A-Gallery is a unique shopping and exhibition space that represents the widest selection of Estonian art jewellery. Over a hundred artists from or related to the local cultural field are represented by the gallery. Our purpose is to represent professional jewellery artists and designers, creating an outstanding display of jewellery, unique pieces and exhibition works. Each handmade piece of jewellery is made with masterful technique and reflects the author’s unique handwriting and concept. As an international exhibition space, the gallery creates bridges between different artists, and as a jewellery shop A-Gallery supports a connection between our artists and clients.
Four gallerists are responsible for the daily operation of A-Gallery. Gallerists are supported by a board, which membership changes afer every 3 years. A-Gallery is founded and run by jewellelry artists.
Members of the board:
Ene Valter / Chair of the Board
Maria Valdma Härm
Helle Ly Tomberg / gallerist and curator
Johanna Maria Mängel / gallerist and marketer
Katrin Kosenkranius / gallerist and web shop administrator
A-Gallery provides two exhibition spaces – VAULT and WINDOWS. The programme is put together by our curator and board, which consists of jewellery artists. Our programme is compiled a year in advance and an open call for it is held every fall. The open call welcomes artists whose work stems from contemporary jewellery and craft practices and their context in broader visual culture.
WINDOWS is A-Gallery’s platform for micro exhibitions, established in 2019 with the aim of showcasing both new and previously exhibited works of practitioners in the field of contemporary jewellery in a compact format. WINDOWS has found a home in the display windows of a former goldsmith’s shop established in 1891 and extends the gallery’s exhibition space into shared public space. See our exhibition programme here.
The VAULT is A-Gallery’s exhibition space, focusing on showcasing new work by professional jewellery artists and blacksmiths. The VAULT acts as a historic touching point between the original and the contemporary functions of the building – that of a former goldsmith’s shop and of the most notable exhibition space for contemporary jewellery and blacksmithing in Tallinn. Exhibitions in the VAULT began in 2005. See our exhibition programme here.
Article: VAULT since 2005
Tiina Käesel in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
Behind this presentable historical security door probably the smallest known gallery started exhibition activities in May 2005. This is a narrow and high metal case, where creation of exposition possibilities was not easy and what still makes artists think about exposition as the key part of their exhibitions. The first exhibition was “Granaat” (Grenade/Garnet), which name included a hint to small charge that would cause creative explosions and introduce garnet as a jewellery stone through a small available selection of jewellery with garnets. Exhibition activities continued just like in the former rooms of A-Gallery, through development and changes. 12–13 exhibitions were held annually, mainly basing on the following model: request of the participant and confirmation of the Management Board of the private limited company, whereby the Board has also proposed exhibitions with targeted invitation, joint thematic exhibitions, anniversary exhibitions.
A positive quality of safe exhibitions has been openness – they are open for young self-conscious radicals, shy beginners, jubilarians carrying long traditions, foreign guests, presenters of strong concept or creators offering a variety selection. These exhibitions have provided a constructive artistic dimensions to the commercial side of A-Gallery (this should not be taken as a shame, taking account of the current trend promoting creative industries), small art educational excursion for the purchasers, larger audience than usual for the artists and, last not least, the possibility to align routine activities to more festive events. In the exhibition also serial jewellery, the technique or material used by the artist will get a different position, more important meaning, depending on the context.
Throughout the years there have been much changes in the content and form of exhibitions, but certain generalising classification can still be made. Project-based exhibitions have been added to the process-based exhibitions proceeding from a person and creative path. First, the obligatory genre or anniversary exhibitions, carriers of jewellery traditions. Older jubilarians do not take sharp risks in their style and techniquess – this is rather a demonstration of skills and creation, which we could store in our memory. For example the memorial exhibition of Ede Kurrel “Silver Threads and Gossamers” in 2005, Õie Kütt “Beauty in Time” in 2008, the exhibition for celebration of 90th birthday of Arseni Mölder in 2009, which was special with very old works and designs and unfortunately remained his last exhibitions, Aino Kapsta “Filigree feeling” in 2010, Ive-Maria Köögard “Our Daily Bread” in 2012. Other memorable events have been reuse of old techniques by Harvi Varkki, 2006 exhibition “Family A+M+MM” by Adolfas Saulis in 2006, Andrei Balashov “Sonnet XII” in 2009, Ulvi Haagensen “Pantry” in 2008, Mari Pärtelpoeg “Pillow Thoughts” in 2009, Anneli Tammik “Des Menages” in 2010, Ülle Kõuts “Water” in 2011, Leida Ilo “Soul Boats” in 2013, Maarja Niinemägi and Maret Sarapu “Waters” in 2013 and many others. It is easy to start the list, but much more difficult to stop – over a hundred exhibitions, several authors have recurred, therefore nobody should feel hurt.
