Simply Scharff

 An Article by Karin Bergquist 2005


Silver takes on a fluid, organic form under the skilled fingers of Danish silversmith Allan Scharff. The Danish Queen Margrethe drinks champagne from his silver ice pail, and Danish star actresses prefer his jewelry. 


Simplicity is at the core of Allan Scharff’s work. Already as a young designer he was engaged in reducing…cutting away the unnecessary…. reaching the basic form. To be able to describe a certain bird with fewest possible lines was one of his biggest goals. The simpler the design, the more intense the expression, and the better the use. This has been his characteristic approach to design ever since, whatever the material.

This is why people all over the world like his minimalist silver, his jewelry and glass objects, designed for the finest Danish silver and glass companies – Georg Jensen, Hans Hansen and Holmegaard Glassworks.                 .


In Denmark Allan Scharff is well known for his genuine forms, which lately have become more daring. At his latest retrospective exhibition at the Danish Museum of Art & Design in Copenhagen the big attraction was a sushi dish formed as the back of a woman’s torso. He was also represented at the coveted crafts fair “Collect at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, and he takes partin exhibitions continuously all over the world. Many of his unique creations are displayed in museums throughout Europe and the United States.


Allan Scharff has received a lot of art prizes and he has been elected as an Associate of the prestigious English Worshipfull Company of Goldsmiths – one of only 100 foreign members - which also includes the Danish Queen, due to her huge collection of silver.

For 16 years Allan Scharff has been designer for the prestigious Danish master of silver, Georg Jensen. Now he has his own shop in Copenhagen – which of course is placed in a street named Silverstreet - next to the beautiful King’s Garden. In this cosy workshop he sits almost the whole day hammering at the silver.


The soul of the silver


In the past, the surface of silver used to be polished and smooth. But after several journeys around the world Allan Scharff discovered interesting ways of cultivating the surface of the silver. This made him go back to the starting point of silversmithing, more than 3000 years ago. 


“The form is shaped in dialogue with the precious pure metal by simple basic techniques. It is exactly in this meditative state of the craft that the magic happens,” the gentle silversmith states.


It takes long time to form the material in this way. The shape grows slowly from each hammer blow, and the process is repeated again and again. Before the object is finished, he has used several hundred thousand hammer blows. The surface is left hardened, more resistant, and much more beautiful. Although silver is a hard material, in this way it can be formed in an almost organic way. Correctly handledsilver can be encouraged to stretch contentedly, just as our muscles and tendons stretch and relax under the fingers of a skilled masseur.


There are certain forms which are not at all suited to silver and which it resists, while other forms almost seem to grow by themselves. Thus you can entice the soul out of the silver,” the craftsman states.


Another characteristic quality of silver is the potential of the polished surface to reflect light and mirror its surroundings. Consciously used this has a heavy influence on how the eye sees the form. It can give the form a poetic, fairy-tale quality and can send the eye of the beholder on a voyage of discovery. Here the subtle nuances have a grand effect.

“This serious play with the hammer in my hands revitalises the designer in me. Thereby I feel I am returning to the youth’s search for simplicity, focused on the function. Our modern life style is so complicated that I welcome everything which could reduce it. The ambition of my design is to give the same feeling as meeting an old friend, to be pleased and continue the conversation as it ended last time,”
Allan Scharff says.

Raw and poetic – like the nature


His expression is raw, poetic and elegant at the same time. He creates bowls formed as cabbages with his special hammering technique, marking the object with a fascinating surface – like crumpled silver paper - but more massive and with raw edges. In the same collection he has created a jug formed like a fantasy bird among many other objects inspired by nature. 

Nature and its fantastic forms are an often-used theme in Allan Scharff’s design.

“Nature inspires me a lot. Nature incorporates simple solutions to otherwise complicated problems in design. Daily I am studying how plants create the right strength in order to survive. Nature has an abundance of shapes. Nature is the most fascinatingschool-book. Nature’s language is visual and direct. From the mountains’ gigantic drifts created by wind and snow, to the tiny constructions which enable a leaf to unfold. I never get tired of studying these masterpieces,” he states.

