Posts Tagged ‘Maltese’

  • Take me to church

    “ ‘They have hit our church!’ cried a man as he stumbled down in the tunnel which was located under the Mall Garden. We were huddling in there for shelter together with many other people as the bombs came down over Floriana,” reminisced Pawlu Piscopo who was eight at the time.

    Bombed St Publius' church (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“At this horrible news, my father grabbed me and my brother by the hand and took us out of the tunnel and over to the granaries where a very sad spectacle awaited us. St Publius’ Church had suffered a direct hit. Its dome was gone and the area was surrounded in rubble. Thirteen people who were taking cover in the church’s crypt were killed and eleven more were injured. That was the blackest moment in the history of the parish church of Floriana: April 28, 1942 at 7:50am.”

    After their house had been bombed, Pawlu’s family were allowed to take some respite in a large residence which today houses the Floriana Local Council. Yet for four years, they lived mostly underground in this tunnel which probably saved their lives. They took with them only a few belongings and the most cherished items, including a statue of St Publius which dated back to 1928 and used to adorn the model altar that his father had constructed at home.

    “Most families in Malta had a model of an altar or a miniature church at home at the time.  Unfortunately, many of these had to be abandoned during the war and a good number of them were destroyed when the houses were bombed.”

    The craft of church model-making had been introduced to our islands by the Knights of St John back in the 16th century, and therefore its knowledge was a distinct tradition. However the adversity of war ravaged even this precious memory until eventually this craft was almost completely forgotten.

    The entrance to Pawlu's model of St Publius' chucrh (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“After the war, people tried to get on with their lives as best as they could. Shops started to open again but those that used to sell miniature items with which to decorate our religious models, dwindled down to almost none. Nevertheless, the passion for model-making was much engrained in our family and when I bought a miniature structure made of four columns and a dome from a man who was leaving Malta to go to live in Australia, my father Carmelo was inspired to use it as the foundation for a model of St Publius’ church,” explained Pawlu.

    Carmelo was a very skilled carpenter. He would go from time to time to have a look at the church and then go back to his model and construct an exact copy of the section that he had seen.

    “He used the material which was handy at the time, mostly cardboard, wood and gypsum. I helped him out too in order to build the whole church which included ten altars. Eventually, this model reached a huge size of three by four metres and we could walk in it and look above at the beautiful dome,” Pawlu said proudly.

    Once his father grew old, Pawlu continued with the work on this church which they had started back in the early 1960s. As he embellished this model, the wish to set up a group for model-makers in order to share this passion with them, burnt within him.

    Pawlu Piscopo at the exhibition (Photo - Fiona Vella)“On February 26, 1986 which happenned to be the tenth anniversary of my father’s demise, I discussed this idea with two of my friends, Raphael Micallef and Tony Terribile, who were very interested in this sector. We all agreed to do something in order to revive this craft and we sent out adverts in the newspapers to announce the set up of this group which we called Għaqda Dilettanti Mudelli ta’ Knejjes (Church Modelling Society). We were very happy when we received a great response from enthusiastic individuals all over Malta. Soon, a commitee was formed and on March 1986, we organized the first exhibition during the first two weeks of Lent wherein the members displayed the works that they had.”

    It was certainly a great satisfaction to see this society thrive and grow along the years, always adding up new members of various ages. Today, around 400 members form part of this group which operates from its premises at 37, East Street, Valletta.

    John Paul Buhagiar Smith, one of the youngest members of the society, decorating his model-altar (Photo - Fiona Vella)“This year we are delighted to celebrate the 30th anniversary from the establishment of this society,” Pawlu said. “The annual exhibition has been taking place each year. Besides offering the opportunity to showcase our members’ works, this event has served to help our members and the public which visits it, to meditate during the Lent period and to prepare for the Easter celebrations.”

    A bi-monthly magazine, Il-Knisja Tiegħi (My Church), which was also initiated by Pawlu, is marking its 30th anniversary too. Members have been writing features in it related to different aspects of religious folklore, thereby kindling even further interest in model-making.

