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In Conversation with Master Gemstone Carvers Patrick Dreher & Naomi Sarna

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Two master gemstone carvers, two distinctly different carving styles, both take the art of carving and elevate it to a whole new level.

Citrine Hippopotamus hand-carved by master gemstone carver Patrick Dreher.

Based in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, Patrick Dreher is a fifth-generation master gemstone carver. Through the generations, the Dreher name has been synonymous with animals impeccably carved from precious gemstones. As part of the artistic process, Dreher observes animals, preferably in their natural habitat, to study their movements and silhouette. He creates his art by matching gemstones with the right animal and its movements.

Blue Flight” rutilated blue topaz sculpture hand-carved by Naomi Sarna

In her New York City studio, Naomi Sarna carves gemstones into lyrical abstract forms that curl and flow like wind and water. Each of her gemstone carvings creates an illusion of light and shadow. When Sarna looks at a rough gemstone, within a few moments, she knows what she will carve from the stone. Sarna likes to carve stones that have inclusions, using them as a roadmap to guide her as she carves the stone. 

Patrick Dreher’s carvings are showcased in The Tucson Fine Mineral Gallery, where Sarna will be displaying her art as a special guest of Dreher along with intarsia artist Nicolai Medvedev and gem dealer Nicole Ripp during an exhibition that runs from January 28 to February 13, 2022.

Following is a conversation between Dreher and Sarna on the art of carving gemstones.

You have a tremendous family history in gemstone carving, how do you feel about that? Does it help you?

Patrick Dreher: To have a well-known family name with a long history is a great honor. I’m proud of my ancestors and what they have achieved. However, it also comes with a great responsibility to continue the quality of work and to transform and develop this work and craft from the past to the present and then into the future.

Naomi Sarna: My earliest conscious memory involves doing something with my hands. No one in my family at that time was an artist, but everyone in my family knows how to fix or make things. I had a very strong desire, a need, to make things with my hands that I think are beautiful. The Art Nouveau illustrations in the original Wizard of Oz books influenced my search for the beautiful line. Carving coalesced everything that I knew how to do that is beautiful and artful with minerals. I have done my best to imbue my children and grandchildren with art and creative capability.

What is your favorite material to carve, what material do you dislike?

PD: In general, my favorite gemstone is Citrine. I like the variety of colors in this type of quartz.  Every stone has its own beauty. With some stones you can see it straight away, with some you have to take a closer look. But they all have their charms. I don´t want to work with toxic and unhealthy gemstones like Malachite.

NS: My favorite materials are topaz and gems from the beryl family – morganite, aquamarine and heliodor. To me they have a crisp, clean feeling. I like the way they cut and they take a polish really well. Like Patrick, I avoid using toxic gemstones.

How has your training influenced your carving?

PD: The training I got from my father was very important for me. I learned all the techniques I needed and he taught me a lot about design and  “reading a gemstone” to see where the animal is hidden in the stone and how I can pull it out of the stone and bring it “to life.” I used this acquired knowledge as a base to build on and develop my skills further. Over the years, working side by side with my father, I also developed my own way of working and my own signature style. Now I carve gemstones and animals which my father never carved before. For example, my father would never touch a Topaz. It has a perfect cleavage which makes it delicate and hours of hard work can easily be destroyed in a second. This year I successfully carved “Mouse on a Mushroom” and “Seahorses” out of two pieces of bicolor Topaz.

NS: I’m a classically trained sculptor and I was trained in figurative work. Nothing that I do now is figurative. I try to share a particular form of intimacy through beauty. Following the beautiful line excites me. When the work is figurative, you want it to look like something. Now, I want to show distortion, how you see light and color that doesn’t exist. It’s a process of bending light and color. I carve for the design, which will be beautiful, intimate and inspiring.

How will the carving tradition carry forward?

PD: That’s a very good question, which in general is hard to answer right now. There are many different styles of carving and many different carvers so I’m sure there will always be some form of further development – a kind of evolution. To my mind the main concern for all present carving artists and future carving artists should be the quality of their work. Someone who really wants to carve and maybe even carve for a living should go through a thorough training which takes time — at least a couple of years. This is always the best basis on which to build. We carvers have a responsibility to our tradition, but also to our customers — to provide them with the best possible quality. Quality is something that always remains.

NS: The carving tradition will carry forward because Patrick does it, I do it and the fact that we do it, is inspiring. I taught my grandchildren to carve, but will they? I have no idea, but it will be in the back of their minds. I have given them equipment so if they feel inspired, they can start carving. I also give carving demonstrations and people are always inspired after they see the demo.

How has the consumer perception of carving changed over the generations (or past 20 or 30 years)?

PD: Through many generations people have collected animal carvings. But I think the development of new media like the internet, Facebook, Instagram etc. helped to bring more awareness to carving over the past 20 years. More people worldwide are now able to see carvings and to learn about carving and the artists. Direct contact between artists and consumers is also much easier now. For me personally, the lectures that I gave or still give were/are also an opportunity to bring my family’s craft of carving into the world and to stimulate interest in my art. The increased travel opportunities have contributed a lot to this over the years (apart from covid-19 now). Another movement that I observed over the past few years, which is actually quite contrary to the speed of new media, is a desire for quality and something that is lasting and consistent. That’s something that my family has been offering with their carvings for generations.

NS: The U.S. market is more interested in jewelry than in objets d’art in precious materials. The carving audience remains limited. I’m hoping that Patrick Dreher in Tucson and his upcoming exhibition in Houston will affect the thinking of consumers. Hopefully, it will be like faceting. The faceting world was very rigid until some artists came along and started doing fantasy faceting. Now the faceting world is different than it was 50 years ago. I hope that happens with carving as well.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Explore works by Patrick Dreher and guests Naomi Sarna, Nicolai Medvedev and Nicole Ripp at The Tucson Fine Mineral Gallery, 465 W St. Mary’s Road, Tucson, Arizona 85701. Hours: 10:00 am through 6:00 pm daily January 28 – February 13.

Info@tucsonfinemineralgallery.com, 520.704.9046

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