If there is a subject that rallies the country's collective conscience every time it surfaces, it has to be the Royal Opera House, in Valletta.

It is also a subject close to the heart of entrepreneur Joe Galea who recently took ownership of Heritage Homes, the firm that specialises in models of landmark buildings and historic sites.

Mr Galea, who produces and markets innovative souvenirs of Malta, has reached another milestone in his line of creations with a scale model of the Royal Opera House.

"Managing to complete this model has given me the confidence to go for more intricate and complicated designs for our future collection," Mr Galea said.

Research included ferreting out the original drawings and collecting as many photographs as possible of the first version of the opera house - the original structure was burned down in1873.

"The opera house had so much external detail which would be lost unless you come to a point where you can mentally see it in 3D projection. You have to start thinking as an architect.

"You know you are close to starting the model when you can shut your eyes and still visualise it in its entirety.

"I also had to decide whether to do a copy of the original building or else the one that was built after the first one was burned down."

In his book British Colonial Architecture: Malta 1800-1900, Malcolm Borg writes: "The building (the opera house) inaugurated in October of 1866 was insured for 12,000 pounds. However, the 'fire prevention' could not have been that efficient since the 'fine building' built by the most lavish of Governors (Sir Gaspard La Marchant) was destroyed by fire seven years later."

New plans on the original designs were drawn up for a new theatre and this time the building was completely fireproof.

Edward Middleton Barry designed the opera house in 1861 as a development of Covent Garden in London, which had been inaugurated three years earlier.

His father, Sir Charles, had designed the Houses of Parliament in London.

Why did Mr Galea opt for the Royal Opera House?

"Although I don't remember the opera house, I have always been impressed by the clamour that rises every so often by those people who would like to see it built again as it was.

"With this model, they can at least have one in their home or office.

"I got the same reaction from my wife, Tania, as I was finishing the model when she remarked how beautiful the opera house must have been.

"The model allows you to see the building, including the roof, in 3D, which is impossible to do from photographs."

Mr Galea believes the opera house should be rebuilt by copying Barry's exterior but adapting the inside to uses that will make it sustainable.

"I am thinking along the lines of Malta creating an international icon with a European slant by lobbying the EU to have one of its agencies based inside the 'opera house'. Offices and retail outlets could form part of the atrium.

According to Leonard Mahoney - in his book 500 Years Of Architecture In Malta - Barry had no feeling, nor cared for the vernacular architecture. "In designing his Opera House, Barry (was) estranged from everything that is Maltese, yet (he) struck a sympathetic chord in the common people by endowing it with a massiveness, vigour and floridity, which can only be described as neo-baroque".

The building is so magnificent that the model would definitely appeal to the collector and double as an executive gift, Mr Galea said.

"This model recalls one of Valletta's golden ages and as such will hopefully spur the latent sentiment for the 'opera house' to be rebuilt."

The model comes in a Heritage Homes packaging with a certificate of authenticity and a short history.

Barry's Opera House was badly damaged by enemy action in World War II and was demolished 10 years later.

Source: timesofmalta.com

Successful artisans whose handcrafts withstand harsh market conditions have to wear many hats these days – the hats of a banker, accountant, wholesaler, retailer, customer, artist and manufacturer.

“You have to be all of these people rolled up into one,” says Joe Galea, owner of Heritage Homes and Artistorika.

Mr Galea ought to know. He has just netted two prestigious awards, the Ġieħ l-Artiġġjanat Malti from the Malta Crafts Council, and the World Intellectual Property Award for creativity from the Industrial Property Registrations Directorate at the Commerce Division.

At the presentation, the Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business Jason Azzopardi referred to the €200,000 the government had voted for the second time to support the artisan sector.

“These funds are meant to nurture greater initiatives and incentives that promote craftwork and assist artisans in today’s business environment,” Dr Azzopardi said.

