Have you ever noticed the thorns on a stem or the multi-faceted sides of a boulder? For most of us, these moments seldom happen; in truth, they likely only occur when we’re on vacation and take a moment away from our screens. Yet, for South Tyrolean jewelry maker Gabi Veit, these are the moments that fuel her creative process and passion for turning the everyday into fantastical metalwork. And we haven’t even mentioned the best part! Gabi Veit’s metalwork is the result of an almost abandoned dream, which finally took shape after her 40th birthday.
From her graphic design work, art theater involvement, and the fanciful designs she imagines in wax and metal, Gabi Veit’s creative practice is as varied as the natural landscapes where she finds inspiration. We’re in awe!
Kinship + Craft corresponded with Gabi Veit to provide this interview. It has been translated from German to English by Lindsay Marsh and Clemens Baldszun-Marsh.
A little gumption is good thing
K+C — To begin, what would you like us to know about you?
I opened a graphic design studio without having worked in a graphic design studio before, and I founded and directed a cabaret theater without having studied theater before. At 40, I began studying contemporary jewelry in Florence and graduated in 2011. Since then, I have been designing spoons, and it seems to me that I have always done this and will continue to do it for quite a while. Spoons are inexhaustible.
I live in Bolzano and in Switzerland, do exhibitions, design books, and am often in the kitchen, the garden, in the mountains, and between worlds.
K+C — Wow! After all that…What led you to study jewelry design and metalwork?
I have always loved to wear jewelry and found the jewelry in stores in gold and with stones boring. It should be handmade with stones from the stream or other found objects. So, when I was 26, I took a three-week jewelry workshop in South Tyrol and wanted to follow it up with an apprenticeship. But at 26 years old, I was too old for that and I quickly came to terms with the fact that this was not possible.
Then, with the founding and management of the cabaret, so much excitement and work came into my life that I had long forgotten this desire. In addition to my gainful employment as a graphic designer, I was always looking for my artistic expression, and at 40 years old I was no longer too old to go to school again. It was supposed to be only one year in Florence, where I wanted to learn the techniques. However, I stayed for three years because I enjoyed learning new things and spending my time in school, in museums, and at the work table so much.
K+C — I can absolutely understand the desire to dedicate so much time to learning! The time in Florence sounds like it was a wonderful gift. What led you to believe that 26 years old was too old to do a jewelry apprenticeship and that it was okay at 40 years old?
In South Tyrol at that time, it was challenging to start an apprenticeship at the age of 26. I also didn’t want to move away and leave everything behind. I was braver at 40 than at 26. Besides, I only wanted to go for a year and never burned my bridges in Bolzano. But if someone had told me I would have to do a three-year apprenticeship, I probably wouldn’t have started. I had it very good in Bolzano. The fact that my life has taken a big turn with the training, that’s wonderful. Yes, and learning, discovering the unexpected, and meeting new people is a gift.
Between two places
K+C — You now live and work between Switzerland and Italy, and Bolzano, Italy, has a particular history. Could you tell us a little about the two places where you live and the kind of work you do in each?
Bolzano is my hometown, it is bilingual and has been. On the one hand, South Tyrol has a tragic and complicated history, as it was a majority German-speaking area that was annexed to Italy after World War 1. Under fascism, attempts were made to ban German culture and the population had to decide to stay and become Italian or to leave the country. This political and social trauma is still felt after 100 years. On the other hand, it is precisely this uprooting, this sitting in between, that is fascinating and very productive. Ideally, Bolzano has to offer the best of its Austrian/German-speaking and Italian culture.
Coming to Switzerland is through my husband. Switzerland is a very interesting island in Europe. Many things I know from other countries work differently in this country. Switzerland is still an exotic place for me.
In Bolzano, I am rooted, connected, and travel a lot. In Switzerland, I’m in seclusion. There, I have time and leisure, there I collect myself and process my impressions.
Learning, discovering the unexpected, and meeting new people is a gift.
Fantasy and metalwork
K+C — How do your surroundings impact your creative process?
My work is influenced by my background. Growing up in a plant nursery, always on the road in the mountains, in the theater, and between cultures, nature, food, and observing the people around me play a big role.
K+C — That sounds like a well of inspiration! Some of the forms you create, whether jewelry or spoons, feel as if they could be plucked from a meadow, found while wading through a river, or walking through the mountains. What inspirations and forms have occupied your metalwork practice over the years?
The inspiration comes from the mountains and their stones, trees and their branches, plants with their flowers and fruits. I do not want to imitate them, I observe and draw, design parts, and connect them. They are often hybrids, nature-like, but not found so in nature.
K+C — This idea of connecting separate parts also reminds me of what you said earlier about the two cultures present in Bolzano. I wonder if that has had an influence in your work.
I always found it fascinating to be asked how I felt as a member of the German-speaking minority in an Italian State. At some point, I just answered: GOOD. Because I think it is good not to be in prefabricated, clear (thinking) structures. I am also convinced that it is important and right to look beyond borders, overcome them, and accept others.
I cannot always say how it influences my work, but making jewelry, spoons, and graphics is perhaps also an expression of it. One kind of work affects the other and enriches it.
Finding her voice
K+C — When you first started metalwork and were trying to find your voice with the material, did you have specific ideas in mind, and therefore chose the lost wax method as a means to achieve it? Or did you experiment with various production methods to find the style you wanted to explore more?
I like to work intuitively and go directly into the material. Wax allows me — in its various techniques — to work spontaneously. I often make ten molds, only to declare one to be the right one. The rest is melted down again. I like the idea of the single piece. If the mold is not well-prepared for casting, then all the work is lost. It’s like a small miracle every time I can hold the workpiece in metal in my hands.
K+C — That is very moving! Could you explain, what can cause issues with a mold that impact the outcome?
There are two kinds of problems. One is a technical problem. Maybe I worked too thinly or too heavily, so the piece gets holes in the metal or is no longer wearable because of the weight. The other is that trial and error also results in pieces that were great in wax but don’t meet my expectations in metal. Then it’s like a path I started down but interrupt. These pieces then lie around for years — either I find a solution for them or melt them down again.
K+C — That’s the wonderful thing about metal, right? I have also noticed that there is a sense of play between utility, decor, performance, comedy, and a Frankenstein-like subversion of the everyday in your spoons. What kind of reaction or train of thought are you trying to encourage with this work?
As an everyday object, the spoon is in everyone’s hand and mouth every day, as a coffee spoon, a cooking spoon, a soup spoon. But hardly anyone notices it. For me, a spoon is a universal tool that on the one hand takes (from the plate, from the pot) and on the other hand gives (the sugar into the tea, the pudding into the mouth). It connects hand and mouth. It is a handle and a bowl. I pay attention to the spoon through my design. The viewer or user must engage with it. I always say I make “possible” and “impossible” spoons, but what is possible or impossible is decided by the viewer. It’s a game, an engagement, an homage, an appreciation for the spoon.
What really matters
K+C — Few people can say that they’ve had multiple careers in various creative pursuits. What have been the most helpful lessons you’ve learned from your work in graphic design, theatre, and now, metalwork, that you keep in mind?
I have always been interested in many things and I plunge into the new with enthusiasm. The stories of people, the relationships with them, the movement across borders, the connecting of seemingly incompatible things, and the immeasurable diversity of nature are and remain exciting for me. What really matters is not what you do, but how you do it, with enthusiasm and dedication, curiosity and respect.
K+C — Thank you, Gabi!
If you’re interested in reading another story about a jewelry maker, click here!