The Silver Thread: Silver filigree and traditional arts in Kosovo

Elizabeth Gowing

Wednesday 18th October 2017

From the early Kosovan silver mines which are mentioned in Dante, through the twentieth century politics over Kosovo’s mines which resulted in both a war and a golf course, a silver thread winds through Kosovo’s history. Its most intricate tanglings are in the country’s cultural capital, Prizren, where a seventh generation of filigree artisans use ‘filum’ and ‘granum’, zigzags, ‘mouse-tooth’ designs and other twists and turns to magic lacy creations from dull sticks of raw material. The results – in boxes, buttons, jewellery, religious ornamentation and the talismans of superstition – are a fine narrative of Kosovo’s history and traditions.

Elizabeth studied at Magdalen College Oxford before training as a teacher and working in Lambeth, Hackney and Islington. She moved to Kosovo in 2006 and there worked with the Ethnological Museum in Prishtina and co-founded ‘The Ideas Partnership’, a charity working on education and cultural heritage projects. She speaks fluent Albanian and has translated two books (the unauthorized biography of Yugoslavia’s longest-held political prisoner, Adem Demaci, and the memoirs of one of the leaders of the 1912 uprising). Also the author of three books about Kosovo – Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo (2011), Edith and I; on the trail of an Edwardian traveller in Kosovo (2013) and The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (2015). She has appeared on Radio 4 (Saturday Live, Excess Baggage, From Our Own Correspondent) and the BBC World Service.



REVIEW:  The Silver Thread:  Silver Filigree and Traditional Arts in Kosovo  (by Nancy Vose)

Elizabeth Gowing is a passionate person who became involved in a new culture and then became an advocate for a dying, or at least ‘threatened’, art form.

Kosovo’s unique silver filigree work is this ancient art.  Elizabeth’s lecture began with both a geographic and an historical review of the region and its art.  With this base of new knowledge she took us through examples of the old and the very limited new artistry coming out of Kosovo.  Her lesson to us was that, as the new world absorbs all corners of the globe, the loss of treasures goes on.  The silver threads that wind through Kosovo’s history and make up its tradition of silver filigree art may be one of those losses.

Elizabeth’s lecture was a personal journey through her own discovery of the work that is slowly dying out in Kosovo, her meetings with young artists who are struggling to learn – without teachers – how to work with filigree, and her own efforts to champion their cause.  It was a charming and disturbing invitation to visit a little-known corner of our globe and to learn about their world as change arrives on their doorstep.