Edmund Kavanagh, as a repousse chaser was one of the team working for the London Silversmiths Aspery’s that made the 18ct Gold Rose Bowl to celebrate President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary.
It is the piece in his not inconsiderable body of work of which he is most proud and it gives the book its title.
This is not a how to repousse/chase book, rather it is how one chaser has lived an adventurous and rewarding life on one side coupled with the deep insecurity that can go with being self-employed.
It is the story of Edmund Kavanagh, born in the center of Dublin in 1933 into a comfortable family who operated catering and retail establishments.
He was the last child born into the family of four older brothers and two sisters, both of whom died as infants. Because of this, his mother brought him up as a girl for the first four or five years of his life, going so far as to dress him as a girl, dyeing his hair blond and calling him Maureen.
He survived this and if there is one thing Kavanagh has with knobs on....it's balls.
He hated school, the only subjects he had any interest in was geometry & drawing, which he excelled at.
At the tender age of fourteen years he starts an apprenticeship in John Smith Ecclessticial Art Metalworks. Edmund then got seriously ill and spent considerable time in hospital with was thought to be TB. On his discharge from hospital he resumed his apprenticeship in another Dublin firm silversmiths.
Edmund then meets his future wife and for reasons outlined in the book the two of them elope to England ending up in London where Kavanagh secures a job for himself as a repousse/chaser in the firm of Comyns. After a while, he sets up shop on his own doing contract repousse chasing work for London’s leading silversmiths.
His customers read like a who’s who’s of the English capitals leading silversmiths of the nineteen sixties.
As well as the rose bowl already mentioned he was involved in many prestigious projects many of them illustrated including a replica of the London Mace.
From London he sets out for New York to a job that’s waiting for him in the company of David Webb.
After a while he leaves the secure job in Webb’s and again sets up shop for himself. kavanagh-shopThings become so difficult and work so scarce that Kavanagh contemplates suicide. Being a man of faith he thinks it through and decides to live.
Then unbelievably, out of the blue, Tiffany’s seek him out to do repousse/chasing for them. Work became plentiful and he then opened a jeweller’s shop in Westbury on Long Island. Kavanagh and his son were violently attacked and robbed by a gang of thugs virtually cleaning him out.
After this robbery, he took some additional security measures, one of which included equipping himself with a gun. Edmund was held up again, but in the ensuing gunfight he pumped a few bullets into the robber, who fled the scene....the police later caught the injured criminal
Among the exceptional people we are introduced in the book is his old friend and mentor the Hungarian émigré from the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Anthon Rubesch, the holocaust survivor, Ludwig Wolpert who introduced Kavanagh to Judaica,and Frantisek (Frank) Khynl, the Czech goldsmith and model maker, who quietly produced works of art in 18ct gold from his home in a dodgy area of Queens in NY.
The collection he left on his death are now on display in a museum in his homeland.
Kavanagh's shop - Established in 1925 and is Dublin’s oldest sweetshop(right), the family business is mentioned in his book.
Although Edmund Kavanagh is a native of Dublin like myself, I don’t know him, although I had heard about him.
The author serves Kavanagh well and presents what I considered an authentic voice, for me she brings him alive.
The book is a great insight into the art of silversmith in three great silversmithing capitals - Dublin, London & New York.
The book was published in 2007 and we are told that Edmund was in semi-retirement in the foot hills of Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
I make him 87 years of age and I hope he is still going strong.
I wrote this review with the hope that this book might get the bigger audience it deserves.
I take my hat off to him and he is a great credit to both his old country and his new country.
More details on getting hold of a copy of the book can be found on Amazon.co.uk