Czech Glass Ornaments in New York - 100 years of teaching glass making in Železný Brod

Wed 23. 12. 2020

In the school year 2020/21, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the renowned glass school SUPŠS in Železný Brod, which is unique in the world of glass and from which many important artists emerged. On this occasion, the glassblowing faculty and students at the Železný Brod school created a series of glass ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree for the Czech Center in New York. The Czech Center New York has prepared a series of events celebrating the tradition of Czech glass design such as a special holiday installation at Heller Gallery where artisan glass balls from Železný Brod are currently on display, and an online discussion Czech Glass Ornaments – American Reflections with glass experts from New York and the Corning Museum of Glass. Join us in this holiday season in celebrating the 100th year of excellence in glassmaking in Železný Brod.

An online discussion with American experts Czech Glass Ornaments – American Reflections will be held on the occasion of a special presentation of works from Železný Brod Glass School at Heller Gallery.

  • Online Zoom Event
  • Friday December 4th, 2020, 5pm 
  • Reservation required, RSVP HERE  

 The Glass School in Železný Brod SUPŠS (founded in 1920) is the largest glass school in Europe and offers the widest range of artistic glass techniques, including glass cutting (cold-working), engraving, painted glass techniques, cast glass sculptures, jewelry and costume jewelry, hot blown glass and traditional glass figurines. In addition to these disciplines, fields teaching glass technology and applied chemistry were introduced (1954), making Železný Brod Glass School the most comprehensive educational institute for the study of glass in Europe. Decades later, the school added a field focused on product design (2009). The school has changed its name fifteen times during its existence and twelve headmasters and one headmistress have handed over the principal scepter, excluding three interim administrators who ran the school in the first five years of its existence. The history of the school has been written laregly by its numerous students and teachers. More than four thousand students have successfully graduated thanks to two hundred teachers, including seventy teachers who were former students themselves. Even after a hundred years, the original purpose for which the school was founded is still current and valid. Many graduates have become successful world-renowned artists while others are employed in related fields. It is inarguable that Železný Brod Glass School has facilitated a creative and cultivating environment and has enriched the future lives of its students.

The school has been awarded many prestigious prizes and recognitions during its century-long existence. It has also organized many significant exhibitions since its inception, including regular summer exhibitions at the school itself and dozens of other exhibitions occurring throughout the Czech Republic and abroad. The school has been successful at many world exhibitions including, most notably, the Grand Prize at the World's Fair in Paris in 1937. In addition, a unique glass casting technique using molten glass and a form was developed at the school and was subsequently adopted by the whole world. This is not the first time that the school has presented its work in New York. It's premiere occurred in 1939, literally on the eve of World War II, when the school prepared a large exhibition, titled “Dawn of a New Day” for the World's Fair in New York. However, the school managed to ship only a small part of its exhibition before its participation was banned. This was due to the March occupation of the Czech lands by Nazi Germany and the proclamation of the German Protectorate. In 2004, the school prepared another sizeable and artistically significant exhibition of glass in New York in cooperation with the Czech Center and the prestigious Heller Gallery.

A number of world-renowned artists and figures have been educated at the school: Stanislav Libenský, František Vízner, Zdeněk Lhotský, Jan Zoričák, Ivana Šrámková, Vladimira Klumpar, Ilja Bílek, Miloslav Klinger, Pavel Ježek, Blanka Matragi, Aleš Vašíček, Markéta Šílená, Jiří Dostál, Svatopluk Kasalý, Zdeňka Laštovičková, Libuše Hlubučková.  Other respected teachers and artists from the period of the first Czechoslovak Republic include: Jaroslav Brychta, Alois Metelák, Ladislav Přenosil, Oldřich Žák, Zdeněk Juna.

Železný Brod is a small Czech mountain town. It experienced an industrial boom at the end of the 19th century in textile and glass production, along with the surrounding area. Here, glass production was not concentrated in any one factory, but instead took the form of many small workshops each with a maximum of several dozen workers. In this way, thousands of men, women, and children were involved in glass production in and around Železný Brod. These individuals made pressed glass beads, buttons, cut beads from rods, wound beads, or stringed beads. However, the possibilities of their earnings were limited because their products were only semi-finished and intended for further processing. Unsatisfied with their prospects, the people of Železný Brod searched for a way to strengthen their influence and increase profits from their work. They sought to establish an institution to educate workers in craft and business matters in order to become more competitive.

