The art of making artificial flowers dates back centuries, however Ganutell was solely derived here in Malta, being adapted from making flowers from materials such as paper, shells, beads and cloth with initial skills brought to Malta from mainland Europe, predominantly Italy.
Deriving from the Italian word ‘canutiglia’ meaning tinsel, Ganutell, the intricate art of using fine wires, thread and beads to form ornate flower and leaf decoration, dates to, as far as records show, the 17th century. ‘The Tree of Life’ a Ganutell piece of artwork held in a private house in Rabat has a small piece of music manuscript, rolled up to form a base for part of the wound wire, is from the 1600’s.
Originally Ganutell was made in monasteries, with few monks and nuns mastering the art leading to having their work commissioned by the Knights of St John to produce decorative pieces to be mounted and encased in glass before being sent to Rome as gifts for the Pope. Mastering the art, they used gold and silver wires, silk thread and glass beads to further produce works for churches around the island. Because of their intricateness and the time and costs involved churches began to share the pieces giving parishioners from all over the island the opportunity to enjoy their beauty.
Skills were passed down through generations but World War2 took its toll on the art. Unfortunately, many pieces were destroyed and the correct equipment and materials became hard to find and expensive to buy. Traditional Ganutell had all but died out. Still practised by older generations, those who did create pieces started to use cheaper, easier to come by materials to keep the art form alive in some form. Inferior wires and threads alongside the likes of pipe cleaners began to make up less ornate pieces and it was discovered that hand held battery operated fans were a temporary substitute for entwining threads rather than the properly weighted wooden bobbins used pre-war.
As the archipelago began to recover from the devastation caused during the war, Ganutell began to make a steady revival, with groups of older ladies who would meet in the local villages to continue to produce work for their parish church. By the late 1990s Ganutell was back and becoming more and more popular. Delicate flowers were, and still are, formed into headdresses for weddings, Ganutell earrings and brooches a unique accessory to outfits and Holy Communion dresses have the work embroidered onto them to stand out from the rest.
Today, Ganutell making is still on the increase. One such lady helping with this is Maria Kerr. Her pieces are renowned across the island and in addition to having a book published, Maria holds lessons at her home attracting students from as far afield as Japan and the USA. Maria has even had a piece commissioned for a catwalk show by fashion house Comme des Garçons.
Part time courses can be studied at the Malta College of Arts and at Lifelong Learning sessions run by the Maltese Government at various locations successfully striving to keep this 300-year-old beautiful Maltese tradition alive.