Cactus – As you haven’t seen it before
When thinking of cacti most of us have a strange-looking spiky plant in mind. Yet, despite their weird figure and the scary spikes, we have a special fond of cacti and we admire their toughness with which they can withstand even the most extreme weather conditions.
But what most people don’t know is that certain kinds of cacti – for example, prickly pear – despite look quite unusual on the outside, hide something beautiful in the inside.
This beauty, however, is not revealed to human eyes until an older segment of the cactus plant naturally dries out, thanks to the powerful effect of rain, wind and sun. After this long process, nothing else remains from the cactus pad than the strong inner fibres or the skeleton of the plant. And these fibres have an amazingly intricate lace-like structure.
When quite a few years ago we arrived on the islands of Malta, and first glimpsed these wonderful formations – the dried segments of prickly pear cactus plants -, we felt seized by its beauty, and immediately knew that we must create something from it. They are just too pretty to be wasted! And not much later we developed the method of preparing them: how to clean them without damaging their delicate structure, how to treat them to make them more durable, and first of all, what to create from them, which would properly enhance the beauty of their structure.
Thus, eventually these cactus skeletons became jewellery in our hands. We are convinced that forming them into jewellery is the worthy way to showcase the excitingly intricate inner structure of this unique plant – cactus as you haven’t seen it before.
The process of making our cactus jewellery
In their natural surroundings – just as in case of other plants – some of the old pads of a healthy Opuntia (prickly pear) cactus plants begin to die. It is a long process – and nature’s elements play a big role in this process: the sun and the wind dries it out, heavy rainfalls wash the soft parts away, then sun and wind comes again doing their part – and it goes on until nothing else remains than the strong inner skeleton of the cactus. And once these sturdy inner fibres are revealed to human eyes, they amaze us: they have an amazingly intricate structure which looks like a meticulously created filigree or lace.
These dried cactus fibre pieces are what we use to make our jewellery. After choosing which sections we want to use, first, we give them a careful but thorough cleaning. Then, when they are dry again, we study each piece to determine which parts of that piece could be used. It depends on the thickness, sturdiness and structural patterns of it – these features can vary greatly in every different piece.
Next step is cutting and shaping, and when we feel satisfied with the size and shape of a piece, then it needs to go through a several-step treatment to make the fibre stronger and more durable. These treatments take several days before we can move on to the following step, which is the fun part of the process: colouring. We love colours and enjoy mixing our shades, as well as experimenting with different colour-combinations and painting techniques to achieve unique finishes. We never use spray-painting; each piece is 100% hand-painted. To protect the painted coats, all of the pieces get a protective varnish topcoat.
The remaining touch is to breathe life into it: we add the metal connectors, earring hooks or necklace chains, and semi-precious gemstone beads or pearls to complete the design.
Thanks to the amazingly detailed and original patterns of the cactus fibre, as well as the full manual procedure of preparing them, the result is an absolute one-of-a-kind, unique, irreproducible piece of jewellery, exceptional of its kind in the world.
We are a married couple, Adrienn and Abel Bartolich. We arrived Malta – this tiny gem right in the middle of the Mediterranean – on a warm sunny September afternoon, back in 2013. Escaping from the gloomy never-ending winters in Europe, here in our new home we felt our minds and souls sighed with relief absorbing the warmth and power of the sun – something these islands are enjoying on more than 300 days a year. Although it wasn’t the first time we were trapped by the charming Mediterranean atmosphere, this time we felt we arrived somewhere we have always belonged to.
Of course, this new beginning wasn’t entirely unclouded – beginning one’s life from scratch has its challenges. Moving into an empty home with nothing more than 2 suitcases and not more money in the pocket than what covers 1 month’s living, is a challenge. A challenge for one’s faith, perseverance, trust, love. We focused on these, and we drew closer to each other, to God, and to Nature. And slowly, brick-by-brick we were able to build up our life again: we found friendships, work, sofa for the living room, favourite fisherman to buy from, and so on and on while collecting new memories all along. Day by day, month by month. And this is what life is made of.
We believe, from experience, in the unsurpassable value of simple and slow lifestyle. This is what eventually opens the way to the flow of creativity – which is a vital element of our lives. To create something of meaning with our minds and with our hands, it is our overpowering necessity – and this is how our jewellery was finally born here, far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, in our new home on these sun-bathed, wind-swept islands, right in the middle of the Great Sea.
Some Interesting Facts
– What You Might Have Not Heard About Prickly Pear
In the Mediterranean area, the prickly pear cactus has been used for centuries both as a food source and a natural fence that keeps in livestock and marks the boundaries of family land, also to give farmers some protection from wind.
In Malta, it was so common and widely grown, that between 1975 and 1988, Malta’s coat of arms featured a prickly pear plant, along with a traditional Maltese boat and other symbols. Its fruit is traditionally used to make a sweet liquor and jam in Malta.
In Arabic, the cactus is called subbār (صبار); and the related term sabr can be translated as ’patience’ or ’perseverance’, referring to the toughness and tenacity of these plants even in severe weather conditions.
In Hebrew, the fruit of the cactus is called tsabar (צבר). This name is the origin of the term sabra which is used to describe a Jew who was born in Israel. This is a kind metaphor to Israeli people who are – just like the cactus fig – thorny and spiky on the outside, but soft and sweet in the inside.