Every exhibition is important for an artist and every artist knows, why the exhibition has been planned. Where are you moving? What are you showing? And all more urgently – how do you show? While in theatre black box is a room allowing most experiments, the exhibition space functioning with a principle of a white box actually also allows endless transformations; own space has been created in rather total form and basing on various aesthetics by Katrin Amos with “Drawers” in 2008, Kaire Rannik with “Inonobus Obliquus” in 2010, KAM with “Cowberries in the Heath” in 2012, the group Otse! with “Concrete Time” in 2011 and the group Urmas-Ott (Urmas Lüüs and Hans-Otto Ojaste) with “Shelter” in 2012 and “Waste of Time” in 2014.
As already said, every exhibition is an important milestone in the biography of an artist; Safe exhibitions form an essential part in the biography of A-Gallery. There is nothing to be ashamed of – this is a part of contemporary jewellery, part of Estonian art life. Good luck!
Since 2007 colleagues have selected also the Exhibition of the Year in the gallery. Here is the list of these exhibitions:
2007 – Katrin Veegen, “näitus”
2008 – Katrin Amos, “Drawers”
2009 – Maria Valdma, “Dust”
2010 – Kaire Rannik, “Inonotus Obliquus”
2011 – Ülle Kõuts, “Water”
2012 – Urmas-Ott, “Shelter”
2013 – Leida Ilo, “Soul Boats”
History of the gallery
A-Gallery was founded in 1994 by jewellery artists themselves. The brave and inspired step to cooperate served the purpose of creating a space that would allow the artists to exhibit and sell their works directly to the public. Most of the founding members are still involved with running the gallery. On 10th of May in 1994 A-Gallery opened its doors in the Tallinn Old Town for the first time in the Estonian Artists’ Union’s building on Hobusepea street in a room where today you can find HOP Gallery. In 2005, A-Gallery moved to its current location on the corner of Hobusepea and Pika street, which offered a bigger space.
A-Gallery is located in a historically important building where the ties to jewellery and goldsmithing date back more than 100 years. From the late 19th to early 20th century the rooms were used as a manufacturing plant and shop by goldsmith Joseph Kopfs’ by whom the house was also built. Later the legendary ARS Juveel operated here and today the building belongs to the Artists’ Union and many of the jewellery artists’ and goldsmiths’ workrooms are located right above A-Gallery. This makes it easy to create a connection between the artists and our clients as well as fulfill custom orders quickly. You can see more on the special order options here.
Over the years dozens of artists have joined the gallery and today A-Gallery has grown to be the home of Estonian jewellery and a unique meeting place where you can get to know the works of over a hundred different artists.
A-Gallery in 1994-2004
Jaan Elken about A-Gallery
Merike Alber about A-Gallery
Kaie Parts recalls
Leida Ilo: Safe, sapphires and Mrs Shanin
Lia Tüür in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
The period after Estonia regained independence was full of hope. Companies were founded and galleries were established. The idea to found a very own gallery of jewellery artists came about in 1993. A room with the area of 40 square metres in ARS jewellery studio in Hobusepea Street had been assigned into the possession of jewellery artists already years ago. It was located on ground floor towards Hobusepea Street, with large window and separate entrance. By 1993 it had been temporarily rented to the coppersmiths of ARS.
In the beginning of November I visited the director of the art foundation Mr Liiv, to talk about the possibility of returning the room to artists and establishing a gallery there. He agreed. Many calls were made, to invite people to participate and join us. Fortunately, in that period telephone calls were free of charge, as we had to call all through the week. In the middle of the month we held the first meeting on the issue of the gallery. Toivo Laos drafted explicit foundation articles of public limited company.