 As a ten year old boy a dear aunt took Allan Scharff from the flat Danish countryside to the Austrian mountains. This meeting and his later experiences as a skilled mountain climber influenced his life and the way he works with shapes.

 He has climbed many well-known mountains in the world. The first time he visited Japan was by invitation from the JapaneseAlpine Club. He climbed Mount Fuji, and even the infamous Mount Tanigawa. When climbing the Matterhorn in Schwitzerland he actually brought back the tip of the mountain and placed it in an exquisite ring, which is now the property of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Cobalt blue is his favourite colour. He adds it to glass and silver. The fascination of this colour arrives from the sea, which symbolizes freedom, and the longing to go abroad. 

“I have often lived by the sea. The endless, restless surface of the water fascinates me. It borrows its colour from the sky, rips the light to pieces and reflects it out into the world. In Hawaii this experience for me was complete. I want this wonderful spot in the middle of the Pacific to lend its name to my attempts to recreate a sense of the sea,” he says.

After his first visit to Japan 34 years ago, he has returned 8 times - to exhibit, study, and to enjoy. 

“I completely lost my heart to this unique culture, wonderful craftsmanship and the best food in the world”, he says without regret.

 Allan Scharff’s favourite animal is the bird, which again symbolizes freedom and beauty. For a time he lived on a small island, where only a few people but thousands of birds lived. One winter’s day a wren took shelter in a bush just outside the window of his workshop. At the end of the day one also sat on his table crafted in silver.


Allan Scharff gets orders from all over the world. He is incomparably the master of producing church silver in Denmark, objects such as altarpieces, pulpits and murals. The most important commission was for Tjæreborg Church in Jutland - for which he created a new balance in the old church by twisting all the ceremonial silver left or right. And people flock to Klostermarks Church in Ringsted to see his famous silver pigeons serving the ceremony at the altar. He has recently finished an order for a church in Louisiana in the US of a gilded silverpitcher and a wafer box. The pitcher has a beautiful handle formed like a billy-goat horn. Both objects have hidden crosses in the design, symbolising the protestant religion.


The process of working with silver in general he describes as a very beautiful process – “to see the material work and form between the hands, to see the final result and see the joy of the client towards the object is a great pleasure”.


Scharff’s head is full of creative ideas. His latest collection is a series of objects – jewelry and bowls – marked by his own signature all over, hammered into the surface of the metal several hundred times, which gives an amazing effect.


Allan Scharff is very humble towards his work, and the working process itself. He knows that practice makes perfect – and this goes for his new hobby, tennis, as well. In few years he has progressed a lot, studying the great tennis masters intensely and practicing repeatedly, guided by coaches. He is often seen standing hammering the ball into a tennis wall at the local tennis club, meditative as in his work. Soon he will find his perfect form. Playing and having fun is the other side of the silver coin which consists of hard work.


Computer design

 For years Scharff has also been involved in industrial design with the goal to test his strengths towards difficult problems. In fact he enjoys the alteration between working with unique design for the few and making quality a part of every day life for many people.
Scharff draws many of his designs on computer - he was actually one of the pioneers to work with 3D design for the crafts industry in Denmark.
Allan Scharff is not only one of the most gifted, but also one of the few real silversmiths left in Denmark, who still use the old craft’s techniques. Recently he was praised by the union Danish Metal, which also produced a film about him. He is currently producing more films on silversmithing, for use at museums and educational institutions within the crafts.

It takes ten years to become a real silversmith, his teacher Gustav Pedersen told him back at the beginning of the 1960s. The young Allan hardly believed him, as he already considered the 4½ years of apprenticeship and school a lifetime. He later learned the truth of that statement. So how long does it take to become a good silversmith? A life time! The secret? Good motory skills, talent and persistence, according to Scharff.

Thus the story developed of the left-handed and dyslexic boy who was almost lost in school. Now his life seems to fit into the Danish poet Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale about the little ugly duckling turning into a swan.