“Do you know Thomas Buechner?” we were asked after a day of interviews with lampworkers in Lauscha, Germany. Eric Goldschmidt and I were relaxing over dinner at the local glassblower’s hangout, The Gollo. News had spread in this small community of black slate buildings nestled in the Thuringian mountains, that staff members from The Corning Museum of Glass were videotaping their stories.
The bartender, James, approached us and asked if we would speak with his father, Gunter Knye, who was sitting at the next table. Knye immediately asked about his friend Tom Buechner, former director of The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) and mastermind of the 1979 New Glass: a Worldwide Survey exhibit. Buechner had visited Knye in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) during the Communist period and hosted the artist when he was given special permission to come to Corning and New York City after Knye’s work, “Bowl with White Thread Decoration” was selected for the 1979 exhibit. I replied that Mr. Buechner died a few years ago (2010) and we were both in tears remembering our friend.
Knye invited us to his home the next day to see his artwork and agreed to answer our questions about his prolific career.
Our visit with Gunter Knye “stirred memories,” as Eric Goldschmidt describes it, and the interview was filled with stories, emotion, and laughter. Three of Knye’s sons joined us and a high school student translated.
Knye is a sixth-generation lampworker and he was celebrating his 60th anniversary as a glassmaker while we were in Lauscha. His family immigrated from Nový Bor in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) to help establish the lampworking community in Lauscha 300 years ago. His family made traditional lampworked objects like fruit and Christmas ornaments. Knye spoke fondly of life before and after World War II. In the small town, everyone had work, especially in the cottage industry of lampworking. In almost every house there were glassmakers, mostly making Christmas decorations, and there were opportunities to study elsewhere. Other regional work included mining uranium for the USSR’s atomic bombs.
Knye learned glassmaking from his family and friends, in particular from a classmate who had been making glass for eight years and a neighbor showed him how to sell his work. He was the first in his family to build a glass furnace. Knye told us he developed samples he took to the Leipzig Fair, where all types of businesses sold their wares. He was particularly proud of his early “smoke glass” vases and he is also known for his innovative lampworked Montage vessels and other decorative work. Knye blew glass at the furnace in the winter and worked at the torch during the warmer months. He and other German artists helped lampworking cross the line from novelties into art. Both studios are still in his home and he describes it as “a museum.”
Knye is proud of his four sons – three are glassmakers, including John Zinner, who recently demonstrated his expressive devil sculptures at CMoG.
When we asked what inspires him, Knye drew us to the window and gestured to his verdant garden and the mountains in the background. Later, we walked through the gardens with his sons, savoring the spring flowers and paths around the pond.
As we said goodbye, he once again spoke of Tom Buechner, his generosity and friendship.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Buechner traveled to Czechoslovakia and Germany, meeting artists and cultivating relationships with them, discovering the extraordinary work created behind the iron curtain.
Eric and I were delighted to renew the museum’s connection with Guntar Knye, to learn more about his life and glass making traditions in Lauscha.
Visit the Rakow Research Library to learn more about the 1979 exhibition, New Glass: a Worldwide Survey, as well as our other groundbreaking exhibitions and publications that continue to bring contemporary glass to new audiences worldwide.