International Amberworkshops Gdańsk (2009–2013)

Written by  Robert Pytlos
5th International Amber Workshop in Gdansk 2013 5th International Amber Workshop in Gdansk 2013

The primary idea behind the international amber jewellery workshops, which have been held in Gdańsk since 2009, is to make amber an inspiration for designers from throughout the world – those who had never used this precious fossil resin in their art before. 

We have held five editions of the workshop so far, initiated by the Gdańsk Mayor’s City Promotion Bureau at the Gdańsk City Office and carried out with funding from the city budget under the Gdańsk – World Capital of Amber project. The last two workshops were acknowledged and co-sponsored by the Polish Ministry of Economy under the 2012–2015 European Regional Development Fund, as part of the Promotion Programme for the Jewellery and Amber Industry.

The idea is not entirely new: pioneering workshops entitled Amber in Good Hands, run by Giedymin Jabłoński, took place in the former Gdańsk Amber Centre in 2005. After several years, the idea made a comeback. This major challenge was taken up by the KIGB Polish Chamber of Amber Commerce in collaboration with the Gallery of Art in Legnica, one of Europe’s leading centres for the promotion of jewellery art, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. The Golden Amber company of Gdańsk was the official partner of the first three workshops and provided the artists with the raw amber.

Work with amber

The format of the international amber workshop is the same each year. Over a week-long stay in Gdańsk, designers from outside Poland learn to fish for amber, how to work and cut it, what are its properties and ornamental traditions. In their spare time, they visit the Amber Museum and Gdańsk’s other tourist attractions. However, their primary mission is to create amber-inspired pieces of jewellery art to be displayed first at a workshop-finale vernissage, then at jewellery shows and exhibitions in Poland and abroad.

Workshops beginning

The first workshop – in 2009 – was attended by Gisbert Stach and Ulrike Strempel of Germany, Andrea Wagner of the Netherlands and Australia’s Felicity Peters. The designers worked under the technical supervision of Janusz Pawlik, owner of the well-known Progres Ltd company based in Gdańsk Wrzeszcz. Mrs Danuta Wałęsa, Poland’s First Lady and a great lover of amber, visited the designers during their work and she liked the workshop’sidea to inspire artists from abroad. The jewellery artworks they produced premiered at the Amber Museum in Gdańsk, which still has the pieces made by the workshop participants in its collection today. The first workshop was a success. “Learning about amber in practically every aspect was a fascinating experience for me,” says Gisbert Stach at “I was introduced to a completely new field of activity thanks to the workshop and the experimentation that went on there,” he added. It is worth mentioning that two years later the designer won the main prize of the Amberif Design Award 2011 competition. Andrea Wagner, in turn, aware of the cultural and historical significance of amber in Poland, created a collection of rings called Amber Documented. She was inspired by the refraction of light obtained by the polishing and cutting of translucent amber nuggets. By using bar codes, she created an ornamental kaleidoscope-like pattern.

Amber flamenco

In 2010, it was decided to invite designers from a single country from then on. The second workshop hosted designers from Spain: Maria Jose Silva Jimenez, Vanessa Rivera Pozas, Maria Teresa Cano Martinez and Jose Carlos Sanchez Lopez. A Spanish temperament is clearly visible in their work. “I like the extraordinary combination of amber and all that it evokes-beauty, history, magic – with what we associate with Spain most of all – the sun,” said Amber Ambassador Monika Richardson at the workshop results preview. The Spanish designers became truly fascinated with amber, its history and magic. Their impressions from their stay in the World Capital Capital of Amber were best expressed by Jose Carlos Sanchez Lopez: “Amber has become a true inspiration for me and that’s exactly what I wanted to show in my work. I was inspired by the depths where amber was ‘hidden’ and the multitude of its colour varieties – I tried to combine this in a single ring.” Vanessa Rivera Pozas, in turn, combined the Polish elements: amber and the sun it symbolizes with the characteristically Spanish motif of the fan. “My first impression of Poland was the sun, which rises here much earlier. And it was that, along with the birth of my acquaintance with amber, that I wanted to show in my work,” said the Spanish designer during the preview.

Italian love to amber

In 2011, a group of Italian designers led by Fabrizio Tridenti came to Gdańsk. The workshop participants also included Heidemarie Herb, Elisabetta Bruno and Nasario Monaco. “It was a fantastic week during which I tried to instil the love of amber in Italians,” said Zbigniew Strzelczyk, President of the KIGB Polish Chamber of Amber Commerce and owner of the studio where the workshop took place. The Italians, descendants of the Ancient Ro- mans who loved amber above all, strove to reflect the nature of amber in their work, putting a premium on its natural, uncut forms in unusual settings. The pieces made by established artists Fabrizio Tridenti and Heidemarie Herb deserve special attention. Elisabetta Bruno surprised everyone with her multipurpose amber necklace which could also be worn as a headdress or a bracelet. The young artist Nasario Monaco, in turn, produced the Planeta Novaya brooch inspired by Russian Futurist painting.

At the preview, Prof. Barbara Kosmowska-Ceranowicz from the Museum of the Earth (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) and the Vice-President of the World Amber Council rated the pieces made during the workshop very highly and praised the Italian group as the best of all the designers who had taken part in the workshop so far. “We wanted to teach you to love amber, but when I saw your work I understood that you don’t have to be taught, you’ve got it in you!” said Prof. Kosmowska-Ceranowicz.