“Artisans have been decimated by the onslaught of tough market conditions, a dearth of investment and high operating costs,” Mr Galea adds. “This is not a level playing field but the time of subsidies is over. We have to compete by offering quality and value for money. Those who do not accept this simple truth might as well forget it,” Mr Galea said.

Another aspect is branding. One of the ways artisans promote their brand is by demonstrating their product uniqueness and that it is readily identifiable with Malta.

In the souvenirs sector Heritage Homes is best known for miniatures of architectural landmarks, Artistorika for replica stone souvenirs. This is the only way to shore up against the barrage of souvenirs that are made for a pittance in Asia.

“Branding and packaging are extremely important. In this context I commend the makers of food products in Malta and Gozo who have improved their branding and packaging immensely. It is indeed a quantum leap.”

In Rome and Taormina, for example, 70 per cent of souvenirs are made in Asia and are considered “junk”, he said.

“All crafts suffered in the tsunami of imports, particularly silver filigree, which is facing an unfair challenge from imported goods which are very well finished but mass produced, so it comes at a third of the price.

“We have to accept that things have changed and that there is no way imports can be halted. We have to design products that are only made in Malta and have not been seen anywhere else. Attractive packaging plus a certificate of authenticity help fight competition on quality and origin.

“My dream is for tourists’ family and friends to easily recognise souvenirs bought in Malta. They would not have to check the printed details on the box to see where they were made.”

Mr Galea started out 25 years ago when he made all the five products he offered for sale. From those early days, his product range now numbers 400. This amount is not enough, he notes with his typical sense of caution, because importers are constantly bombarding souvenir shops with fresh ideas.

“Every item has its own lifespan and you cannot replace a ‘dead’ piece with an inferior one. At the same time souvenir shops cannot afford to have ‘dead’ shelves or shelves that do not reap a healthy profit.

“Shop owners expect higher profit margins to make up for expenses. There are artisans who were never retailers and, therefore, cannot understand the perspective and demands of shop owners and wholesalers.”

The World Intellectual Property Organisation award was based on creativity and innovation. Heritage Homes won on creativity hands down.

They had to present the whole portfolio and examples of how their products spur creativity in local craftsmen.

“Giving people a lot of incentives to paint these items enables them to attain a high sense of gratification. These craftsmen feel truly proud of what they are doing.

“We give people the chance to express their talent and apply their skills with precision and a keen eye for detail. This enhances their satisfaction in doing a good job.”

The second reason for winning the award was the value-added the products have. Not more than five per cent of the retail price goes abroad to buy materials. The rest is made here: Moulds, packaging and painting, the lot.

For Ġieħ l-Artiġġjanat Malti Heritage Homes presented two items, namely miniatures of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta and Palazzo Notabile which lies in Saqqajja, near Rabat close to the bus terminus. The items had to have been made during the last two years.

There were two separate adjudicating boards and the results were handed over to the Commerce Division.

“St John’s Co-Cathedral is nothing much to look at from the outside but it’s a marvel inside.

“You can see all the decorative details inside the Co-Cathedral. The difference is that in the limited edition, the sculpture, marble gravestones, paintings and frescoes are in colour. This finely detailed work was the crux, the turning point for us in winning this top award.

“The other building we presented was Casino Notabile which is a fine architectural gem. The precision of the model makes one appreciate what an exquisite jewel this building is.”

One of the best things you have to have is a never-ending passion for your work, Mr Galea said.

“For me it’s like going to Alice in Wonderland, feeling like a child again playing with modelling clay.”

Source: timesofmalta.com

Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Land Jason Azzopardi recently presented the Gieħ l-Artiġjanat Awards and the Malta WIPO Creativity and Innovation Awards at the Corinthia San Ġorġ Hotel, St Julian’s. Seen here is Dr Azzopardi with the winner of the first edition of Premju Ġieħ l-Artiġjanat Malti 2010 Joseph Galea, owner of Heritage Homes Ltd, which makes hand-made miniature models of buildings. Mr Galea is also the winner of the Innovation and Creativity Award.

Source: timesofmalta.com