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About the Lap (SAMI) jewellery crafted in our time
Let us go back to the fifties: - When we came to Kautokeino, very strange and quite "different", the villagers wondered if we could perhaps help them with technical innovations, or even be able to repair their old silver. For centuries they had been interested in jewellery, for example, but hadn't been able to craft it themselves. Be they copper pots, iron cauldrons or ornaments: - only by trading had they acquired articles made of metal. In time, when villages were founded, a few traders also settled there. Among other things they procured costume jewellery from South Norway, in order to present a small, albeit also very haphazard selection with which the customers were satisfied. To have expressed wishes and ideas would have been of little use. As yet there was still no direct contact with the craftsmen. To become the first goldsmiths among the Laps was our strange destiny. Only since the foundation of our workshop could one refer to "Lap silver", as it were. For now jewellery was made with Lap influence. The goldsmith was among them., - anyone who could draw had the chance to even give him sketches. - From the outset we recognized it as our task to support this people in their search for an identity. Listening, taking seriously, - learning what the Laps from their own personal point of view experienced as beautiful could already be a contribution. For this we had to ignore our personal feelings and also those acquired through education and marked by time. We had to know how to adjust to the specific level of an Arctic minority until real empathy stabilized within us. After that it was a genuine pleasure to make jewellery for the Laps. - Since 1959 we have been devoting ourselves to this special work every winter (the time of all festivities). Thus we have been allocated a natural position in Lap society. - What we do apart from that to make a life for ourselves in the Tundra will remain a mystery to most people. Only our descendants born here will have some chance of experiencing a kind of belonging, although even they simply won't be members of the Lap people. - While I write this there is still hardly any interest among the villagers to learn the craft of the goldsmith. Apart from that, the wearing of traditional garments has decreased. However, once one has slipped them on, something very real and unique to that culture seems to rise to the surface of everyone: a desire for splendour that knows no boundaries. Even in the nineties, unimagined jewellery ideas - without any influence from the outside world - could still emerge. The development of "Lap silver" can continue for as long as the Lap costume counts as normal clothing. As soon as it becomes downgraded to a national costume only worn for special occasions, the genuine enthusiasm to acquire specific jewellery for it will be gone. With that our actual task among the Laps will also be finished. We can, however, look back and be grateful that we once inspired a people, aroused something within them that had lain dormant for a long time and got it to blossom: - Their own aesthetic appreciation of jewellery. - Science can look forward to finding extensive source material there. It will be noted with amazement how much was still made according to Lap wishes as recently as the end of the 20th century. Quite a few conclusions might be drawn from this to shed some light on the soul of this people ... For the ordinary traveller this may all be of little interest, but he should be aware that there are phenomena within the Lap way of life about which little is known. - However, let us now turn to models which are more easily understood and are illustrated on the following pages.
"Lap Jewellery" of Olden Times and Distant Origins
If we hadn't come here during the transition period between the still intact nomadic way of life and the beginning of the oil age, it would never again have been natural to make folk jewellery specially for the Laps. They still wore traditional costume almost exclusively, but at the same time there was not much of a jewellery tradition to be found among the population. Perhaps the numerous old and sometimes broken treasures which had been kept for centuries seemed too insignificant to arouse scientific curiosity. Right from the start, however, we saw the Lap themes as fascinating elements of the Arctic culture of a circum-polar people. Amongst other things we had discovered the still undispelled belief in the magic of metal which was held by such peoples. The difficulties involved in extracting the ore; the inability to work the material perhaps these helped to make metal as such appear in a mysterious light. And the age of individual artifacts, the wanderings through various cultures and forgotten ages. We saw it as a calling for us to till this fallow field. We were still the only ones to research the jewellery of the Laps, and for a long time we were the only ones to craft such jewellery anew. To do this we had to experiment with a craft that for us was an unfamiliar one. At times this was not easy. We were, however, fundamentally inspired by a naïve conviction that our efforts had a purpose.
Unfortunately only a few pages remain for me to describe in outline the origins of the old jewellery. Apart from some contributions from a few other Norwegian areas and a variety of other countries at one time or another, most of the jewellery found among the laps comes from Bergen. The trade monopoly this town has held in northern Norway for many years has also influenced the situation among the Swedish and Finnish Laps. Jewellery used to be distributed throughout Lapland via traders and markets. Much of what was popular at various times, we considered worth keeping, or rather worth retrieving from oblivion - either in the form of pure copies, sensitively worked, or used as a source of inspiration for our own variations which are designed with due consideration being given to the different styles of the individual prototypes.