    Once again this year, the society has organized this exhibition which saw the participation of several of its members. Exhibits varied and included small to large statues of the passion of Christ and Easter, statues of Blessed Mary and several saints, models of altars, church facades and whole churches made of different materials.

    Detail from Pawlu's model dome (1) (Photo provided by Pawlu Piscopo)“I hope that I’ll have enough strength to exhibit my large model of St Publius’ church,” revealed Pawlu at one point. “It takes me four weeks to set it up on a large platform and to connect the miniature chandeliers and light fittings to electricity. I am getting old now and such work is very tiring.”

    Pawlu has been exhibiting this model in a building besides the Floriana Cathecism Museum for many years now, during the feast of St Publius which takes place two weeks after Easter.

    “Many people come to visit my model and they are fascinated with it. Tourists take photos besides it and they ask me how I managed to construct it section by section and yet making it look as a whole. I tell them that there are lifetimes of passion invested within it and that it is imbued with a blend of religious meaning and local traditional skills and creativity.”

    At 82 years, Pawlu is serene and thankful to see the society which he has founded together with his friends strengthen itself and adding members to it.

    “I just wish that it will continue to flourish for very long,” smiled Pawlu as he looked contentedly around him in order to appreciate the beautiful displayed works of the society’s members.

    (This article was published in the Easter Supplement which was issued with The Times of Malta dated 21st March 2016)

    2016.03.21 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A medal for silver

    Joseph Aquilina (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpgAquilina at work (1) (Photo - Anton Aquilina).jpg

    Aquilina's oil lamp - a gift to the Queen (Photo - Department of Information).JPGA silver sugar-basin produced by Aquilina (Photo - Joseph Aquilina).JPG

    Within his small workshop in Zejtun, 68 year old silversmith Joseph Aquilina, can still do wonders with precious metals. Having worked as a silversmith from age 14, he has gained so much mastery in this trade that one of his creations was donated to Queen Elizabeth II during the celebrations of Malta’s Independence in 1964. Nowadays, his expertise is particularly focused on the restoration of antique objects which adorn our churches.

    Aquilina learnt this trade from his father Joseph who was originally from Cospicua. Before World War II, Cospicua was renowned for some of the most skillfull silversmiths who eventually had to move to other areas in Malta when this zone became a target to heavy attacks and bombardments.

    From early childhood, Aquilina was very interested in his father’s work and he spent hours observing him working silver items in his shop at St Mary Square in Zejtun. At age 12, he used to rush at the shop immediately after school in order to join silver beads together to produce rosaries for his father’s clients.

    Aquilina knew that he was hooked to this trade but he never dreamt that at age 14, he would be obliged to choose between attending school and becoming a silversmith! It all happened when one day, a social service inspector called at their shop and found him doing some work. It was useless to insist that the boy was only helping his father because the inspector maintained that if the boy wanted to stay in the shop, he had to register for employment within 15 days. And that was the end of his schooldays.

    “School meant nothing to me at that time and I thought that it was a great opportunity to start doing what I was really passionate about. However, when in later years I had to manage my business and was faced with several difficulties due to my brief education, I realized that leaving school at such an early age was definitely a huge mistake,” admitted Aquilina.

    His father was greatly disciplined in his trade and he demanded the same diligence from his son. Above all, he wanted to pass to him all the knowledge that he had inherited from past generations. Yet this was no easy task since the silversmith’s trade expands vastly and covers areas which include work in silver, gold, filigree and the setting of diamonds.

    “Nowadays, most silversmiths choose to specialize in just one of these sectors, but when I was learning the trade, one had to learn to deal with all these areas in order to become a professional. It took long years until you were regarded to be competent enough to open your own business. That was why it was necessary to start at a very young age in this trade and to take matters very seriously.”
    Interestingly, Aquilina succeeded to attain his father’s complete trust by disobeying him.