Foundation meeting of AS Autoriehe was held on November 25, 1993. The number of shareholders was 46 and Ene Valter was elected Chairperson of the Management Board. Approval had to be obtained also from the management of the Artists’ Association and also a presentation had to be held for introduction of the enterprise. Their answer was positive.
Actual return of the room was very hard. The head of jewellery studio had exchanged and hoped that delay tactics would preserve the previous situation. We got the room only on March 1, 1994. Meanwhile there were several meetings, payment of shares and conclusion of agreements. However, for artists it gave time for creation of new items.
Two following months were spent repairing and furnishing the gallery. All this was done on our own. Height of the ceiling was 3.5 metres and scaffolds were unstable, but we managed to paint the ceilings and walls white. There was much trouble with the floor, as it was really spoilt. The most diligent repairers were Krista Laos, Ene Valter, Kaie Parts, Mari Pärtelpoeg, Vaida Suits etc. The Heritage Board specified the colours of front door. However, when Ive Köögard had painted the door with small squares, they did not like the shade any more and the door had to be re-painted.
Katrin Amos, who knew well the field of interior design, had prepared a basement room for exposition of jewellery in Moleni Gallery in the beginning of Viru Street. This was a very useful experience – she planned the interior design. Furniture details were transported from Tartu with the van of Harvi Varkki, while Heldur Pruuli helped to assemble the furniture and took care of the locks. Andres Amos fixed the sales counter. Everybody cannot be listed by name, all put their share into the activities.
The great common work bore fruit – work was taken over on May 6 and on May 10, 1994 A-Gallery opened its doors. The first head of the gallery was Ene Valter, the salesperson Jaana Varkki, later Heldo Korbe. Every day one of the shareholders provided assistance.
Ene Valter recalls: The first years of operation of A-Gallery were characterised by professional enthusiasm and willingness to work among the artists. Every day I came to work eagerly, because the day seemed to be interesting. Opening of a gallery intended solely for jewellery did not arouse interest and excitement only in Estonia, but also in the neighbouring countries – Sweden, Finland and elsewhere. We were constantly praised as the largest jewellery gallery in Nordic countries. Excursions came to visit us and it often happened that visits to our gallery were included also in the programme of high guests of the city. For example the actors of a popular American TV serial „Santa Barbara“, which was shown on TV in that period, visited us during their stay in Tallinn.
In the first years, good sales results of the gallery depended on foreign tourists. Estonian people were eager to visit us as an exhibition, but purchase possibilities were low. I even remember our first purchaser, who was an employee of the US embassy, fond of the earrings made by Tiina Käesel. We had constantly to communicate with the purchasers, introduce the artists and tell stories. Once I had a long conversation with a nice Estonian lady from abroad. We moved between the showcases, accompanied by my continuous praising speech, and finally we had chosen three rings that she liked. Hoping that she will select one of them, I told stories about the artists and their creation. To my surprise the lady said in very rugged Estonian language that my sales effort was very good and she would buy all three.
Once a young Irishman came to the gallery and said that she has five sisters and needs a present for all of them. We became a bit confused and selected the jewellery. Finally he asked, if he can get also some concession from such a large purchase. As the situation had become very amusing, we naturally agreed, with the condition that he would perform an Irich dance for us. And he was pleased to do it.
In my opinion, one pleasant event was painting eggs for the Easter. Small window exhibition was designed, using the eggs painted by the artists, and almost every year we succeeded also to sell most of the eggs.
In January 1997 Ene Valter resigned from the post of the head of the gallery, in order to found her own company. Mari Pärtelpoeg was elected her successor. She resigned on September 1, 1999 and the signatory continued on the post. Kadi Maranik became the salesperson.
In the first months, our activities were determined by the approaching new millennium. To celebrate it, we organised a major joint exhibition. In the further schedule, personal exhibitions of authors exchanged every three weeks, while joint exhibitions were held during turn of a year and spring holidays. In the beginning the exhibitions were designed by some shareholder, later by Taimi Soo, whose solutions were always fresh and smart.
We were glad to celebrate 80th birthday of our beloved teacher Salme Raunam in our small gallery on March 13, 2001. Well, too small for many jewellery items. A man came and asked: “I travelled all the way from Viljandi, now where is Raunam?”
