Open Wed-Sun 11.00-18.00 / 17 Lai Street Tallinn, 10133 Estonia


PRESS RELEASE 20.09.2006
23.09. – 19.11.2006

Leili Kuldkepp is an Estonian jewellery designer and teacher, an indisputably unique creative persona and always an authority in her field. At the same time she is a conflicting and uncompromising personality who has set absolutism and perfectionism as her life goals. Following such a path, she is unsparing toward herself and others. Though the various stages of her life and her convictions, she never lost faith in love. Her yearning for perfection has been realized in her work, her students and in the “emotional education” she gave them.
Kuldkepp's life and work can be described through her own sense of the truth, philosophy and love of Finno-Ugric mythology, and through the profound influences of her childhood. Growing up amid the marshes and forests of Viljandi County, she experienced her first stronger emotions which, broadening into a comprehensive world view, became a fixture for her entire life and later manifested themselves in her art. This is where her spirit came to crave solitude.
Leili Kuldkepp's worldview becomes distilled and dissolves in her art, which she describes it as the only way to live, the only point to life.
Naturism is an important characteristic in Kuldkepp's delicate jewellery and other works. Sensitive, soft contours, timelessness and an internal vulnerability are other keywords that might be used in describing Kuldkepp’s art.
The stones used in the work were all cut and polished by Kuldkepp herself. The major physical work and expense of time involved made her look at stone in a new way; mineral started taking precedence over metal.

Leili Kuldkepp herself divides her art into four conceptual periods according to how the material is developed and the themes:

1. Formative or preliminary period – hollow forms
1962 – 1972
While teaching her students to work with decorative forms, she tried to resolve technical problems in the material herself before giving out an assignment. She herself does not think much of the delicate, restrained forms from this period.

2. Experiments
1970 – 1977, 1982
In her experimental period, Kuldkepp was driven by the desire to achieve an enamel technique that exhibited a jeweller’s level of refinement and would also satisfy her need as an artist to draw. This led to a technique unprecedented in Estonia – a delicate pencil drawing on an enamel surface. To further develop the fullness of the style, she used a technique similar to etching. The first works had the studio for a theme (“In the Studio") and later, as she traveled through Estonia, nature provided inspiration for the “Alutaguse Cycle” and a series of wall tiles – "Estonian meadows, fields, forests and marshes”. 

3. Games
1977 – 1980, redux 1987
In this period, she looked for a new way of conveying light and shadow and found it in mammoth bone – a white, dense and hard material. Drawing became a game with form. The result is seen in large-scale forms such as "Drapery” and the “knotted" minisculptures "Handfuls of Flax”.
Kuldkepp’s desire to shape stone first stirred while looking at old Chinese figurines. Her search for materials was aided by geologists from the Estonian Academy of Sciences. She was able to realize her sculptural ambitions in ophicalcite from the island of Saaremaa and delicate green onyx-ophicalcite, which she transformed into models reminiscent of burial mounds.
Since the material was difficult to come across, various pieces of stone had to be combined. She found a brown, translucent morion – a type of smoky quartz. She polished this mineral into amazingly long, slender sticks from which onyx animal figures hang suspended. These were her first tentative attempts to create a “dedication column”, which in later work were complemented by the “Eternity” jewellery, made of jet. She assembled polyhedral jewellery and objects from black obsidian, smoky quartz and quartz crystal. The process of polishing the stones with extremely precise facets and vertices gave her time to gather her thoughts, and she has said she considers the time-consuming process more as respite than labor.

4. Love
1980 – 1992
Her “love” period is tied to nephrite and pink chalcedony, but primarily to Estonian minerals – white chalcedony (kaholong) and jet – with the content of the work strongly related to Finno-Ugric belief and a story by Friedebert Tuglas, “Island of the Gods”, which she read as a girl.
She sawed sticks of jade, she set a record of sorts – long slender pieces of stone crafted out of the desire to hear their Oriental ritual sound. Kuldkepp selected a light pink chalcedony to complement the nephrite and in working the former, she tried to retain the material's delicate nature and purity, the mossy green and peony pink of her childhood...
Her ideas on Finno-Ugric rituals were realized in the “Beliefs” series completed in 1988 –1989. The other love of her life with rocks she considers to be Estonian minerals and white chalcedony, onyx-calcite. These are ovals of white and grey stone – circles of life, she calls them – fringed with symbols she herself created to represent the world of life, death and souls whirling around the stone.
The “Beliefs” series was followed by “Shapes of Souls” and “Faces of Souls” from 1990 –1992. The jewellery in the series is autonomous, not addressed to anyone. They can be worn – they have even been called neck stones and the possibility of wearing them on the belt has been noted – but wearability was not the goal. Just as the Finno-Ugric tribes made their idols for the sake of living life itself, this is also the only aim for Kuldkepp.
The last works of this period encapsulate all of Kuldkepp's conceptual and emotional unity, informed by her life experience, her search for truth and eternity, her perfectionism and desire for universality. For this she chose jet, with its black, matte surface.
Jet is the beginning for the “Beliefs” series with its great life cycles, but compared to “Shapes of Souls” and “Faces of Souls” they are a little more Estonian, colder, sacral and maybe even more decorative.
Jet was also the material used in “To the Andalusian" and the tiny, columnar objets d’art called "Into Eternity”. The matte black sticks of the “Eternity” series are like monuments dedicated to those embarking and walking down the paths of eternity. The gold symbols on their ends are sacrificial signs.
Kuldkepp’s creative process is at once everyday ritual, an act of contrition and prayer.
Kuldkepp thrives on the past, and by giving of the future, she is practically a person without a present.

Maria Valdma
Translation: Kristopher Rikken

Exhibition curators: Maria Valdma, Merike Alber
Exhibition architect: Inga Raukas
The music used for the exhibition is by Sven Grünberg (from documentary by Maria Valdma “You passed through on the wings of birds…” AD Oculos Film 2000)

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue (88 pages).

We wish to thank:
Prof Kadri Mälk, the Jewellery and Blacksmithing Department of the Estonian Academy of Arts, Cultural Endowment of Estonia

Further information:
Merike Alber
+372 627 4608 

"Into eternity. Quo vadis". 1990.

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