    “My father expected utter attention during work, both because he wanted the final product to be impeccable, and also because the slightest mistake could be very costly, especially when we were using gold. He put so much pressure upon me that at first, I felt terrified of him and I did not dare to do anything which he did not ask for.”

    Yet one day, Aquilina felt confident enough to try his luck by operating the soldering equipment which his father had adamantly prohibited him to use. Indeed, whilst his father went to church to attend a Lent sermon, Aquilina asked his mother to give him her gold wedding ring in order to cut it in half and reconstruct it again. His mother accepted without a second thought and Aquilina hurried to the workshop, broke the ring in two, switched on the gas, prepared the soldering equipment and trembling with excitement, he quickly joined the two parts together. He did such an excellent job that his mother could not identify any signs that her ring had been broken, and when she told her husband about this and he inspected the ring, a bright smile lit on his face. His son had finally made it!

    From then on, Aquilina had his father’s complete respect and he started to produce his own creations for their clients. He had learnt this trade in the traditional way where everything was done by hand, and to keep in line with this method, he decided to focus on the antique style. This stratagem worked perfectly with those connoisseurs who appreciated refined local craftsmanship.

    “I am proud to say that many of my works can be found among the collections of several local and foreign distinguished individuals. Most of my creations consisted of antique Maltese style coffee sets which included only three items: a coffee pot, a sugar-basin and a milk jug, since tea was not popular back then.”

    Some of Aquilina’s works have often been selected to be given as gifts to foreign individuals.

    “I made a particular silver sugar-basin for a group of Drydocks’ workers who wanted to give it to their British Admiral when he ended his job in Malta. Yet surely, the most popular item that I produced, was the 14 inch oil lamp which the Government of Malta ordered directly from me during the period of the 1970s and 1980s in order to consign it to the foreign delegations who visited our country.”

    Meanwhile, even though throughout the years, there were many machines available which could ease the difficulty of the job and hurry the flow of work, Aquilina always refused to use them.

    “That is the only way of keeping the profession’s prestige and the value of your creations,” Aquilina insisted. “When this type of work is done by machines, the product will loose all its significance because nothing can replace the creative fabrication of the human hand. A handmade product is unique because one can rarely create an object exactly like another. Contrarily, the very precision of objects which are executed by machines will simply turn them into ordinary copies.”

    In order to design and work his particular creations, at times Aquilina had to manufacture his own tools. Yet apart from the ingeniousness required in order to assemble these devices, it was fascinating to know the stories behind the origin of some of the material.

    “Look at these heavy hammers and feel how heavy they are,” he told me with a mischievous look as he brought them near. “I bet that no one would ever guess what they are made of until I tell them myself!”

    Certainly, I did not have the slightest idea.

    “These were some of the huge bolts that formed part of the ‘Angel Gabriel’; the Greek tanker which in 1969 got shipwrecked near the area of the ex-Jerma Palace Hotel in Marsascala. I obtained them when the ship was being broken down into pieces in order to clear the coast.”

    Another curious fact about this trade is that whenever a new silversmith is authorized to start his/her business, he/she is given a personal stamp with which to mark each object that they make. This stamp will be unique and it cannot be transferred to another person. Therefore, each silversmith’s work can always be recognized, no matter how much time elapses.

    In order to explain better, Aquilina referred to an old and rare book ‘The Goldsmiths of Malta and their Marks’ (1972) which was published by Chev Victor Fredrick Denaro; a pioneer in the study of ancient silver in Malta. In this book, one finds significant information about the ancient trade of silversmiths which goes back to the period of the Knights of St John. Meanwhile, this publication includes also all the local silversmiths’ stamps together with their relevant details; starting from the Knights period up to 1972.

    “This book is very precious to me particularly because it helps me to identify the silversmiths of the antique objects which I work on. This will also determine the period of the objects’ manufacture with more precision, and thereby I can understand better which materials and which procedures were involved in its making,” explained Aquilina.

