Glass has both a functional and decorative purpose, and the Czech Republic’s makers have long excelled at combining the two. The country has a well-established reputation as the home of leading glass designers and manufacturers; glass and crystal items dating back to the 13th century have been found during archaeological digs, and by the 16th century there were at least 34 factories throughout the country producing Bohemian crystal.
There is an impressive variety of Czech glass available, from ornate chandeliers and costume jewellery to tableware, and every piece is associated with quality and creativity. Moser is one of the country’s most famous crystal manufacturers; the company has received numerous awards and exhibited at prominent international events. It was founded by Ludwig Moser, who established a glass engraving and polishing business in the centre of Karlovy Vary – then known as Carlsbad – in 1857.
In 1893 he opened his own glassworks, which still exists today, and Moser rapidly acquired a reputation for the quality and beauty of its products. The brand remains one of the world’s most respected glassware producers, renowned for its promotion of pure lead-free crystal, bold colour schemes, timeless artistry and undisputed quality.
Now a new wave of young designers has started to make its mark on the Czech glass industry. Although they are inspired by their homeland’s rich glassmaking heritage, they are not afraid to push boundaries and experiment with the material. Tadeáš Podracký is one such rising star. A recent graduate of the Prague Academy of Arts and Design (UMPRUM), he is set to attract international attention after showcasing his work at Milan’s prestigious Salone del Mobile exhibition this spring.
‘I like glass, not only for its aesthetic but because of the cultural and social significance of the material,’ Podracký explains. ‘The long history of glass in the Czech Republic alone was interesting and naturally evokes a lot of questions for me.’
Podracký describes himself as both an artist and a designer and, despite his relative youth, his work is already exhibiting personal trademarks. One such design signature is the way in which he stacks different glass elements on top of one another – seen to great effect in his sculptural series, Compositions. The designer’s work also reflects his interest in the social history of objects. In his Pineapples glass collection, for example, Podracký re-examines vase archetypes by studying the traditional jar shape and comparing this to the natural shape of pumpkins and pineapples – shapes reminiscent of the first vessels created by man. His final execution is always exquisite.
‘I think that function and design are two sides of one coin, it depends what kind of thing I am creating and what I want to express,’ says Podracký. ‘It’s important for me to analyse the historical and contemporary context of objects.’ The designer is not just inspired by local traditions; he also references Italian art and design and has been particularly impressed by the traditions of Venetian glassmaking. ‘Their glassmaking techniques, colours and the way they shape glass is a chapter in itself,’ he explains. ‘I adore the work of Carlo Scarpa and Napoleone Martinuzzi – especially what they did for Venini. Their work is among my favourites.’
Martin Žampach, another emerging glass designer, finds inspiration everywhere and is especially influenced by modern technology. Machinery and modern architecture impact upon his work and even the smallest detail from his surroundings can spark an idea on how to improve everyday objects. Žampach’s interest in glass started at an early age as his father was a glass designer and he regularly visited the factory where he worked. ‘The transformation from raw components to such a super smooth transparent material is magical,’ Žampach explains.
Functionality is very important to Žampach’s work. ‘I try to put together all key elements such as function, feasibility, material use, visual appearance and feel, all in one harmonic object or collection,’ he explains. Recently he has started to work with other materials alongside glass and has begun experimenting with 3D printing to create products such as vases.
Of course, 3D printing won’t replace traditional manufacturing yet, but such methods of production could be inspirational in an industry where artists have already begun to experiment with new processes. These new innovations and fresh talents mark an exciting new chapter in the Czech Republic’s rich history of glass-making.