I was in Sarasota, Florida, on a completely different assignment and staying at the Sarasota Bay Club, a condo complex where a few suites are available for guests who come to this lovely, cultural centre for a few days of work or play.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a vitrine filled with unusual, beautifully designed, ethnic jewelry which was hard to resist. I felt I had visitation rights as I made my daily pilgrimage to that window filled with exceptional designs. I decided to make time away from my focus on Medical Tourism at the very efficient and necessary Florida Retreat Centre and get in touch with Kati, the one name she goes by for her jewelry.
Off subject for a moment, there is an aging population in Sarasota and often there’s a ‘concierge need for post and pre operative clients to fulfill their requests for everything from food to transportation, accommodations and caregivers. This
retreat has partnerships with various well located five star hotels and complex accommodations and most importantly, have a team of highly educated, research oriented, top university trained doctors. So to say I was surprised to see this window of exotic intricately designed jewelry in silver and gold plated, and large bronze detailing, stopped me in my tracks. It was certainly not what I expected to find in this senior citizen condo complex.
It would have been a great oversight not speak with Kati Bognar. A quick phone call and we made time to meet early on a Saturday morning before I left for my return trip home.
What a surprise when I opened the door to my large suite. There was the most attractive, smiling couple of ‘a certain age’ but with the sophistication and charm that only the Europeans seem to carry off so very well. It was difficult not to like the Bognars with their wide breath of experiences and their fun-loving take on life.
Both born in Budapest Hungary, their work had been in completely different areas. They escaped during the revolution in 1956.
In New York where they landed, she attended university and studied literature. Much later she worked as a research scientist for several years. So how did these careers bring her to making one-of-a-kind, impressive, statement-making jewelry?
On a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with Desi, it seemed to widen her horizons as she took notice of the bravado of the locals and how they loved large jewelry.
After that Desi, won a Fulbright assignment to Nigeria, West Africa, to implement a new broadcasting and film programs at the University of Ibadan, located in the oldest academic institution south of the Sahara. They stayed for three years. It was there that it “all came together” and the fruition of that stay whetted her appetite to think about a more artistic career change.
With so much free time, she met very talented Yoruba artists who love color and artistic compositions.
After befriending a few traders, in the traditional markets, she saw some beads which she had never seen before. Chevron beads or Aggry, as the are called, are very much like the Italian mirafiori and it was an instant love affair. “I was bedazzled,” says the friendly, smiling designer.
Luck and good timing are the best options in life and she had both when the traders decided to let her select their top quality beads before the took them to the big city marketplaces in Lagos and in Ibadan.
The trading beads were made in Murano, Italy, and as history shows, they found their way to West Africa from Italy across the Sahara Desert to Timbuktu and were used as money for other goods. These beads were what was then considered like gold.
So with her stash of marketable, colorful and wondrous beads, she started designing ornaments. After the three year stay, the Bognars moved to Peacham, Vermont, where Kati mastered ceramics and hand painted pottery.
Now the couple are living “happily” in charming Sarasota and as we spoke, she thought back to the time she was living in West Africa and says, “ I inhaled the gift and variety of colors and although I never understood why I collected the beautiful trading beads, I knew there was a reason.”
With her curious mind and versatility, Kati found herself “playing around” with necklace designs. “I guess this is how everything started and that was creating necklaces.”
Still awestruck and linking her literary past, she says, that each piece she designs is like “creating poetry”.
All designs are original and one -of-a-kind since it’s now impossible to obtain duplicates of the trading beads. And it’s not surprising to hear her stay, “I find such great pleasure in making the neckpieces and a few earrings, it’s as though I’m making them for myself.”
But anyone with an inclination or a love of different, bold, wonderfully unusual jewelry, that is really more like art wear, they would certainly want to own, wear, continue to add to their collection of Kati Bognar’s fine items.