Master bends metal to his will

Minsk resident Yuri Adamovich is one of those in the rare profession of being a goldsmith
By Inna Gorbatenko

Only two or three people in the country are goldsmiths, but Yuri Iosifovich is the most experienced. For 44 years, the master has been using the unique technique of cold embossing — as applied by goldsmiths in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However, Yuri has his own style — combining ancient embossing with artistic woodcarving. Nobody in Europe uses a similar technique.

Yuri’s workshop is always noisy, since metalwork involves thousands of hammer blows daily. It’s the music of his life.  He tells us, “Belarusian embossing is gaining in popularity. My works are found in 120 countries worldwide. When making works for foreigners, I try to give them national flavour, using themes from Belarusian history and mythology. I remember once making Disney dwarves for an American family; I dressed them as singers from Pesnyary, in zhupans, sheepskins and bast clogs.”

Yuri Iosifovich shows me a weighty album of photos, saying, “This crane was made for Valentina Tereshkova, while these aurochs were for Hugo Chбvez. I made this piece for Boris Berezovsky, who ordered a car-transformer: the rear is ancient, while the front turns into a Zhiguli. This guardian angel was made for Nikita Mikhalkov.”

The workshop is ‘creative chaos’ as I enter. Mr. Adamovich shows me how to forge a stork, taking a metal plate from a drawer. “Goldsmiths used to always work with precious metals; today, we have many alloys which can replace them.” Using a drawing of a paper stork, he places it on the metal sheet and starts to punch out contours, knocking his hammer against a chisel. “I make about 200-250 pieces annually, working 12-15 hours daily. It took five months to make my first Zhiguli,” Yuri recollects. “A family from America bought some works costing half as much as a car: 35 embossments out of 36. The only reason they left the largest was because it would have been too large to take on the plane.”

He uses acid to break the medal, and then solders it back together. The stork is now coal-black, ready for polishing, so that some places can be lightened. The wing tips he leaves as they are.

“I made my first works in the 1970s, when Armenian embossing was in fashion. An acquaintance of mine decided to teach me the trade. I’ve carved in wood, drawn and moulded since childhood, so it wasn’t too tricky to learn. Within six months, I made my first order. I remember, even now, how I decorated it: embossing a door for the Yakub Kolas Museum, adding Belarusian patterns,” smiles Yuri.

He bends down the edges of the metal, to create a small 3-dimensional sculpture — all from his original sheet. The bird looks as if it might suddenly fly away. “Aurochs and storks sell well. In general, I like nature and animals, although I also forge mythical creatures. I’ve made cognac bottles from copper, as well as knightly armour, and officers’ shoulder straps,” he notes.

His final task is to create a wooden platform for the stork; you can smell the pine as he chisels. “I used to make watch cases for Masherov; the final timepieces were given as presents to well-known politicians and foreign diplomats. French president Georges Pompidou had one of ‘my’ watches,” he admits.

I take a good look at his workshop shelves, on which live dozens of tools: chisels, hammers, pliers and scissors. “Another secret of my work is this hammer,” says Yuri, taking down a huge mallet. “I adopted the idea from cosmonauts, as it doesn’t rebound (even in zero-gravity). The striker is hollow, housing lead shot inside; lead is an inert metal, so it doesn’t spring back on being struck. It’s as if it sticks to the surface. It doesn’t make much noise either and doesn’t break wooden handles. It’s 40 years old but looks new.”

He solders a tack onto the rear of the stork and then nails it to the wooden platform. Another couple of strokes and he’s attached several canes (made earlier) clouds and waves. It’s now ready for exhibition at the Gallery of Crafts.

I notice a small tree made from wire, decorated with small coloured stones – clearly made by a child. Yuri explains, “While at the Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk, I gave a piece to a girl suffering from muscular atrophy, and wished her good health. Five years later, when I returned to the festival, working in the ‘City of Masters’, an elderly married couple approached me. They told me that, after receiving my gift, their granddaughter’s feet began to move. As she recovered, she made this tree for me, with her own hands.’ Now, every year, I take 2-3 works with me to the Slavianski Bazaar, which I give to sick people, hoping they may also help.”

Finally I ask how much customers pay for his creations.  He replies, “The most expensive sold for 15,000 Euros but that was an exception; many works sell for small amounts. It’s pleasant to know that your works are spread all over the world. I like to give presents too: I always do this from the heart.”

Hardly has he closed the door behind me, when I hear the loud blows of his hammer. He has returned to his workshop and continues to create.
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