Jüri Arrak opened a jewellery exhibition of his anniversary year in A-Gallery on October 12, 2001. Although he said that jewellery format was too small for him, the exposition was nice and successful.
Shareholders were interested in personal exhibitions and the list became full quickly. There were also several exciting visiting artists, and EAA graduates in summer. 17-18 exhibitions were held in a year. All of these were not equal, but some of them were really high-level. Active exhibiting brought people to the gallery and promoted the sales. Contact with purchasers was good, many orders were fulfilled. Shareholders assisted constantly the work in the gallery. Common interest made people closer, we were happy for the happy and sad for the sad. Optimistic character of the salesperson Kadi Maranik was a great advantage. In summer the jewellery students of EAA enabled her to rest. A-Gallery had become a speciality centre.
I retired in 2004 and Kärt Maran was elected the following head of A-Gallery. Ene Valter became the Chairperson of OÜ Autoriehe.
Ene Valter recalls: As the small rooms of A-Gallery prevented us from certain development, we started to think of the extension of the gallery. Relative bold positive decision was adopted in 2004 and construction could start in the current premises of A-Gallery. Authors of the interior design are Karli Luik and Ralf Lõoke. Vision of the new gallery by Kärt Maran, who was the head of the gallery at the moment, was innovative and provided several possibilities.
On May 10, 2005 A-Gallery opened its doors in the new premises on the corner of Hobusepea and Pikk streets, before the final move was completed. This is a short overview of the first half of the history of A-Gallery.
Jaan Elken in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
Twenty years is time unit, which can be compared to a grain of sand on the eternal axis, but in Estonian scenery of art galleries it is a significant experience and age. On May 10, 1994 A-Gallery opened the doors at its first address – Hobusepea 2. Could these courageous women and men, who put the money needed for share capital into common sack, positioning themselves as entrepreneurial applied artists, anticipate at that time, what was waiting for all of us operating in the art field – both good and bad? It was a period of bright optimism, in spite of limited material possibilities. Common operation as a working method was almost contempted in the beginning of nineties, first years of capitalist realism. Things were different with making business – we remember the spectrum of emotions caused by the term „sales exhibition“, which returned also to the vocabulary of fine artists. Management of a gallery and communication with the target group of their creation was more natural for applied artists with more practical attitude. We can call jewellery items and author’s jewellery consumer-oriented applied art in the most archaic and pure sense of the term. Name does not spoil the content, I have always admired, even envied, the openness and concentration on the consumer programmed in the activities of applied artists. Even without the rules of creative industry these methods and channels of self-realisation seem to be more honest and rational.
A grotesque summary: in last twenty years a generation has been developed in Estonia with the support of the Cultural Endowment, who has established their existence on state benefits. The art created by the people with above mentioned world view and lifestyle seems to exist independently from broad audience, recognition inside the group is usually sufficient for them. Antipode of the carriers of such mentality would be artist types motivated by market forces and turnover (with extremely limited volume in Estonian environment), production mills of applied art, whose operation is marketed to artists and promoted in the society by the Ministry of Culture and Enterprise Estonia under the sign of “creative industry”. In reality these extreme positions are relatively rare in the field guide of artist types; variety of species of artist types can be seen also on authors’ stands of A-Gallery. Similarly to retail trade (where only department stores and retail centres, not single shops, can ensure abundance of brands for a conscious consumer), initial overview of the items presented in the showcases of A-Gallery causes temporary confusion due to the multitude of different styles, but when circumstances coincide, it will lead to finding “own” jewellery. A-Gallery is really a miniature, but specialised department store of art, a genuine “ladies’ delight”.
While an artist operating in the field of fine (radical) arts with critical, but demanding attitude considers pleasing somebody, which can lead to a financial-commercial transaction, almost a shame, the objective of work of an applied artist, especially an artist making author’s jewellery is to please. When determining the quality of work of a jewellery artist, we cannot avoid such words as “fashion”, trend”, “aesthetics”, “thinking in material”, “craft quality” and many other terms stigmatised by contemporary art science. In the highest ranks of contemporary art there are many overlapping discourses and conscious mixing of formats – an example can be the work by Damien Hirst, human skull covered with thousands of genuine brilliants, which excited art circles some years ago. Definition of a contemporary jewellery is all-time broad due to the crossing of borders and lack of prejudices, created hand in hand with contemporary art; the history reaching back to the primeval period is a powerful treasury providing support. We see, how the millennia-old symbols and forms are again in creative use, in a symbiotic relationship with futuristic ideas, trends and materials – from an amulet to high-class artefacts balancing on the border of non-wearability. Direct contact with potential consumers, which is only reinforced by the format of a store-gallery, has created to A-Gallery customers all over the world, audience (and further the purchasers), who will return and bring their friends along.
