Gia Gogishvili – Silversmith from Georgia in Georgia
24 November, 2011
Gia Gogishvili – Silversmith from Georgia in Georgia

One afternoon, in 1996, two black cars with tinted windows drove up to Estes-Simmons Inc looking for a silversmith. Specifically they were looking for Gia Gogishvili, a master silversmith from Tbilisi, Georgia. They were representatives of FIFA and Coca-cola and they had come a long way in search of a silversmith who could help them when no one else would. They expl

ained to Gogishvili that the FIFA World Youth Championship was coming up and they had a small problem with a trophy. They didn’t have one. “Technically they did have one, but it was locked up in a museum in Brazil and the silversmith who had made the original trophy had recently died, without leaving instructions or drawings behind. So all these guys had were photos,” explained Gogishvili. FIFA and Coca-Cola representative’s search for a silversmith capable of  fastidiously replicating the trophy had taken them to London, New York, and many other places before they made a last ditch attempt at Gogishvili. He heard them out and after a day of thinking, he agreed to take the job for forty two hundred dollars. “I remember their faces. They looked confused, but for me it was a lot of money back then,” said Gogishvili shrugging his shoulders. FIFA and Coca-Cola men breathed easier and after agreeing on the price they had asked how long it would take Gogishvili to make it. By his calculations, and he knew they were in a hurry, he told them he needed three months. They told him he had twenty days. On the 21st day the trophy was supposed to be on its way to Switzerland. Upon hearing this unbelievably short deadline, Gogishvili refused to even consider the work.  Not wanting their only chance for the trophy to slip away, the representatives immediately got on their phones and came back at him with double the asking price. Gogishvili still refused. “I  said no, because I couldn’t take that much time off from work and I didn’t even have a studio, so no. It just wasn’t possible.” They came back again, this time convincing Estes-Simmons to give Gogishvili three weeks off work and when he still wasn’t persuaded, they raised their price to thirty thousand. Finally Gogishvili agreed. As promised on the 21st day the trophy was bundled up safe in its case and on its way to Switzerland. But not before Gogishvili showed the trophy off to his Georgian friends at his home.  “We all took pictures,” recalled Gogishvili, “and for some bizarre reason my friends got it into their heads that it was an Olympic trophy, even though I told them it wasn’t. Although,” Gogishvili smiled, “after that marathon of working 24 hours for twenty days straight and finishing on time, I felt I deserved a medal.”  To write this interview I was invited to visit Gia Gogishvili, a highly sought after silversmith and artist, at his Atlanta family home that can be best described as a museum housing Gogishvilis’s most precious works, (family notwithstanding). Anywhere a guests of the family might turn they will be greeted by a sample of the artists artwork. Be it a mirror, a chandelier or a statue designed and made by Gogishvili. There is also a separate room devoted to showcasing the silversmith’s collection of most recent works, and for me it was a privilege to tour and discuss each and everyone of the magnificently designed and executed pieces with the artist himself. After the viewing I sat down with Gogishvili to talk about his work and life.

K.E.- “What influences your work?”

G.G.- “I love imitating nature in metal. I love water themes: river, crabs, lobsters, frogs. I don’t know why. I didn’t live anywhere that close to the water, so I don’t’ really know where that comes from.”

K.E.- “Are there people who had influenced you in your work?”

G.G.- “I would say that my father, who is a silversmith, was my biggest influence. I was a very hard child, I wasn’t studying well, nothing was grabbing my attention, I really wasn’t getting along with my teachers. The only thing I could do well was draw Lenin’s face, but I really wasn’t doing anything else. My father changed my life; he sat me down and made me apply to Toidze Art College. There my life changed, I fell in love with sketching and I would work ten to twelve hours a day at my desk. Once my father saw I was serious, he helped me by  teaching me all the traditional techniques he knew and putting me to work.”

K.E.- “You first started to work for Estes- Simmons Inc as an hourly employee and now you are the owner of the company. How did you go from one position to the other?”

G.G.- “This was an interesting country to me, and I wanted to learn more about the way students live, about American life. I did not think I would stay long enough to own my own silversmith company, but after fifteen years of working for the company I was in the position to buy it.  When I stayed here originally, it was because I wanted to learn more about their silversmith specialists and about how they did what I did. This is why I stayed. Now I teach students myself. My school is the only school that can teach the details of the repose and chasing for the students. Once a week I teach a full class and I enjoy it- it’s like being in another world.”

K.E.- “When you go back to Georgia now, do you find yourself comparing Georgian art work or techniques to American work?”

G.G.- “In America, in today’s world speed is desirable. The goal is to make things quickly. In Georgia it is not so. People don’t change so quickly. Georgian artists are in love with their work, money is secondary. But as far as the development of style of Georgian artistry and I speak of my specification only, we as artists are closed off. Our designs haven’t evolved from having an Asian influence.  Modernism hasn’t seeped through there yet. Before I went out of Georgia I wasn’t a fan of modernism, to be honest I didn’t think it demanded much technique or knowledge. Since then I have come to appreciate its value. It was simply not something I was used to seeing. Being in America, I learned simplicity in style and design and the trick of not overdoing it.”

K.E.- “What would your advice be to young Georgian artists?”

G.G.- “Young artists need to find progress in themselves to be willing to start looking outside of their immediate surroundings.  As artists they will need more resources. A favorable market that does not insists on traditional art only. It is also hard for Georgian artists to grow because the buyers are looking for traditional work. As a society perhaps and as a market we are not so free. Our gift is that we have so many different techniques and styles to learn from and to build on. So I’d say my advice is to forge forward and not stand still.”

K.E.- “Since we are on the subject of forging ahead,  can you tell me of any place in Georgia that has changed from your point of view since you lived there?”

G.G.- “Bakuriani. It’s a winter ski resort and I was so surprised when we went. My daughter who has skied in the Alps prefers to go there now. Bakuriani has changed a lot. It has been brought up to European standards, it’s expensive, as most European ski resorts are, but the service is great and the whole experience doesn’t compare to when I was a kid.”

K.E.- “Is there any place in Georgia that is more dear to your heart than others?”

G.G.- “I love every place in Georgia, but Kakheti has to be it for me. That is where I am from, my parents are from. My family and I always end up going to Georgia in the summer and we always go to Kakheti. I remember my childhood there, being able to walk around barefoot and even now as a grown man, nothing makes me happier than taking my shoes off and walking in my garden barefoot. When I am there, I wish to just forget everything else and just sat in that moment.”

As if lost in his thoughts of walking barefoot in Kakheti, Gogishvili smiles absentmindedly and I realize what I have suspected throughout our interview - his smile is infectious. And no matter how much I’d like to resist it, I smile too.

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