Today, Audronis Skurvydas spends most of his time as a restorer – artisan working with all things wooden. A well known artisan, carpenter and restorer in Lithuania he is also considered to be a built-heritage specialist in the restoration of wooden structures, decoration and joinery. About five years ago he completely abandoned a career in the civil service at the Department of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. According to this artisan, it was easy to do because he is still working in the same field. In addition, his educational experience in this field has led to a deeper insight into the practical work that he carries out. Nowadays, his tasks can be seemingly very simple, for instance restoring old joinerwork (windows, doors, stairs, floors and other interior and exterior wooden parts) and bringing it back to life without damaging any valuable original features.
As well as being a professional restorer, Audronis Skurvydas is also trying to adapt traditional carpentry to today’s construction world. As a result, he is in constant contact with architects and building engineers who work with traditional craft skills. The recipe for success is a common interest in historic structures, the importance of their preservation and their potential for adaptation.
The Road to becoming a Professional Artisan
Audronis Skurvydas’s path to becoming a professional craftsman began in early childhood, when he spent the summers at his mother’s ancestral home at the Žemaitija steading near the town of Mosėdis in Western Lithuania. Audronis Skurvydas has been told by his mother that his first “piece of work” was made in his grandfather’s forge and it involved carpentry. His grandfather stood a handmade stool in front of him, gave him a hammer and a handful of nails… and that was the beginning. As for his second work, Audronis can remember that himself, it was a whistle. Using his homemade folding knife and guided by his grandfather, he managed the task really well for a child. This suggests that he may have inherited these skills from his family. Audronis Skurvydas studied and graduated from the old high school of Palanga (as it is known today) where his most memorable lessons were technical studies and music. There were two eminent teachers there, the artist Vytautas Kusas and the maestro Leonas Šidlauskas, who were and still are experts in their fields. They both influenced Audronis from an early age.
After graduating from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Klaipėda (as it’s called today) and becoming a cultural education professional, Audronis Skurvydas chose a career path as a museum worker. He started work at the Lithuanian National Museum in 1989. Soon he began to collaborate with Alfonsas Gudzevičius, a restorer-expert from the workshop of artistic furniture restoration at the Academy of Art P. Gudynas Restoration and Conservation Centre. Maestro Alfonsas Gudzevičius taught Audronis the basics and gave him an academic-scientific attitude towards restoration work by sharing his insights into antique furniture restoration and his practical experience.
Art versus Science
According to Audronis Skurvydas, the principles of restoration work are generally determined by the ideas and concepts of heritage protection which are clearly defined in both national and international legislation. There is no place for creative freedom or art. This scientific view is based on a wide range of studies, experiments, and firmly established dogmas. Audronis Skurvydas consolidates, preserves, conserves and reconstructs items of ancient craftwork but by no means remakes them. As a restorer, familiar with the historic work and art of artisans, Audronis Skurvydas uses this experience to bring established techniques to modern analogous activities. He has noticed that what were previously technical joints, have now gained more decorative features in the context of modern design.
The Most important thing is Cooperation
Audronis Skurvydas says that first thing he does on a project is to engage with others. Before starting any work he gathers together the widest range of information available. Just as in medicine, where a surgeon listens to what the anaesthetist or cardiologist says before an operation, the same goes for a carpenter-restorer: when you carry out a restoration project you usually need to get the views of the architect, archaeologist, polychrome professional or others such as representatives of traditional crafts. This means that the principle of partnership-working is what usually determines the quality of the results. Audronis Skurvydas is pleased that there has recently been a connection made between the Vilnius Academy of Arts Applied Cultural Heritage Research and Conservation Centre in Telšiai and the Kaunas College Art Faculty of Justinas Vienožinskis Cathedral of Conservation and Restoration of Artworks which is headed by Bangutis Prapuolenis.
Materials and Techniques
In his everyday carpenter-restorer work, Audronis Skurvydas uses traditional and reliable handheld woodworking instruments like planes, chisels, knives, sharpeners, clamps, choppers, scrapers, axes, various hand-saws, drilling tools and others. He could not manage without traditional materials as well such as wood, metal, glass, linseed oil, pine resin, turpentine, alcohol, shellac, chalk and a mixture of linseed oil (kitas), and others. With the help of these tools and materials, authentic, historic architectural details are refreshed, revived and preserved, such as joinery details as doors, windows, shutters, stairs, floors, etc. At the same time new pieces of joinery are born bearing the hallmarks of ancient craft traditions.
Audronis Skurvydas, though modest, is very pleased that his works have been recognised by others in several competitions. He has been awarded:
- The Certificate of the Union of Restorers under the Republic of Lithuania in a competition for the best restoration works in 2013-2014.
- A Certificate of Distinction in a competition for Built Heritage.
- A Certificate for the qualitative, methodologically-based management of wooden and polychromic works and the preservation of authenticity (Užupis Street 14-6).