In the period of growth, when the first profitable years were passed, the A-Gallery group started to organise also a classical gallery specialised on non-profit applied art. After moving into larger rooms (almost 100 square meters) located in the other edge of the registered immovable owned by the Artists’ Association on the corner of Pikk and Hobusepea streets in 2005 they attempted to manage HOP gallery as a project gallery. In 2006 HOP joined the family of galleries of Estonian Artists’ Association, now being there the smallest gallery with independent exhibition programme with total area of 35 square meters.
But A-Gallery did not surrender – already in 2007 a small project space was opened right in the heart of the gallery, in the former metal safe intended for storage of precious metals. The safe enables to concentrate on a separate artist, to bring new people to the gallery. In the Safe I have seen also forged iron items and material-based art related only indirectly to applied art.
Social experience of a youngster in twenties presumes that main benchmarks and further circle of interests may be chosen, but the best years are still ahead. Good luck and success!
Merike Alber in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
“Jewellery will not make people more beautiful, but let them feel more beautiful.” – Andy Warhol philosophy, 1975
It is a fact that people associate luxury items and jewellery mainly with women, although also men have worn jewellery already from the ancient times. Naturally we can declare jewellery a luxury, if we consider luxury as anything excessive that is pleasing us. Jewellery are not work only for beauty and pride; for millennia jewellery have denoted status and class, throughout the centuries jewellery have also included much protective and defence magic, they have been connected with beliefs. We still believe that jewellery can make us not only visible, but also audible. Through jewellery we can be ourselves, differ from the others. By transmitting mentality of the wearer, jewellery will make also values of the maker visible, thus being an object indicating the identity of the author/wearer. However, the message as well as jewellery itself can be a cliche.
Jewellery items are actually not beautiful or ugly; it is difficult to reach a common concept, what is beautiful, only the sight of a person will provide value for them – it is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Naturally, also the subconscious wish to impress the opposite sex is added to decorating “just for beauty”.
Jewellery can be taken as an independent form of art, but it will get real meaning and idea only when worn. Swiss jewellery experts Cornelia Vogelsanger and Katharina Issler have said that if a jewellery item is located in museum or showcase, far from people, it is in an alienated state.
Fashion changes rapidly, but traditions persist, even if they sometimes limit us too much. It would be wrong to see only inhibition of development in traditions; customs and habits keep us together, they contain mentality and wisdom. There are various traditions and we can make our own selections; Estonians selected silver as “their material”. Silver jewellery were popular already among our foremothers, the amount of silver around the neck and in the hand showed wealth and status of the wearer. The price of silver has usually been affordable, therefore people have been able to wear it and the glare of silver has been fixed in our traditional culture through various myths. Of course, traditions can be broken, thus shifting the limits – how much and how, will depend of the specific person.
The impact of mass culture on jewellery cannot be ignored. Expensive brilliants and platinum are meant for the rich, who judge the value of jewellery by the price of material; cheap imitations of such jewellery are available to broader public, and although they have no value from the standpoint of eternity, standard beauty is pleasing many people. Mass production also offers fashion accessories made of cheap artificial materials, lasting just couple of seasons.
When the contemporary jewellery art came into being in the last decade of 19th century, it changed the former value criteria, its impulse was the re-appeared interest in handicraft. For the first time the main attention was now paid to the form and colour of jewellery and the hand shaping all this beauty, leaving monetary value of materials on the background. The new principles did not reach Estonia, because preconditions for the birth of our professional jewellery art were still not mature, this took place only thirty years later. However, more radical jewellery movements of 1960s leaked also to Estonia and it was possible here to talk about liberalisation of form as well as material – of course, with some concessions, mainly in the context of exhibition art or design of serial production.
