The newly-opened Amber Museum in Cracow is a glowing tribute to the gemstone by Tomasz Mikołajczyk, a famous Polish jewellery artist, who has taken it upon himself to educate the public about one of earth’s ancient gifts that takes millions of years to turn from sticky resin into gem-quality amber. Anna Sado, editor of the Amber Portal amber.com.pl, takes us through the various sections of the museum that house some fascinating and extraordinary pieces crafted with amber.
The Amber Museum in Cracow, which opened in the summer last year, is the place where amber – the stone closely associated with Poland – is presented in many interesting ways. Its founder, Tomasz Mikołajczyk has a sole mission to popularise the history and beauty of Baltic amber, as well as to promote contemporary amber art in its most striking aspects.
“I have been fascinated with amber for a long time and I wish to show others what has drawn me to this stone,” says Mikołajczyk. He has been showcasing amber in varied forms for over 20 years – first when he actively worked as a goldsmith and created jewellery decorated with amber, and later, when he decided to open a chain of galleries and shops where he still offers the most interesting products by Polish artists, designers and producers specialising in jewellery set with amber.
Not only does he have a good eye, but he’s also attached towards many of the products, especially the unique ones, which he refuses to part with and doesn’t sell. “I am hugely sentimental towards all those objects and I couldn’t part with many of them regardless of the money offered for them. Their value for me is much, much higher,” admits the collector.
Thus an impressive and incredibly interesting private collection was created, which comprises significant works by renowned Polish creators such as Paulina Binek, Janusz Wosik, Elżbieta and Marek Pawłowski, Jacek Baron, Jacek Sumeradzki, Magdalena and Tomasz Stajszczak, Piotr Zarański, and Eugeniusz Salwierz. The works were created over the last two decades, and today, they still enchant with their timeless beauty and beautifully patinated amber.
Ultimately, he decided this vast collection could bring pleasure to other people as well. The contemporary amber art gathered by Mikołajczyk has today finally found an appropriate place: his private Amber Museum, which after a few months of renovation and preparation works was opened in the centre of the Old Town in Cracow.
This private collection of contemporary art perfectly complements the educational display. “Both Polish and foreign tourists, who constitute the majority of visitors to the museum, know surprisingly little about the stone. Therefore, it was very important for me that the first exhibition had to be educational in nature. I wanted to be sure that when visitors walked out of the museum, they would take back knowledge about the stone; they would know in what conditions amber was created, where it occurs, what used to be made of it and what beautiful objects are made of it today,” he adds.
The exhibition was prepared by the Polish Academy of Sciences and it was entitled Amber – Its Beauty and History. Its aim is to introduce the visitor to the basic knowledge about amber, the organic mineral that has been used for centuries to produce ornaments. At the exhibition, the beauty of amber – shown most of all in its natural form contrasted with examples of contemporary art – constitutes a kind of introduction about its history. The fascinating story also includes examples of folk art and creative activity of the last century; and amber’s properties and examples of other fossil and sub-fossil resins, which are used for making Baltic amber imitations.
More examples of contemporary and avant-garde art can be found in a specially allocated area of the exhibition, called Collection Supernatural. It is here that one finds high- end amber artefacts that reveal the supreme craftsmanship of artists as well as fascinating natural forms of the gemstone. They are the best evidence of the fact that amber can have different facets, and how it behaves in the hands of a good goldsmith or an artist.
We can find here unique beads made of large, natural blocks of amber of similar shape and colour. Just as it takes many years of waiting in order to procure pearls of similar size, shape, shade and shine, amber, too, is shaped by nature, and it is hard to find similar-shaped pieces. Amber in this form is hardly touched by an artist’s hand, so most of its primary charm is preserved.
The segment in the museum also displays an ultra-modern, elegant handbag made of purple suede, decorated with an oversized fancy-cut pendant of cognac-shaded amber.
