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Friday, December 9, 2016

Two Cowboys: A Lifetime of Making at Wild Rose Jewellery & Gifts in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada

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Garo Yanikyan was born in Armenia. At the age of twelve, he started with his apprenticeship pulling gold wire for his uncles. With his family members, he trained to become a Goldsmith. One day he would travel the world and settle in Okotoks, Canada.

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In those days and within those cultures, people were born into a vocation. One grew up with it and in it. It was who you were, even before you picked up your first implement to make your first ring. You were expected to do it. Your trade was you and your family's identity and association.

Years, even decades of work will pass to improve your techniques and hone your skills until finally, you became a Master Craftsman. It was the way to support and provide for your family. Until one day, it became your duty to lead and train new apprentices to follow your footsteps.

Passing on knowledge and experience to the next generation assured the continuation of the craft. It was the work that made it possible to earn a living and provide for one's loved ones. It is was also the work that contributed to the values of one's community and the beauty of one's life.

It was in this life where the journey started for Garo. It would eventually bring him to a small town south of Calgary called Okotoks. Here he became the master Goldsmith for Okotoks. He raised his family and contributed to this community. Yanik became Okotokian. Canadian. He is Wildrose Jewellery.

In Okotoks, he watched life go by for more than thirty years. For a small oil town at the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains, that is more than a lifetime of change. It grew from a sleepy little farming community to one of the fastest growing and popular living destinations in Alberta, Canada.

A lot changed since Garo and his wife arrived in the early eighties. Not only did the town grow, but the people also changed. The world has changed for the Goldsmith. The appreciation for the millennium-old craft of goldsmithing declined as people's expectations increased.

Progress or Regress

The age-old demands of quick turnarounds and bold or delicate new designs prevailed. Only now, the distinction of the craftsman is getting replaced by a machine that does it faster, better and cheaper.

It is the birth of jewellery manufacturing. Rings are now designed on computers. Milling and casting machines fabricate faultless and perfect copies, on mass, in automated "factories". Machines do a better job at making jewellery, and it costs almost nothing to put out thousands of items. The smith's road is coming to an end. Garo's world is disappearing.

"People still need to get things fixed," Garo says. "That, machines cannot do, yet. It still makes me useful." While Garo's world is disappearing, the rest of us are also losing something profound. Soon we may be living in a world with no Goldsmiths. Old-world Artisans like Garo, are disappearing from our towns and communities that are now driven by automation and a fixation with consumerism. With them, they take thousands of years of knowledge and skills that were honed through generations of artistry. With them, they take away art. The evidence for civilisation.

By losing them, we are losing a kind of person. We are losing a producer, a maker and an artist. With this loss, we may be losing our very identity.

At least we will have our perfect rings.

Hendrik van Wyk
Wildrose Cowboy

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