Economic and cultural reformations launched in the whirlwind of the beginning of 1990s touched many cultural people and jewellery artists were not exception. Unemployment hit suddenly many professionals, who had been successful freelancers or operated as designers and artists in the jewellery studio of the art production company (from 1986 Ars-Juveel). Decrease of national art subsidiaries and reorganisation of exhibition activities placed the artists into economically unstable situation.
Jewellery artists recovered quickly from the crisis and started to prepare for opening a gallery. It must be admitted that compared to some other speciality they had a certain position advantage. As in the entire Soviet Union, the production of jewellery of precious metals was subordinated to centralised control also in Soviet Estonia, thus depriving the broader public of almost any possibility for purchasing unique jewellery. Author series sold in the salons of the art production company were highly appreciated and usually accessible only through contacts. Only during perestroika, when the first private companies appeared, the first legal direct contacts were established between artists and clients. Naturally the women, who can value jewellery, made use of the new freedom. There was a client base with decorating habit, who considered it important to wear the creation of Estonian jewellery artists. With this knowledge we could plan the foundation of a gallery with higher confidence. However, it was still a risk, because author’s jewellery is always somewhat expensive.
A-Gallery, the first jewellery gallery basing on private capital in Estonia, opened its doors in 1994 at Hobusepea Street 2. Approximately in the same period also several other sales points specialising on applied art or only on jewellery were opened: Lühikese Jala Gallery, Gallery Kaks, jewellery workshop of Katariina Guild and author’s jewellery of Jaan Pärn in the Masters’ Courtyard. All these were born with the initiative and capital of artists. It must be said that business is running well, galleries are still operating and the original profile has been retained. Probably the advantageous location in the Old Town, in the busy tourism area, supported the business success at least in the beginning.
The year 2005 meant the beginning of a new stage for A-Gallery, as this was the year when the gallery moved to new, twice as large premises in the house on the corner of Hobusepea and Pikk streets. Naturally the “new premises” do not mean only physical space, but also the accompanying level of thinking and operation. Long-term metal traditions of the building passed directly on to the new location of the gallery; for decades it had been the address of Salon No 2 of the art production company. Opening of A-Gallery in the popular place offered nostalgy and memories proceeding from historical continuity for many visitors. In addition to the sales space several large showcase windows were obtained, which provide better advertising possibilities and tempt curious viewers to purchase.
Since the beginning A-Gallery has seen its role in bringing artists and purchasers together, but the extent of exposition offers to the visitors a possibility to study the development trends of jewellery art. Thus the gallery is also promoting and introducing jewellery as a whole. From the standpoint of sale it is important to offer as broad range of products as possible, to enable the right owner to find the right item from the showcase. In its 20th operating year the gallery is representing approximately 70 artists, many of whom have been visible through exhibitions for a long time. It is rather difficult (or even impossible) to find a common name for all this circle, because creation of artists varies highly by personalities. However, some criteria have been agreed – author’s jewellery or small series, dignified materials and classical methods. Thus the gallery positioned itself as a carrier of traditions and has achieved success and reputation in this field. Basic reserve of the gallery consists of artists, who acquired their profession in the State Art Institute; the gained academic education covered several speciality skills, but also instructions for work as a jewellery artist – jewellery must decorate the wearer.
Imagination of artists can get inspiration from various things. Nature with its unique forms, colours and patterns is an inexhaustible source material for jewellery. The jewellery sprouted from this evergreen theme – single fragile blossoms, ripe bolls, spirited compositions filled with natural feelings – are suitable for any age. The majesty of nature is balanced by rational geometry; for decades the artists have been interested in geometric style, such ornament-free geometric constructions seem to be suitable for our Nordic character. Minimalist jewellery, which look always modern with their simplicity, show the approach to fine art, while Baroque exuberance refers to the time, when the amount of jewels and glare of precious metal indicated position of the wearer in the society. Various architectural or sculptural forms still remain within the limits of jewellery art, and as the scale of a jewellery item is many times smaller, it requires much higher concentration from the artist.