    The restoration of antique metal objects requires high expertise and attention since one small mistake could ruin them completely. Indeed, in these last years Aquilina was responsible for the restoration of various treasured items which include: the restoration of the silver crown of the icon of the Madonna of Carafa that is located within the Co-Cathedral of St John in Valletta, the restoration of the silver leaves that form part of the decoration of the relic of St John the Baptist which is situated in the Museum of the same Co-Cathedral, and in the restoration of the sword of the titular statue of St Catherine in the Parish of Zejtun.

    (This article was published in the ‘Art, Antiques and Restoration’ Supplement of The Times of Malta dated 12th November 2014)

    2014.11.12 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • ICH LIEBE MALTA

    Rainer Mader (Photo taken by Paul Galea)A little train set ignited a passion for model building in a young boy of three…. Now forty, Rainer Mader reveals that the same passion has kindled an intense fascination for Malta and its culture, its history and its people.

    “It was Christmas and my parents gave me a wonderful model train set which consisted of a black locomotive with three green passenger cars and two other red cars. These model rail sets are very popular in Germany, especially with young children who are delighted and intrigued by the movement of the trains going round on the rails. However, these train sets are also a favourite with adults too who build large landscapes through which the trains can move. Eventually it can prove to be quite an expensive hobby.”

    Sitting in the cosy lounge of Preluna hotel, Rainer explained how he ended up getting hooked on this hobby of model building.

    Rainer Mader Bild Nr 06“I never stopped building models from then on, but when I joined the army, my interest turned onto military modeling. I prefer tanks, trucks and jeeps which I purchase as semi-assembled models. My finished models are around 10 cms and usually I finish them within one day. The most laborious work is the painting, as these models require to have a weathered used look and they actually need a lot of drying time.”

    Rainer admits that he has a rather impatient nature and that once he begins to work on a model, he would want to finish it as soon as possible.

    Rainer Mader Bild Nr 09“I love this hobby because it gives me a rest from my work. Yet being very busy, I don’t have much time available to spend on a model and therefore I choose to work on semi-assembled ones. Nonetheless there are moments when I opt to convert a standard model in order to build a particular one which is not yet on the market. For example, we still have some special American trucks in Germany which are presently changing all the equipment with brand new staff. Now usually that would take about two to four years for the industry to provide an exact model of the new vehicle. So my aim would be to find a similar model of that truck and modify it accordingly in order to possess a small version of the new vehicle beforehand”.

    His first glimpse of Malta back in 1999 was love at first sight…..

    Rainer Mader Bild Nr 05“Malta is totally different from where I live in Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt in Germany. I remember that what impressed me most was the proximity of the sea. I love the sea… it’s beautiful crystal blue colour, it’s salty smell, and it’s ever changing sounds. It gives me a very pleasant feeling to hear it, smell it and see it everywhere around me here in Malta.”

    His sister introduced him to some of her Maltese friends from Santa Venera and from then on, a long friendship was born where Rainer got to know better the Maltese people and their culture. His interest in Malta continued to grow even further once he discovered the local Association of Model Engineers and became a member there.

    Diorama - van with vegetables and fruit (Photo taken by Carl Mifsud)“The Association organizes an annual model exhibition and in these last five years, I have always participated with my models. Thanks to the AME I met many model enthusiasts and soon we became good friends. One can say that these exhibitions serve as a showcase of our hobby while at the same time they provide an opportunity to introduce and blend different cultures together. For example through these model exhibitions, the Maltese can experience a railway, whilst foreigners can get to know about some local customs.”

    In fact Rainer decided to surprise his Maltese friends by building diaromas which depict the local history and landscape.

