Andreas von Zadora-Gerlof was born in 1957 and raised on the Queen Charlotte Islands, a scenic archipelago halfway between Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia. His early home left a great impact; both the setting and the people around him inspired his work for much of his life. The woodland islands allowed the young artist to experience nature up close and personal, and hunting and fishing exposed him to many types of wild animals in his youth. Additionally, some of his peers in elementary school were children of the Haida people, an Indigenous group known for their talents in totem carving.
After a hunting accident, a young von Zadora-Gerlof turned to wood carving as a primary hobby and worked with master carver Gordon Cross. To this day, von Zadora-Gerlof notes Cross as being his most influential artistic guide.
Gemstone Carving and Career
Von Zadora-Gerlof’s skill in wood carving and fascination with gemstones eventually led him to gemstone carving, an art called glyptics that dates to antiquity. Today, he is one of the top glyptic artists in the world. Though a true and tried technique, carving gemstones is no easy task. Using precious and semi-precious stones as a medium is anything but forgiving. One mistake will call for a re-design or a new start altogether. The skills are complex and take years of practice and study to master.
After attending a military high school in Los Angeles, von Zadora-Gerlof returned to the Queen Charlotte Islands, where he soon set up a workshop. Shortly thereafter, he attended the Gem City College School of Horology and Jewelry in Quincy, Illinois. Here, von Zadora-Gerlof learned goldsmithing and engraving. After, he moved to Idar-Oberstein, Germany, where he focused further on gemstone carving at the Gemological Institute.
After his studies, he opened up a shop in the San Francisco area under the name Zadora. Here, he found his first clients, including actors Dudley Moore and Richard Burton. Also, while in Northern California, von Zadora-Gerlof began creating his gemstone carvings and cameos for jewelers. His glyptic art gained traction, and he was offered an exhibition sponsored by the Los Angeles Zoo. Von Zadora-Gerlof crafted carved renditions of endangered animals, including elephants, bears and leopards.
Von Zadora-Gerlof continued to grow in popularity as he presented his work at shows around the world, most often in New York. These shows included features at Park Avenue Armoury and the Forbes Galleries.
In 2007, von Zadora-Gerlof was hosted at the prestigious Hamilton Galleries in London, where he presented his highly anticipated Momento Mori collection. A Latin phrase literally meaning “remember that you must die,” memento mori is a reminder of the temporal nature of life. Further showcasing his skills in glyptics, von Zadora-Gerlof created twenty-three life-sized human skulls out of semi-precious gemstones. Each piece is highly detailed and hauntingly resembles a human skull. It took von Zadora-Gerlof two years to source and carve the large semi-precious stones for the show. The show was positively received by both collectors and critics alike.