Beside modern art trends and phenomena, our art has always derived vigour from folk themes. However, now we do not stand only face to face with national brooch shape or floral pattern, but study the magic symbols of archaic and mythological world view. Sometimes everything starts from the stone, but just the name of the stone, irrespective of its sound, does not mean anything – the stone will get life only through the hand of an artist. Jewellery items of the artists of older generation often reflect their own creative past, however this is not repetition, but re-interpretation, where some idea, pattern, form or technique is taken to the next level. In case of such development the tradition persists, but the result is a new jewellery, which speaks to us here and now. Some artists can perfectly join commercial and artistic sides into the service of integral impression; some artists deal calmly with their own style and care less of the sales numbers. Decades ago, one of our legendary jewellery artists – Salme Raunam – summarised the mission of her generation with the following words: “We did what we could and what the people expected from us.” This mission seems to continue also today. The range of techniques is as versatile as the sources of inspiration: filigree, granulation, casting, engraving, melting, enamel and many other classical working methods of a goldsmith.
Since mid-1990s we can see two dominating approaches to jewellery together with relevant images of the wearer. The first appreciates classical and traditional style emphasizing femininity, but allows some moderate innovations. The second is more related to free souls and art collectors. Interest of private collectors in jewellery is rather late phenomenon, which is probably increasing, however their purchase channels remain mainly outside the gallery. New generation opposing traditional approaches brought along new symbol images, which source, idea and nature differs from the past. When message takes the lead, material will become its transmitter; traditional and unconventional materials are used side by side, often together. New materials often bring along different forms and special technologies; unlike commercial jewellery, here the intention is not to conceal the character of material, but to stress the peculiarity. Such expressive or conceptual items turned jewellery into meaningful medium. This angle of view to jewellery has not been completely dismissed by the gallery, but left to the background. It seems that the artists, who are currently 20-30 years old, whose parents were young in 1970s and 1990s, and who accept new attitudes on the example of their parents, are now too readily discarded. Changing preferences of taste should reflect also in the jewellery made by our artists and sold by galleries.
As for the current scene of our jewellery, it is not as interesting as five years ago. The wind has calmed down, there are few newcomers and they tend to be lost in general flow. Although it does not concern all artists, there are too much attempts to please the potential audience.
Today, when money is becoming increasingly important gauge of values, a question arises, if author’s jewellery is good investment. Valuable family jewellery is usually left to the following generations, why not then also author’s jewellery, which carries similar timeless values and is not subordinated to the moods of fashion. Perhaps we should invest more into stories, emotions, positive energy and the knowledge that jewellery has been made with love.
The extent of scope is an indicator of viability of a gallery. In case of orders it is inevitable to take account of the requests of clients, which bring in personal level of a client and leave less space for free creation for the artist. Exhibitions in the historical safe room have undoubtedly drawn attention of the people interested in jewellery, the list of exhibitions is long and although the tiny exhibition room is meant first and foremost for own artists of the gallery, there have been also guests from outside. Such admittance of „strangers“ to own exhibition chamber shows openness of the gallery to the phenomena taking place in jewellery world. Issuing of annual exhibition award is not just a fair gesture, but also promotes creativity.
Twenty years is a sufficiently long time for assessment, if a gallery persists or disappears. A-Gallery has firmly decided to stay.
Kaie Parts in the book “A-galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
Winter and spring months of 1994 were the period of repair in the future gallery premises at Hobusepea Street. A couple of months earlier I had finished my latest large work of metal plastics. I began to understand that no orders would be expected for monumental works. In such case it is wise to catch at any straw offered. Tremendous euphoria, great joy for our dear Republic of Estonia was gradually replaced by the knowledge that we were very tiny and poor. Orders for works of art – who cares of these! The main goal was persistence of Estonia as a state.
It was an extremely exciting situation. Bold young men carried guns in their pockets. The first millions were earned. A period of rough sale and purchase. My advertisement: “I’ll buy a bra and a lathe, both preferably adjustable”. Humour keeps as alive at any time.
I went happily to Hobusepea Street, where our future gallery was waiting for repair. We had various skills. There were friends from the period of studies, and fortunately also some younger people. It was clear from the start that the room had been used roughly and intensely, while nobody had taken care of it. Enormous nails had been hammered into the wall for different purposes. My measuring tape showed that they reached 17 and 23 cm out of the wall. There were also many large cavities in the walls, where plaster layers had collapsed. A huge “meteorite crater” in the ceiling. I estimated quickly, how much plaster was needed, and set to work. I brought my tools, and already had the rubber bowls needed for plaster casting. It was then, when some people heard for the first time that before studyin jewellery I had graduated from the speciality of sculpture. When they asked, what I was doing, I had to answer that I was also a sculptor.
