Photo courtesy of Michele Varian Boutique
From Bascarsija to Manhattan: chandeliers make a splash
“BiH has extremely talented artists whose work is outstanding, but what’s missing is a good, modern design that would more readily respond to market demands. So I decided to try and change that.”
Vladan Blagojevic is a coppersmith in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). His family has been making traditional kettles used in brandy making since 1921, almost 100 years. Today, his copper chandeliers and other Bosnian artisan products are sold in prestigious Manhattan boutiques.
It all started with a walk around Bascarcija, the old part of the city, according to Bruce Gilardi, a New York businessman living in Sarajevo and working to connect artisans from BiH with merchants and designers in New York City.
“I noticed that the shape of the dzezva [kettles for making brandy] is almost identical to a very famous lamp from the early 20th century,” Gilardi says. In 2012, he contacted designers in New York, introduced them to the skill of Bosnian metal workers, and helped meld a partnership. The designers gave him some of their concepts, including Michele Varian, who designed the chandeliers. When Gilardi returned to BiH later that year, he and the locals made prototypes for new chandeliers, vases and trays.
Blagojevic made the first chandelier patterned after Varian’s designs.
“Bruce came into my shop and asked me if I could make something based on sketches that he would provide. I said we could give it a try,” Blagojevic said. ”After I made the first component, he said, ‘Let’s get to work.’”
The chandeliers, which measure 9 inches wide and 10 inches high, are made by hammering sheets of copper around wooden molds and then spinning them on a lathe, which gives them a perfectly spherical shape. Today, they’re selling in Michele Varian's boutique in New York for $498.
Gilardi first met BiH craftsmen and women who work in wood and metal through his association with the FIRMA Project, an economic development program jointly financed by USAID and the Swedish Government. His task at FIRMA was to assess their skills and compare them with the skills sought on the global market.
“The skills and capabilities of BiH craftsmen are world-class, but there is a huge disconnect between what they are currently making and what the market needs,” Gilardi says. “BiH has extremely talented artists whose work is outstanding, but what’s missing is a good, modern design that would more readily respond to market demands. So I decided to try and change that.”
Nermina Alic is among the artisans collaborating with Gilardi to employ traditional techniques to create new products. Alic, the only woman among BiH copper- and tinsmiths, is making metal trays that are replicas of designs by Joseph Hofmann.
“It is challenging to work with [Gilardi] because he is not looking for a typical Bosnian product,” Alic says. “This cooperation is not only a good way to preserve traditional crafts, but also to open our market to the outside world.”
Gilardi says that, despite all of his business connections in the world of art and design, success in New York and other markets is determined by the quality of the products made in BiH. As for him, his work isn’t finished. His goal? “More, more, more: More types of craftsmen, more sales and more markets!” he says.
The FIRMA (Fostering Interventions for Rapid Market Advancement) Project, jointly financed by USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is an economic development program focusing on the wood and metal processing and tourism sectors of BiH. The project ends in September 2014.
Last updated: January 16, 2015