Hello, it’s time for the update of day three in Lauscha, Germany. At the breakfast table, Rebekkah mentioned to me that she was headed to the local butcher to pick-up some treats for dinner. Being the obsessive foodie that I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see what they had to offer. So, we took the long walk of about 200 meters to the butcher shop. The selection was incredible and so fresh you could almost feel the breeze from the pasture. Rebekkah made some careful selections of steaks, sausages, and fresh bread. Then, we headed back to the house to get organized for the day’s appointments.
The first stop was a visit to the Lauscha Glass School for a guided tour. The school had been renovated just a few years earlier and was in pristine condition with excellent facilities for flameworking, kiln-casting, glass painting/silvering, and coldworking. Furnace-working is not a big priority in this area. However, there are a couple of hot glass facilities in town. The school has three levels of study for students aged between 16 and 30. The curriculum covers technique, design, local history, and art history.
The first-year students learn basic technique. In Lauscha, this means learning the traditional process for crafting mold-blown Christmas ornaments. Ornaments were the topic for this particular morning, and it was refreshing to see the students take so quickly to the process. I’m sure they appreciate the quality instruction they are receiving. There were 12 students grinding it out to perfect their technique. The next stop was the flameworking lab for the second year students.
The second-year students were plugging away, practicing free-blown ornament and vessel forms. Several of them have sheet-metal measuring forms on their workbenches that help them to be more accurate in keeping the finished forms as closely matched as possible. Even with 17 years’ experience on the torch, I still find this type of exercise difficult. Now, we head through the hall to see the flameworking lab for the third-year students.
This class began with 12 students in their first year, but now they are down to three determined young ladies. They are fighting their way through the crafting of footed bowl forms that have simple patterns. The forms are made from the shaping of a single piece of tubing. First, they form a constriction that represents a bit of a stem. Second, they shape one side of the bubble for the vessel’s foot. The final step is to form and flare open the opposite side of the constriction to finish the bowl. This is what I would consider to be a very advanced lesson. There is no room for error to produce a truly uniform finished object.
Our tour continued through the lab spaces for the silvering and painting processes that are a signature part of the traditional Lauscha ornament industry. The surface-decorating process for these ornaments involves several steps of layering paints and even some glitter. The silvering process involves combining a few potentially hazardous liquid chemicals and swishing them around inside of the hollow ornament forms. The school takes the safe practices of handling the chemicals very seriously. The storage, handling, and ventilation technology is all state of the art.
We finished the tour with a quick visit to the space that is used for both cold-working and kiln-working and then it was off to the glass-eye-makers studio…
Glass workers in Lauscha have been producing prosthetic eyes for nearly 200 years. Ludwig Muller-Uri started his company Augenprothetik Lauscha in 1835 and they are still the foremost experts in their field. Their work is greatly sought after as it is some of the best in the world. They are able to match almost any eye color and detail through a painstaking flamework process. Their techniques have been closely guarded and rarely witnessed by outsiders. I am supremely thankful to have been granted the opportunity to not only witness the process but document it as well.
A very talented crafts woman, Jacqueline Haenel was nice enough to demonstrate for me. She explained that they work with specially-made tubing that is produced at the local Farbglasheutte in the center of town. Apparently, this tubing has some calcium content to it that makes for a very accurate white for the eye. She applied layers of a few different colors to produce a beautiful brown iris, and of course they use a very dense black for the pupil. My favorite part of the process was the application of tiny red glass fibers to create the veins. I would estimate the red glass threads she pulled were much thinner than a human hair. The effect was brilliant. The folks at Augenprothetik Lauscha were nice enough to send me away with a souvenir of their work which I will prize forever.
My final appointment of the day was a visit with studio artist John Zinner. He is considered to be the best human figurative sculptor in the area, and he is particularly well-known for his very expressive devil sculptures. He was also nice enough to do a demonstration for me, and I was thoroughly impressed with his mastery of the material and the human-ish form. I wound up spending several hours with John. Despite a bit of a language barrier, we were able to discuss his process and our mutual love for the material and its potential. After this visit, I headed back to Andre and Rebekkah’s house for a highly anticipated barbecue.
In addition to his skills on the torch, it turns out that Andre is quite talented on the grill as well. We ate delicious steaks that were marinated in a couple of different local styles. The special Thuringian bratwursts were outstanding as well. As we finished with dinner, it occurred to us that we should try to collaborate on a piece to commemorate the visit.
Andre is world-renowned for his mastery of the montage technique that was developed in the area in the mid-twentieth century. In addition to his schooling at the Lauscha Glass School, he had the special opportunity to study with Master Kurt Wallstab, one of the originators of the technique. Andre takes the traditional techniques to a whole new and contemporary level. It was a real honor to work with him. He created a brilliantly patterned hollow form by connecting and manipulating several separate pieces of clear and green tubing. I crafted a male figure with root and branch forms for the feet and hands. It can be difficult to collaborate with such diverse backgrounds, but I think we pulled off a very nice piece.
I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to Andre and Rebekkah for taking such good care of me. I’m very much looking forward to returning the favors the next time they are able to make it back to Corning. Next stop… Czech Republic. Stay tuned…