Dusting and making plaster mixture, preparation of surfaces and finally throwing the mixture into the cavities. Everything was done layer by layer, all over again, until deep holes turned into smooth walls and ceiling. It was like a small salon performance, I was happy and satisfied. The floor required extensive “geological excavations”. We did not know what could be hidden there. The uppermost layer consisted of chipboard, which was very common in that period. We had to slow down the demolition speed, when a patch of stone tiles was uncovered. Maybe something valuable had been preserved! We worked delicately and with caution. Now everybody can see, what was revealed. The same beautiful floor is standing there today.
When I go to the gallery to see exhibitions, I look affectionately to the walls and ceiling. It is good to recall these times twenty years ago. Some memories still make me laugh – people are very exciting. From that period, I remember especially Lia Laasberg (now Tüür), Ene Valter and Katrin Amos. We survived this historical period with pride. A-Gallery is living a happy and interesting life.
Leida Ilo in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
A recall a situation from distant past. In 1964 I was gaining my first work experience in the art production company or Kopf Workshop, where the guild spirit and mystery still existed. I acquired invaluable skills under the instruction of old masters.
Missis Shanin (the storekeeper) was a dignified lady from the first independence period of Estonia, who aroused awe and respect with her posture and neat appearance. She sat in a small storeroom behind the table and behind her back there was a special door – a safe door reaching from the floor to the ceiling. My eyes probably stopped on it, and the strict madame grew sentimental, deciding to satisfy curiosity of a child. Blue sapphires were laid in front of me on the table on blue velvet and Missis Shanin said: “Sapphires, from the imperial era. This dark blue shine will not be forgotten, all their mystery and value.” Now the Safe is also the most dignified exhibition place and the safe door in A-Gallery is open to the public.
History of the house
Katarina Kotselainen in the book “A-Galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*
*“A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”
The house located at Hobusepea 2 was built by goldsmith Joseph Kopf (1867–1930). His family originated from Germany, but his own life and work was related to Estonia. 1881–1885 he studied jewellery in Tartu with Johan Julius Stamm and visited also St Petersburg during his apprenticeship. Already in 1891 he was successful enough to open a workshop in the Old Town of Tallinn, which produced silverware as well as ordered unique items and was especially well known before World War II. Now the name of Kopf has unfortunately been forgotten, because in result of nationalisation of the company in the Soviet period it became an integrated art production company.
The facade of the building completed in 1891 was initially generously decorated, but later it was simplified. An interesting fact is known of the construction period – the wall facing the street was left unbuilt in the beginning, in order to lift the heavy die and roll into the basement, and only then the facade was constructed. The building included manufacturing plant and shop, as well as office, production spaces, rooms for making packages and glasswork, sales area and living rooms of Kopf family. Kopf lived on the second floor, where also his office was located, in the rooms to the right from the corridor. In the period of the art production company there was the so-called gold room, where gold jewellery was made.
A major incident was robbery of the shop window in winter 1925, when the window facing Hobusepea Street was broken. Jewellery were stolen for one million Marks. This was the biggest robbery case in the first independence period of Estonia. The time that followed should have been hard for the company, because the criminals were not found and the jewellery disappeared without any trace. However, the company still continued to operate and after the robbery Joseph Kopf put more valuable jewellery into the safe for night.
Initially the safe located on the ground floor could be accessed through the second floor of the house (through Kopf’s office, where one could reach via spiral staircase from the shop below). Two keys were needed to open the large iron door, one of which was held by the head of the shop and the other by Kopf. After nationalisation the safe was used as a material store, where precious metals and stones were kept. Another smaller safe was located in the floor of the safe, which has unfortunately not been preserved. We can only speculate, what was it used for in the period of Kopf, but a former employee told me that in the period of the art production company a gun was kept there. We do not know, if it was ever used for security.
Nationalisation of Kopf’s company did not terminate activities in Hobusepea house. Many former employees remained at work and the die in the basement weighing several tons continued the production of jewellery and commodities. This machine, now already more than a hundred years old, is still in use, and although hidden from the public, it is a pride of the building. The house itself is now belonging to the Artists’ Association.