However before we take a more detailed look at the original types of jewellery, I'll quickly answer the reader's inevitable question. "Why didn't the Laps make their own jewellery?" - Because their way of life prevented it. The culture of the hunters, and later of the nomads always forced them to be on the move. How could they possibly have transported heavy anvils and suchlike from camp to camp? Anything but be a burden to the caravan was the basic rule of all nomads, - all the more important to keep when the nature of the area they moved around in presented problems. Just imagine the extreme conditions in desert and tundra: from the very outset they restricted the creativity of their inhabitants, so that among wandering tribes comparatively little materialistic culture developed. Due to the various external conditions the cultural work of the individual nomadic peoples reached different levels. In contrast the settled farmers - all over the world - were not impeded by transport problems. Time alone limited his need to experiment with utility and beauty. Finally he discovered metal and gradually developed techniques to work it. - Tourists who meet nomads decked out in silver in Africa and Asia always believe that they also make their jewellery themselves. However, as in the case of the Laps, resident craftsmen are behind it. - The population of the surrounding area here unfortunately see themselves forced to slowly give up nomadic life. At the same time they have already slipped, almost without transition, into the age of the computer. Thank goodness this external framework was unable to touch many of the ideas which had been handed down from the distant past. - Let us think back a long time: For centuries jewellery was the only luxury of the wandering people, with the added advantage that it didn't weigh much. It adorned and indicated the rank of the wearer. Its most valuable quality was, however, its durability. Geared towards an unsettled lifestyle, the hunter, like the nomad, must nevertheless have yearned for something everlasting. The permanence of metal led them to hope for magical properties which could combat illness or even the "Underground Folk". What could have been more natural than to sacrifice metallic things to the gods? So a part of the jewellery illustrated here is based on finds made at Lap sacrificial grounds, - for example the BIRDFORMS and the WEBBED FEET of birds respectively (No. 61, 68, 74, 100, 101, 111, 164). They came from the Baltic-West Russian area of the 9th - 11th centuries. Likewise the ancient cross (No. 75) of whose Christian significance certainly nothing was known here when it was sacrificed to the gods. Another category of uncertain age and origin is that of the ANIMALFORMS and "SUNWHEELS' (No. 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 77, 106, 107, 108, 109). They too are supposedly from Russia. We were still able to purchase originals from the Laps, who fastened them to their belts in order to tie knives, scissors, "sewing needle tents" and suchlike into the openings (No. 217). They used always to carry the most important tools on their person, until they settled and became the owners of cupboards and drawers. It became our task to make belt discs into jewellery without a practical use, thereby preserving them in our time. The Laps also wore the multi-sectioned, Christian marked pin (from Russia or Finland) on their belts (No. 132). Among the jewellery of the late Middle Ages it is noticeable how often it consists of HOLY LETTERS or of pieces decorated with them. In most cases it is the Gothic A for AVE MARIA, or a crowned M, symbolizing the holy virgin as Queen of Heaven (50, 55, 57,124). Since the beginning of the Reformation, people have learned to forget both of these symbols in their areas of origin in southern Norway. Among the Laps, though, they were preserved as well-looked after heirlooms; no-one will have explained their Catholic symbolism to them. BALLS (No. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) were honored as amulets against serious illness during the southern Norwegian Middle Ages. In Lapland it was believed that they could protect small children from being substituted for "Underground Folk". On certain Lap costumes they were a part of the ornamental collar, which above all was decked out with numerous decorative hooks, as for example (No. 306). Today only one such ball is worn on a silver chain at the point of a belt adorned with silver. - RUSTLING "LEAVES" on balls, rings, jewellery and tools is also an idea from the late Middle Ages, which the Laps are still enthusiastic about. The most natural method for the goldsmith was to flatten round eyes. Rhomboid shapes with patterns much as "Christ's Cross" (No. 150) required more work. It is known that the Christian sobriety relaxed during the Renaissance and the subsequent Baroque period. At that time ANGELHEADS (No. 80) and DEVILMASQUES (No. 301) were made. Out of an old habit letter shaped hangings were also used in the south of Scandinavia.
The goldsmiths had lost the knowledge of their meanings, which is why they transformed the crowned M almost beyond recognition (No. 73, 102, 52, 53). Letters of Christian magic were even hung onto BEAKER and DRINKING BOWLS, which was all the more successful, the more unwittingly the holy was combined with the profane. Originally no brooches were worn in Lapland. Among the earliest types in use from various distant areas are No. 129 and similar. Only during more recent generations did people here get used to the south Norwegian filigree jewellery, like our models No.128,145,133,127,126,125.
A few more words about our SPOONS. - Apart from one particular one all have been marked by the style of the Renaissance. - As they didn't eat anything that they would have needed to spoon, the hunters and nomads will at first not have made any spoons. However, the trade which had developed since the 16th century was followed by silver spoons crafted in the south of Scandinavia, which were hoarded by wealthy Laps. When they began to use them, the less wealthy tried to reproduce them in bone and horn. Turned handles had to become flat. Only particularly skilful carvers succeeded in the imitation. With the best will in the world they couldn't copy the plastic execution of the spoon heads and so these were unfolded" over the surface. In this way a very special type of spoon was created, which certain Norwegian and Swedish silversmiths had already tried to transpose into metal in the last century. They were sold as "Lap Spoons", yet without reproducing the charm of the originals. To reform anew something that belongs to a bygone age, or rather to the thoughts and materials of another people requires love, taste and an understanding of the history and culture. It can be dishonest to play with a foreign form. It is equally wrong to copy slavishly without allowing the soul to contribute. Yet it can be very important to stick exactly to the original.We were once visited by a man who had found a spoon in the ground. It was an ancient piece and had never been thought of in any material other than bone. Uncertain of whether it was of Lap or other origin, we knew we had had a small work of art bestowed on us. Therefore, when we were asked to transpose this spoon into silver we kept precisely to the pattern, (No. 213). In view of the perfection if would have been disrespectful to permit ourselves the slightest change.
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