VILNIUS - Every year you can see Svajunas Udrys in three of Lithuania's most famous festivals - the Sea Festival, Kaziukas Fair and the Days of Archeology in Kernave - making his jewelry right in the street among the crowds. He has no secrets and gladly shares his ideas with those wanting to learn. But no one ever taught him anything. As far as jewelry is concerned, he reinvented the bicycle long ago.
Udrys, 42, specializes in simple Lithuanian stones, and here he is a little unique. "When a client asks me to make something with semi-precious stones, I always put in a Lithuanian stone," he says. "Not one client noticed the fact before I told him."
He's not trying to fool anyone. He just feels that Lithuanian stones are as good as anything else.
Udrys collects his stones at the Lithuanian shore. "I am probably the only crazy Lithuanian who crosses the seashore from one border to the other every year," he says.
But he makes his jewelry by employing ancient Lithuanian traditions. "Our Lithuanian ancestors could not weld, so they either twisted the wires or moulded metals [to set stones]. I chose to follow their way."
Originally a textile weaver, Udrys one day strung together a few beautiful stones for his wife. People couldn't help but notice her bracelet and ask who made it. Thus began Udrys' career as a jeweler.
"I am not one of those artists who complain about not having a job," he says. "When I saw that textiles would not provide me with a living, I chose to make jewelry."
Jewelry is his work, but he also plays with sculpture and installation art, while making miniature textiles. He never gets bored. He just moves from one craft to another.
When Udrys began, he didn't really know what he was doing. "When I see someone today wearing my first earrings, I usually go to the person and offer to remake them," he says. "I see my mistakes."
He often sees people wearing his jewelry, and once noticed that a copycat was aping his style. "I had to take measures and drop my prices for a while. After four months he was gone." Despite such problems, the Lithuanian still likes hanging out in festivals and showing people how he works.
Four fifths of his customers come from foreign countries, and some of his work can be seen in galleries as far away as Australia, Germany and Japan.
Japanese clients, he says, like Lithuanian stone and amber, while Brits and Scandinavians want natural stone.
Lithuanians prefer natural stone combined with semi-precious stones. "[They] always come bringing some new material: seeds, stones, and bones from various corners of the world. It is always interesting to experiment with them."
The artist has made collages of fur, corks, glass and snails. He created a pagan altar in which every stone reaches for a priestess, which can be lit only when facing the ancient Lithuanian god Perkunas. His home is a storehouse of burnt matches, old clocks, test-tubes and seeds.
Udrys' latest collection, "The Red Collection," began as an argument with some jewelers who claimed you couldn't combine Lithuanian stones with pearls and corals. It took Udrys seven months to prove them wrong.
Only a magician could bring all these things to life.
"Usually I just do my work, but sometimes people come to me asking to enchant the jewelery I make," he says. "Then I try to put in the ancient Lithuanian symbolism our ancestors used in order to attract fortune."
Stones have their own energy. "Sometimes I take a stone but the stone slips from my hands. I leave it to sit for a couple of days and cut it smoothly."
Udrys spends most of his time at home. It's difficult for him to concentrate on his family. There are days when he wakes up at 3:00 a.m. and works straight until sunset, forgetting everything around him. This may be one reason why his 11-year-old son wants to be a florist, not a jeweler.