressions.

Figure 3: Gold, beads and diamonds: Geoph Foden, taking the early Haglund work to a new level.
Given his extensive training in Germany, Hans Blum became one of the foremost practitioners of precious metal piercing in the country. This consisted of using a hacksaw to cut fine silhouette outlines from oxidised silver plate. Waizenegger contributed to their design base through stylised wiring expressions of animals, in addition to the modelling of relief designs of wild fauna in plasticine and pewter for silver casting. Working primarily in silver, their jewellery consisted of a combination of hand made and casting techniques.

Geophrey Foden joined the business in the 1970’s and contributed to a refinement of the early Haglund work to reflect the tastes of the time. They continued to incorporate bushman art in their jewellery designs, along with the setting of locally available semi-precious stones. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century the workshop created reinterpretations of African wildlife expressions, culminating in combining hues of gold, black and silver (incorporating pearls, diamonds or ivory) with mixtures of matt and gloss finishes, and at times imbued with ceramic beads. It gave expression to an emerging South African styled precious metal artistry, known as safari and wildlife jewellery.

A third manufacturing workshop that helped pioneer the indigenisation of jewellery design, was owned and managed by Joe Calafato. In 1947 he resigned from his job as designer jeweller at the South African Mint and opened a jewellery workshop in the Pretoria city centre. From that time onwards until the end of his career in 1984, a time line can be captured in his design development. It is expressed in terms of a fading European influence mingling with a strengthening African influence both in terms of inspiration and form. A clear migration took place from his original retro moderne scroll abstractions to ‘organic realism’ in expressing plant, animal and human form, culminating in an almost exclusive emphasis on African landscape, animal and village life. At the end of his career, his work matured into extensively embracing images of the African continent, making him an African manufacturing jeweller in the full sense of the word.

Figure 4: African female studies designed by Joe Calafato in the 1950’s.

Calafato’s early African images dealt almost exclusively with stylish African female figures clad with cultural accessories that include headdresses, large rounded earrings and beaded necklaces.  It expressed a fascination with culturally traditional female African beauty.  A few images of children were also included, one of which became noted in its own right. It was pressed in the form of a brooch and consists of a young boy eating from a three legged pot with a wooden spoon. Perhaps because of its endearing quality, it became one of very few compositions that was additionally stamped with a descriptive title, namely ‘lo umfaan’.

 Figure 5: ‘Lo umfaan’ brooch in sterling silver designed by Joe Calafato during the early 1950’s.

From 1972 onwards his depictions became more complex by adding rural background arrangements consisting of trees, rocks, tufts of grass, mountains, rondavels and aloes in bloom. Especially in this later work he incorporated traditional icons of African culture such the drum, the milling block with pounder, spear and shield, clay bowl, knobkerrie, amulets, ankle rings, reed mat, loin cloth and musical instruments. With these elements scenes such as hunting, drumming, dancing, maize pounding, socializing, music making and eating were composed. The designs pay lyrical homage to African expressions of nurturance, protection and beauty.

Calafato’s wildlife studies developed parallel with and in the same way as his African imagery. It started off as individual animal figures that over time expanded to more complex compositions placed within rural landscapes (almost like small three dimensional paintings in metal). These include studies of the larger mammals such as elephant, giraffe, lion, leopard, various antelopes and zebra. Sometimes indigenous wildlife and African cultural elements were combined in the layout of the piece.

                          Figure 6: Examples of Haglund and Calafato’s early African inspired work

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