Novy Bor, Czech Republic
I managed to arrive safely in Novy Bor at 12:30pm. As soon as I got my bearings at the bus station, I noticed two gentlemen approaching very deliberately with a look of curiosity on their faces. Fortunately, it was my welcoming party of Pavel Tille and Ricardo Hoineff. Pavel had been my email contact at the Novy Bor Glass School, and he runs the hot-shop classes there. Pavel had asked Ricardo to join us as a translator for my visit. He is a Brazilian-born student at the school, and he turned out to be an absolute God-send to my visit the whole afternoon and evening in Novy Bor.
The school is directly across the street from the bus station, and Pavel and Ricardo welcomed me with coffee and conversation. They informed me of then fundamental background of the school. It has been in existence for 143 years, and it has been a vital backbone for the local glass industry. As is the tradition with these Czech schools, the students begin a four-year program at age 14, and this education involves typical academic courses and glass training to prepare students for factory work when they graduate.
As I had mentioned about the school in Zelezny Brod, there are not nearly as many factory jobs available these days for the school’s graduates. The schools are publicly-funded, and there is great concern that they may be forced to consolidate. Very recently, there has been a bit of an up-tick in factory production, and with it, a renewed hope that the schools will not have to consolidate.
We finished our coffee in a few minutes and began the tour of the facility. The Novy Bor School teaches programs in hot glass blowing, kiln-casting/fusing, engraving, cutting, glass painting, stained glass, and design. After a quick peek at a hot piece of Ricardo’s in the kiln room, we made our way to the hot shop. The school day was just about finished for the students, but as we walked into their massive space, a few of the more advanced students jumped into action to very adeptly make some traditional mold-blown goblets. They worked their way through several different molds in a very short time. To the uneducated observer mold-blowing may seem to be an easy process, but I am well aware of the difficulties and intricacies of the process. These kids were very skilled…especially for their ages. The program seemed to be very focused on factory-related processes for quick, accurate production. I was particularly surprised to see that instead of using a typical annealer, these guys were loading pieces into a Lehr.
A Lehr is a large oven with a conveyor belt running through it that moves the cooling glass slowly through cooler and cooler zones. This is a crucial piece of equipment for maximum production as pieces can be loaded, annealed, and removed from the oven continuously.
There were several crates filled with glass vessels of all shapes and sizes. Not only do the glassblowing students make work for their own growth, but they also make objects for the other classes to use in their studies. Some of the pieces are used by the engravers, some by the cutters, some by the glass painters, and some are even produced for sale.
From the hot-shop we moved to a room that was filled with wood-working equipment. Ricardo informed me that the gentleman sweeping the floor was a master mold-maker. In addition to teaching his techniques to the students, he also makes the majority of the molds to fit specifically to the students’ designs. This is an incredible opportunity for these students, and they seemed very appreciative.
Our next move was to the cutting studio. It was lined with hi-quality lathes, and they had a broad variety of wheels.
The engraving room was next. It too was loaded with all the necessary equipment for the traditional Czech techniques of finely detailed copper and diamond wheel engraving.
I could tell by the smell that our next stop was the glass painting studio. The materials used for this process have a very distinct odor despite using adequate ventilation. The students were just finishing for the day, but there were a few display cabinets filled with brilliant work.
From the painting studio we moved to a spacious, light-filled drawing and design studio. In addition to some life-sized pencil drawings, some of the students were using the space to assemble and finish some of their final works.
Having seen the last of the studios, I was surprised to have Ricardo and Pavel lead me outdoors and across a parking lot to a gallery/shop space. They sell finished work produced by the students through the course of their studies. The proceeds from the sales go to support the school, and the students get a cut that helps them to make some pocket change to help them through school.
This was the last stop on the school tour, but my day was still far from over. Stay tuned…