Amber in Brussels

Sophie Gheeraert, Sylvie Jousset, Maricy Takahashi, Alain Roggeman and Pascal Theys took part in the 4th International Amber Workshop in Gdańsk in 2012. The Belgian designers produced almost 30 pieces in a week. They were the busiest group in the workshop’s entire history. The jewellery was presented at the fair in Hong Kong 2012, Gold Silver Time 2012 in Warsaw, JCK in Tucson, Arizona (January 2013), Vicenza Oro (January 2013), Inhorgenta Europe (February 2013) and Amberif (March 2013). Such a wide-scale promotion of the workshop was made possible by the support from the Polish Ministry of Economy through its programme to promote the amber and jewellery industry implemented by the “Amber. Treasure of Poland” Consortium.

The workshop participants included Alain Roggeman, lecturer at two Belgian jewellery art colleges in Brussels. His fascination with amber resulted in master goldsmith and amber jeweller Zbigniew Strzelczyk being invited to hold a two-week workshop for Belgian college students. And so the fourth edition of the international workshop brought added value to the promotion of the Polish amber jewellery industry and popularising amber and its use in jewellery.

Dutchmen and amber

In 2013, the workshop was attended by wellknown jewellery designers from the Netherlands: Julia Walter, Linda Ezerman, Peter Hoogeboom and Peter Vermandere; and Jutta Kallfelz of Germany. Within a week they produced over a dozen pieces of amber jewellery. “That workshop was special,” reminisces Anita Dmowska, the KIGB Polish Chamber of Amber Commerce Office Director. “The artists were very open; it was clear that they often dealt with Art with a capital A. I was most impressed by Peter Vermandere’s approach to designing amber jewellery. Admittedly, his view of jewellery art is very innovative in general. Specifically, however, out of the pieces produced during the workshop, a necklace by Linda Ezerman is definitely my favourite. She arrived in Gdańsk fully aware of her art with a ready plan on how to enhance it with amber. The result was a beautiful amber-decorated felt necklace.” At the concluding exhibition, napothe viewers were intrigued by the work of Julia Walter who created a collage necklace of valuable semi-finished amber products. “I think this was an artistic provocation,” said one of the Polish designers at the exhibition. I agree. I think that Julia Walter wanted to emphatically show us that Polish amber jewellers are on the wrong track, laboring like Sisyphus to turn natural amber into all those valuable semi-finished products.

First amber workshops for fashion designers

In 2013, the idea of an amber workshop as a source of inspiration was also introduced to the world of Polish creative industry design. Last April, the first workshop was held in Gdańsk with designers from Zuo Corp (clothing), Beza Projekt (design), Nick-Nack (clothing), Zouza (handbags), Solo Femme and Marta Kuba (footwear) and Agnieszka Maciejak (clothing). It turns out that the idea of amber shared by Polish product and fashion designers is not very different from that held by jewellers from abroad. Both groups have one thing in common: they love natural amber forms and love using them in the end product. “I had no idea that the most beautiful amber nuggets were the uncut ones. The ones with swellings. Kind of rebellious and rough. I had no idea that one amber nugget can float, another can’t. I had no idea that an amber tincture is a great remedy for a headache or pains in your joints. I learnt a lot. Zouza will put this knowledge to use!” said Beata Sadowska, eminent journalist and owner of the ladies’ handbag manufacturer Zouza, after completing the workshop.

Another noteworthy approach to amber was presented by Anna Łoskiewicz and Zofia Strumiłło-Sukiennik of Beza Projekt, whose designs include the Milk and Honey set, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Poland’s European Union Presidency, used to make a traditional beverage: milk with honey. “Every amber nugget is at least forty million years old. People aren’t aware that they are dealing with traces of history. We live in a world of temporary objects, the product cycle is growing shorter, and here we have a material that has been around for so long. We are dealing with a certain phenomenon and we feel that one shouldn’t see its features as faults. We want to use amber in mass production and we hope that we will manage to come up with such a design,” said the designers after the amber workshop concluded. We waited several months for the results: together with Zbigniew Strzelczyk, the Beza Projekt designers developed a set of amber-decorated light-switches to be marketed by the interior design industry. The other designers used amber in shoes, handbags and clothing which will be auctioned off for charity. The designs by Nick-Nack Gdańsk are especially noteworthy. At the workshop, they made a fabulous leather tunic decocorated with amber, auctioned off at the Hospice Foundation’s Have a Heart Ball at the Hilton Hotel in Gdańsk (February 2014), and an amber gown worthy of wardrobe of many a European queen.

Only natural amber

The experience gained at the amber workshops by jewellery designers from abroad and by Polish creative industry designers is the same. All of them appreciated amber’s millions of years of history, its unique beauty and magic, natural forms and colours. This is where they saw amber’s strength, prestige and repute. They were surprised and confused by the “barbaric” approach to amber shown by mass-producers of jewellery. Creating original pieces with natural amber and placing them in the hi-end sector was self-evident for all the workshop participants. Only then did it make sense, they all agreed. Let us hope that our amber industry takes this to heart.

Source: Amber news review 2013, World Amber Council