Jiří the Teacher

Today’s post comes from Amy Schwartz, Director of Education & The Studio

Jiří HarcubaJiří Harcuba first came to The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass in 1997, our second summer offering classes.  I wanted to have engraving as part of our curriculum, since Corning has a rich history of engraving and I had a personal interest in engraving.  We had minimal supplies then–a few lathes and some wheels–but it didn’t matter to Jiří.  He could work with anything.  He helped us setup our engraving shop and began to come to Corning to teach each summer for two or three weeks.

Jiří could engrave anything.  He could make a completely realistic portrait, but he was most interested in abstract portraits.  He would use just a few cuts, like brush strokes, and you would see a face emerge.

Jiří came to teach engraving, but what he really taught was philosophy.  He taught life.  He loved to look at life like a child.  He started every artist presentation with an image of a plate that my then three year old daughter had engraved.  He would say that she was the best engraver, because she looked at everything from a fresh and innocent perspective.

Jiří first taught us Zen drawing – look at something and then close your eyes and draw it.  Then he taught us Wabi Sabi, a  Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. He was always exploring philosophy.  He engraved his many “friends” – philosophers, musicians, writers, artists – from history and from the present day.

Jiří guided many artists.  One day he suggested that Martin Rosol should teach at The Studio.  He brought Martin with him a few times and then Martin began his own classes.  His last year at The Studio, 2012, he brought his protégé April Surgent to teach with him.  He was always making suggestions, helping his talented friends to grow.  “Pavlina can come and teach engraving.” he said.  He was leaving us in good hands.

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, Jiří Harcuba and April Surgent, Summer 2012.

He formed a solid friendship with Marshall Hyde.  Jiří loved the way Marshall printed his engravings.  Marshall kept a special area on his back porch.  He calls it “Jiří’s corner.” They spent many hours there drinking beer and discussing life.

Each summer Jiří would engrave portraits of my two children.  He would complain laughingly that they were hard to engrave since they didn’t have any wrinkles yet. Jiří knew that Bill loved classical music and he shared with him his portraits of great composers.  “This one is Bach.  Here is Beethoven.”

Jiří called himself the Johnny Appleseed of engraving.  He would go around the world to universities and glass schools and studios and they would get a few lathes and a few wheels and Jiří would start them engraving.  He loved connecting with students and young people.  He loved that he was able to spread his own philosophy and start people engraving.  He didn’t believe that you needed years of training, just sit down and go.

Max Erlacher, Jiří Harcuba, Amy Schwartz and Bill Gudenrath. Summer 2012, Jiří's last class at Corning.

Max Erlacher, Jiří Harcuba, Amy Schwartz and Bill Gudenrath. Summer 2012, Jiří's last class at Corning.

Jiří decided that the summer of 2012 would be his last summer of travel to the USA.  He was getting tired.  He seemed to know that his work here was done.  He left us with new engravers to teach.  He introduced us to Czech casting artists.  He taught us his philosophies and made good friends.  He was a magical man who enriched our lives and we will miss him.

7 comments » Write a comment

  1. Thank you, Amy, for this sweet remembrance of our dear friend.
    We shall continue to celebrate his life by doing our best work, and never being afraid to try something new.

  2. I felt fortunate that we were able to spend some time with Jiri Harcuba during our June tour of the Czech Republic. It was apparent then that he was tired since his usual radiance was somewhat dimmed. Jiri was a good will ambassador for the Czech people, always generous and giving of himself. He will live on through his work and in the memory of all who were touched by this lovely soul.

  3. Nice article and photos, Amy. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering when I would see a reference to Wabi Sabi in the many well-deserved articles about Jiří. There is a text about that philosophy among my books that is a direct result of meeting him. Our encounter left me wanting to know more about the philosophy he mentioned several times. He was clearly a very special person who touched many people with his views on art and life. I am glad I had a chance to meet him.

  4. HIS SPIRIT LIVES ON IN THE LIVES HE HAS TOUCHED. Amy what a lovely tribute. The glass community will miss him.estishr

  5. Dear Amy,Only last night I knew that the great Master Jiri Harcuba passed away on July 26.
    My heart is so sad. I told you already but i want every ody knows that I owe him a lot. Many years ago, in a sunny Spanish day, in La Granja de San Ildefonso, He helped me get through a terrible moment of uncertainty. He supported me and gave me back my self-confidence. That day, He was my Guardian Angel. Without him words, without the tenderness in his help, my career might be over before it started.

    Sometimes words may seem trivial but I do not know another way of saying that I do not forget and I pray for Jiri to continue him journey full of grace and in the pure essence of beauty, picking in paradise flowers that he sowed here on this earth, with him wonderful art and him kindness. Knowing Jiri was a gift of incomparable value.
    For ever, thanks and love.

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