The Spirit of Stone event that took place in Lappeenranta, Finland, in early May 2011 gathered together students and teachers from European jewelry schools, as well as others interested in jewelry and stone. In addition to a symposium, the event also involved workshops, an exhibition and a jewelry art and design competition.

The organizers were the city of Lappeenranta, Saimaa University of Applied Sciences and Kalevala Koru. Jewelry as art is taught in the Saimaa University and they have previously arranged several contemporary jewelry exhibitions – for instance, the tri-annual Koru exhibition which is held in Lapppenranta and Imatra. Kalevala Koru is the biggest industrial jewelry manufacturer in Finland and they are interested in seeing how new generations use stones as a part of jewelry.

Kirsi DoukasA symposium with the theme of diverse aspects of stone was held before the opening of the exhibition. Gijs Bakker, Bettina Speckner and Finnish jewelry artists Tarja Tuupanen and Ulla Ahola all gave presentations. As well, the invited schools taking part in the competition gave lectures about their programs. The symposium provided insight into how jewelry is taught and how the schools operate. It was an important event for Finnish art jewelry, which isn’t very well-known in Europe and has a very small audience in Finland itself.

The exhibition The Spirit of Stone (in Finnish, Kiven Henki) at the South-Karelian Museum presented jewelry of different kinds: a small selection of Finnish pre-historical stone and jewelry, competition works, contemporary jewelry and designed jewelry. It was curated in co-operation with the various organizations involved in the event. The South-Karelian Museum has a focus on the history of the region. Stones have been part of Finnish prehistory because, for instance, tools were made of this material. Some of them, like the tool representing head of an elk, are aesthetic objects as well as being functional.

The contemporary jewelry section of the exhibition consisted of many famous, mainly European, jewelry artists or designers. It showcased work by Ruud Peters, Gijs Bakker, Helen Britton, Bettina Speckner and Kadri Mälk, all of whom were invited artists. This section explored the idea of how contemporary jewelry differs from more traditional jewelry, which was partly showcased by the inclusion of jewelry produced by Kalevala Koru. The company’s yearly production of 200,000 pieces is mainly created for the domestic market. The exhibition included a selection of work by several jewelry designers, for example Kirsti Doukas, who work with Kalevala Koru. The company was established 60 years ago and is now a large enterprise. It began making jewelry based on medieval examples found in graves and other archeological sites and modern jewelry has become part of its production. Smaller enterprises, such as Lapponia Jewellery and Kaunis Koru, have been absorbed into the company. Lapponia Jewellery’s pieces are more artistic and exported widely, with the most famous jeweler being Björn Weckström. Kalevala Koru has a significant role in Finnish society, being recognized as the seventh best brand in the country.

Marja SunaEstonian jewelers Katarina Kotselainen and Ruta Raivara Petronyte (Estonian Academy of Arts) were in the top three of the competition. Other prizes and special mentions were given to Beth Legg from Edinburgh (ECA School of Design) Yasar Aydin from Stockholm (Konstfack) and Alexander Friedrich from Germany (Fachhochschule Trier). Of course, you always get different opinions regarding the winners of any competition. I was little bit disappointed as to why some others didn’t receive an award. All the participating schools looked quite similar in terms of their approach to making jewelry – except the Lahti University of applied sciences, who represented more traditional goldsmithing skills and thus their pieces belonged to manufacturing processes rather than contemporary jewelry.

The concept of the exhibition The Spirit of Stone was ambitious. Unfortunately jewelry is always presented in a modernistic way in glass boxes, which doesn’t allow the work to blossom. The viewer sees only one side of the pieces, for example and some jewelers like Ulla Ahola make the brooches surprisingly different from both sides.

Ulla AholaThe exhibition seemed to make connections between old and new, industrial and artistic. For the audience it offered an opportunity to see how wide the jewelry field is. No doubt the audience was surprised by contemporary jewelry and especially that it no longer looks so polished as the pieces created by Kalevala Koru. The exhibition was interesting in different ways because you could see at the same time old and new craft-based and industrial jewelry. For the larger audience it gave a hint of what is happening in contemporary jewelry field, but only from the viewpoint of stone.

Päivi Ruutiainen

Päivi Ruutiainen, MA, lives in Lahti (Finland). She is a lecturer at HUMAK University of Applied Sciences and has worked as an art critic since 1992. Her doctoral thesis, about contemporary jewelry and its place within visual art, will be completed in 2012. She is a member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics).