Renowned Czech engraver Jiří Harcuba wraps up 15 years of teaching at The Studio

Renowned Czechoslovakian engraver Jiří Harcuba taught his last class at The Studio this summer after 15 consecutive years. First invited to The Studio in 1997, Jiří brought with him an innovative approach to engraving which “brought magic to it,” according to Amy Schwartz, director of The Studio.

Bill Gudenrath, Amy Schwartz, Jiri Harcuba, April Surgent, Martin Janecky, summer 2012, Jiri is leaving The Studio after teaching annually since 1997.

Bill Gudenrath, Amy Schwartz, Martin Janecky, Jiri Harcuba, and April Surgent, Summer 2012. Jiri is leaving The Studio after teaching annually since 1997.

Engraving is a craft deeply rooted in tradition, and tends to follow strict rules in technique, yet Jiří saw potential for expression that many engravers had not embraced. Jiří recognizes carvings as the earliest artistic manifestation of man, something that will forever connect the past with the present, and the present with the future. Jiří harbors classic skills as an engraver, enabling him to engrave the most detailed portraiture, but much of his work features abstract designs as a result of his methodology.

Two Portraits: Václav Havel and Vladimír Kopecký, Jiří Harcuba (Czech, b. 1928)

Two Portraits: Václav Havel and Vladimír Kopecký, Jiří Harcuba (Czech, b. 1928), 1995

Jiří’s way of engraving glass is “based on the traditional techniques and applied to a contemporary concept.” He calls the approach zen-graving, derived from the concept of zen-drawing, a more meditative means of drawing valuing artful expression above technical skill. By zen-graving, one is similarly less concentrated on the rules of craftsmanship. Zen-graving is an approach to engraving that encourages people to experience “every day as though through the eyes of a child”, to get back the freedom a person once felt in a childlike state and use it to create.

Rocking Horse, Jiri Harcuba, United States, Corning, NY 2007

Rocking Horse, 2007

In talks and lectures, Jiří often tells the story of an engraving made by Sophia, the daughter of Bill Gudenrath and Amy Schwartz, when she was three years old. The piece featured the powerful abstract lines of a child’s representation of a cow, and according to Jiří, “Nobody would have done it better.” This powerful approach to art unapologetically celebrates the perfection in imperfection, as well as the finished product within every unfinished project. He insists, “Beginners are always better,” and to the student who admits, “I know nothing,” Jiří will always say, “That is the best.”

Jiří Harcuba and April Surgent

Jiří and April Surgent co-taught Zen-graving at The Studio this July. April will be returning to teach next summer, continuing Jiří's legacy.

When much of the modern art world was less open to his approach, Jiří found acceptance and encouragement in America and was given an outlet to teach zen-graving at The Studio and at other U.S. glass studios. “They give you the freedom to teach in your way,” Jiří says of The Studio. The impact of this has not gone unnoticed – he broadened the field in a town with a rich technical tradition of engraving and built a following for it at a time when he saw many artists leaving the medium behind. “We used to say he was like Johnny Appleseed, spreading engraving wherever he went,” says Amy. In his long career, he has established artistic and life philosophies that have permeated his work and his teaching style, inspiring The Studio’s students and community for the past 15 years. Traveling to the United States is getting too tiring for Jiří, and he will not be returning to teach next summer. Amy speaks for the entire Studio when she says, “He will be deeply missed.”

Help us thank Jiří Harcuba for 15 years of wonderful glassmaking instruction and guidance at The Studio. Send him a note at thankyoujiri@gmail.com.