Modern art can also be seen at the Boruni Gallery, an important part of the museum. Here, tradition is combined with modernity – from classic amber beads, admirable necklaces and bracelets, to unique sculptures and usable daily objects – everything can be found here. The products here are highly artistic in terms of design aesthetics. Incidentally, the Boruni Gallery has been put together specially by Mikołajczyk. Visitors can buy amber artefacts and jewellery, as the authenticity of Baltic amber in all the products sold here has been certified.
The significance of authenticity of Baltic amber is all the more important at a time when rough amber is astronomically priced and the demand significantly exceeds supply.“Amber is currently valued and desired so much that its imitations and modifications keep surfacing in the market, and it is getting more and more difficult to identify the real from fake gems. Advanced technology is necessary to determine the authenticity of amber. We have such technology at our disposal here,” explains Mikołajczyk.
A modern spectrometer is kept at the Amber Laboratory in the Amber Museum, which is used for examining the authenticity of amber in a non- intrusive way. The tests conducted with the spectrometer are also run as a paid service, and each of the pieces is authenticated with a special certificate featuring an individually designed, restricted and numbered hologram.
The Amber Museum complements the educational activity started by its founder, who, in 2007, initiated the Amber Portal amber.com.pl with the mission to share information about this unique stone through workshops, training sessions and meetings with interesting personalities of the amber world organised at the Amber Museum.
Accolades came Tomasz Mikołajczyk’s way when in 2010, he was awarded the Medal of the President of the City of Gdańsk for promotion of amber, the amber industry and the city of Gdańsk. He was also granted the Crystal Medal for many years of his achievements in the field of amber promotion and the honorary distinction of the Amber Personality of the Year 2012 – both awarded by the International Amber Association. The fact of taking the Amber Museum under their patronage by the presidents of Gdańsk and Cracow is also a token of appreciation. The winner of these distinctions promises that he is not intending to rest on his laurels, as there is still a lot to be done in the field of amber promotion and education.
The entry to the Amber Museum 2, Św. Jana Street, 31-018 Cracow, is free. The museum is open every day from 10 am to 8 pm. For more information log on to: www.ambermuseum.eu
The History of Amber
Amber is for the Poles, what diamond is for Indians. Although amber occurs in Poland in relatively small quantities – the largest mine in the world is located in the Kaliningrad region in Russia – the country is the largest centre of Baltic amber treatment in the world. Jewellery and artefacts and daily objects decorated with amber and signed ‘Made in Poland’ can be found in galleries and shops virtually all over the world.
So, what makes this stone unique? First of all, its age is over 40 million years – this is how much time liquid resin of coniferous trees takes to harden. Depending on the conditions in which the resin stayed, the gemstones differ in shape and the degree of transparency and colour. The most highly valued are the milky and milky and yellow stones, as they are the rarest. And of course, the ones with inclusions are valued most because of unique evidence of the life from many millions years ago.
Magical and healing properties have always been ascribed to amber: it was carried by hunters, in order to ensure luck while hunting; it was dug under the house threshold so as to protect the house and its dwellers and chase away evil spirits. Amber was immensely popular in the Roman Empire, where it was worn as a decoration, as well as a symbol of wealth, and a protective amulet. People have always believed that amber protects from illnesses and for many centuries, different kinds of medicinal liqueurs, ointments, and pills used to be made from it. This belief has prevailed to date, and amber is used, for instance, in treating rheumatism and thyroid problems, as well as in cosmetology. The Chinese, who are currently the biggest fans of amber, also believe that it emits positive energy, brings luck and ensures health of the person wearing it.
The decorative values of amber have also been highly appreciated. The biggest boom of the amber industry is dated from the end of the 16th century until the beginning of the 18th century. In Gdańsk and Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), the two main centres of amber treatment, artistic cabinets, solidly made chests, reliquaries and various types of usable products used to be made. Undoubtedly, the most famous piece of art which was created back at that time – and which has ever been created of Baltic amber – is the Amber Chamber, which has since gone missing during the turmoil of the World War II.