The first attempt to establish a vocational glassmaking school in Železný Brod took place in 1905 (when the kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia still belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy). The citizens of Železný Brod sent a delegation to Vienna to discuss the school's establishment. Unfortunately, the attempt was not successful "thanks" to entrepreneurs from the nearby city of Jablonec and members of the Liberec Chamber of Commerce who did not want to encourage Czech competition. Although the delegation was not successful, the ministry did allow at least several weeks of gildler courses in Železný Brod. The first of the courses took place in the autumn of 1909, but other courses were not conducted due to a lack of interest. Activity toward the establishment of the school was at a standstill in the years that followed.

Over the next few years, however, changes in the global sphere would allow for changes to occur for Železný Brod. Following the First World War (1914–1918), fundamental political and social reforms culminated in the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic (1918). The Republic, as a newly born state, sought to establish its presence and defend its newly won existence by revitalizing the traditions and fields in which the Czechs excelled in the past. One of these traditions was glass. However, the most important centers of glass production and education were concentrated in areas with a predominant German population. Furthermore, the products created in these areas were not “Czech” in terms of art and style. This situation was to be changed by the establishment of a new Czech glassmaking school. The people of Železný Brod sensed an opportunity and revived the idea of establishing a glass school in their town, the natural choice for the center of Czech glass production.

At a meeting composed of representatives of workers and entrepreneurs, a possible school was discussed at the end of October 1919 - (notably, it was proposed that both men and women should be able to attend). On December 12, 1919, a resolution was approved to establish the first Czech vocational school for the glass industry in Železný Brod.

The beginnings were difficult, as the school was missing practically everything - a building, equipment, and professional teachers. Nevertheless, the new state-run, two-year, glass business school welcomed its first students (with a slight delay) on October 6. But not everything was ready in time. The school was faced with the challenges of inadequate classrooms and insufficient equipment until the completion of a new building in 1926. Material hardship resulted in an even greater enthusiasm of the professors and students. However, the outcomes of the first few years were not particularly compelling and even led to considerations for closing the school down.

The situation dramatically changed with the arrival of the architect, Alois Metelák, an extremely hardworking and capable organiser. Metelák thought more broadly and gave the school a new impetus for its development with his approach and determination. He updated the faculty of teachers by supplementing it with his peers, many of whom were recent graduates of art colleges. These individuals were equally passionate and ready to help build the new republic. In a short time, they raised the school from an institution of local significance to a showcase of the Czechoslovak Republic. According to the annual report of 1923/24, the school's purpose was to create a self-confident institution with great ambitions, whose aim was to “ . . . educate independent, intelligent professionals in glass working, who are artistically sensitive, with refined taste, a wider perspective and who can independently design and create . . .  are able to adapt to the tastes of consumers . . . and able to trade with others' products, as well as the products of all departments of the glass industry and establish business relations within the country and abroad.” 

This declaration was extremely important for both the future direction of the school and the entirety of Železný Brod glassworks. It asked that the school not stagnate as a mere institute for teaching craft and craftsmanship, but that it became an incubator for new artistic conceptualizations of Czech glass. The young educators worked to develop a new, distinct image of glass which later became the clearly recognizable design and brand of Železnobrodské sklo. Already at that time, the ideas on which the glass school stands today were being built - a foundation of innovation and teaching staff of outstanding quality. Today, the school’s educators maintain contact with domestic and global glassmaking and react and respond to its developments in art and technology. Furthermore, they continue to be very progressive while perfecting their craft and introducing new technologies and techniques for glass refining and processing into their teaching. The desire for constant development has been present at the school throughout its existence until today.

Translation by Kimberly Muth M.Ed. 

All works by the students of The Glass School in Železný Brod SUPŠS 

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Information summary

  • Event title: Czech Glass Ornaments in New York - 100 years of teaching glass making in Železný Brod
  • Date: Wed 23. 12. 2020
  • Venue: Czech Center – New York

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