    Diorama - girl with donkey scale 1-48 (Photo - Wolfgang Friedrich)“Last year, I was flipping through the pages of a tourist magazine about Malta when I saw some old photos which instilled in me the desire to give them life through my diaromas. My first diaroma represented a van which sold vegetables and fruit. This year I made another two: one showing a woman trying to pull behind her an unwilling donkey, and another one which illustrates a sheperd with his sheep in his farm. These models were very much appreciated during the exhibition and in fact I won a gold medal”.

    Proudly Rainer showed me his dioramas while he tried to describe them in the Maltese language. Being a typical romantic Maltese, I could not help not appreciating this German’s effort to try to speak our language.

    Diorama - the maltese sheperd scale 1-48 (Photo - Wolfgang Friedrich)“I realized that once you start to learn some Maltese, you will increase the possibility of making friends faster. My Maltese friends simply love hearing me speak their language and many of them try to teach me some new words. In fact, a friend of mine who works as a printer, has even printed a dictionary for me with German and Maltese words and the German phonetic way to say them in Maltese. I also bought some books which include CDs of Maltese words in order to learn better the language. By now, I can only speak basic words and sentences but I am adamant to learn more. At times, I find a Maltese word which I do not understand and I ask my Maltese friends to explain to me what it means. Then, each time that I visit again, I love to surprise them with some new expressions that I learn.”

    Cheerfully, Rainer admitted that he is also enthralled by the local food and drink. I was quite amazed when he listed the amount of cans of Cisk and Kinnie, and packets of galletti and Twistees that he takes back with him to Germany to enjoy with his friends. Thinking about it, I thought that maybe each time that he returns back to Germany, Rainer is trying to take a little part of Malta with him.

    Rainer Mader Bild Nr 12“It is true! I came to love Malta and its people very much. In fact from 2003, I visit this island each year, my visits getting more frequent each time, so that now I come to Malta three times a year. Moreover, I have a little calendar at my place of work and while I am waiting for the machines to finish, I just flip its pages and have a look. When I exhibited last year’s diorama in a German exhibition, people  were very curious about it and they asked me from where I got the idea for that landscape. So I explained to them about Malta and I showed them some books about the island. Somehow these dioramas are very special to me and I won’t part with them for anything else.”

    Naturally Rainer is very fond of the local villages which are most near to the sea like Dingli and Xlendi. He strongly resists the idea of a bridge from Malta to Gozo because he claims that it would surely ruin the scenery. He doesn’t like the modern Maltese architecture especially the never-ending apartments which are replacing, according to him, the lovely old houses such as those that up to some years ago, used to be on the Sliema seafront. Moreover he feels perplexed about the permits of huge establishments with not enough parking space inside.

    “When you visit a country so regularly, you tend to become involved more closely to it and to its people. Actually I am also very interested in the local history especially from 1940 till now, particularly the Second World War period.”

    At this point, I could not help asking…. Being a German who has Malta at heart so much, how does it feel to get to know about the participation of the Germans in this war in relation to our islands?

    Ford Mustang 2005 scale 1-25 (Photo - Wolfgang Friedrich)“Surely I am not proud of this history but no one can do anything about it; that was war and thankfully it’s history! I do feel touched when I visit the Malta at War Museum and I see those underground shelters. However though grim and painful, I need to face this history as it also gives me more background for this hobby in model making. Certainly the merging together of different cultures through such activities will help people to relate better to each other, and to establish mutual bonding and respect that will prevent history from ever repeating itself.”

    Rainer gave me the impression that by now his life is divided between two countries. In fact, he came to celebrate his 40th birthday with a very long holiday among his Maltese friends. Curiously I asked him whether he would ever consider to come and live for good in Malta?

    “Għalissa għadha ħolma…. For now it’s only a dream. But probably, when I’ll come to retire from work, this possibility will be very much on my mind. Presently I can only foretell my next visit to Malta in October wherein I intend to present some new dioramas. But that is all I can say… the rest is a secret!”

    (Note: An edited version of this article was published on FIRST magazine Issue June 2012).

    2012.06.15 / no responses / Category: Malta Independent on Sunday - First magazine

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