Glass Biographies. Polish Women Glass Designers 1945–2022 [2]

The establishing of glass design as the principal specialty of the State College of Fine Arts in Wrocław (PWSSP, today the Academy of Art and Design) in 1946 proved a turning point in the discipline’s development in Poland.

Glass Biographies

As its first rector Eugeniusz Geppert recalled: “the focus of the curriculum was envisioned as artistic-cum-applied, based on painting and sculpture, but […] it is ceramics, glass, and interior design that were chosen as the school’s primary specialties.”

In the academic year 1950/1951, Henryk Albin Tomaszewski, at the time working at the glassworks in Szklarska Poręba, taught the glass design course alongside Halina Jastrzębowska and the following year Stanisław Ptaszyński took over from him. But none of them ventured to develop a comprehensive curriculum that could have been realized using the school’s modest facilities. At the time, it only offered basic equipment to work with cold glass and one could only dream about installing a furnace and a glass bath.

In this situation, the school’s designated specialty might not have developed if not for the decision of Professor Stanisław Dawski, appointed Rector in 1952, to personally oversee the Glass Design Studio himself. Dawski insisted that it is the teacher’s duty to provide the adept with a solid and versatile foundation and inspire their own imagination. Under his guidance, the curriculum emphasized the design aspect – from preliminary sketches to detailed drawings elaborating the object’s form and decoration – to foster the disciplined approach fundamental to mature creativity.

In the late 1950s – early 1960s, in-house design studios employing artists were being established in many glassworks following the ministerial guidelines. These studios were expected to develop new product lines (shapes and decorations) and also serve as showrooms to present new designs to prospective customers. The first group of artists employed as in-hose designers consisted primarily of graduates of the PWSSP in Wrocław, among them the school’s alumnae: Eryka Trzewik-Drost, Regina Włodarczyk-Puchała, Stanisława Paczos, and Barbara Miszczyk-Urbańska.

She had trained to become a garment maker before enrolling at the PWSSP in Wrocław (1952–1958; MFA in 1958, class of Stanisław Dawski). Her whole professional career was spent as an in-house designer at the “Julia” Crystal Glassworks in Szklarska Poręba (1958–2005). In 1997–1999, she also designed glassware lines for the firm of T. Wrześniak.

Regina Włodarczyk-Puchała realized her diploma at the “Julia” Crystal Glassworks in Szklarska Poręba and upon graduation was offered a job there. Soon she was joined by her husband Aleksander Puchała, also an alumnus of the PWSSP (MFA in Interior Design). Like the Drosts, the husband-and-wife team developed a modus operandi that allowed them to realize their artistic vision and ambitions (while showcasing the supreme skill of local glassmakers and the glassworks’ production capabilities) while responding to market preferences and demands.

The oeuvre of Regina Włodarczyk-Puchała is enormous, numbering several thousand designs: one has to remember that tableware sets comprised multiple items, each and every one of them requiring the designer to develop its form and decoration. Among her early designs meant for serial production, of special interest are slender, spindle-shaped flower vases with blunt-edged lips and modern engraved decorations.

The 1970s and 1980s were the period of intense design activity tuned to market demands and preference for profuse decoration. In this situation, the designer purposefully elaborates new decorative formulas by re-interpreting traditional engraved motifs to look fresh and original in new configurations.

Simultaneously, Regina Włodarczyk-Puchała pursued studio glass and successfully exhibited one-off pieces, like the series of flower vases honoured with prestigious awards: Gracja (1977), Forum (1978), and Opty (1978).

She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków: MFA in 1955 (majored in printmaking and graphic design). From 1956 to the early 1980s, she worked as an in-house designer for the “Zawiercie” Utility Glassworks in Zawiercie. Although her entire professional life was spent there, very little is known about her design oeuvre and biography. Rare evidence of her design activity may be found in the catalogues of several national exhibitions. One of the first exhibitions in which she participated was the Polish Art Glass exhibition staged at the National Museum in Kraków in 1963: after the exhibition had ended, the artist’s featured works became part of the museum’s collection.

And yet the pieces which can be identified as designed by Janina Węcewicz-Macek showcase her talent in interpreting the style characteristic of the early 1960s. The objects’ shapes are restrained and disciplined but always with a “twist” making the seemingly ordinary items special. With their conical bodies, slender necks and prominent handles, her amethyst glass vases recall ancient olpe wine pitchers. The smoke glass tableware set features subtly rounded edges corresponding to the preference for the modern approach that favoured biomorphic shapes and harmonious proportions of undecorated forms showcasing the colour and clarity of glass.

She studied at the PWSSP in Wrocław (1954–1960): MFA in 1960 (class of Professor Stanisław Dawski). In 1962–1967, she worked as an in-house designer for the Hortensja Glassworks in Piotrków Trybunalski and them from 1968 to 1983 for the “Violetta” Crystal Glassworks in Stronie Śląskie.

Her design oeuvre is little known and her career somewhat obscure. Individual works can be found in museum collections, the most representative selection at the Schoen Palace Museum in Sosnowiec. She designed both the forms and decorations for crystal glass wares. In 1966, when she was still working for the “Hortensja” Glassworks in Piotrków Trybunalski, she won an award for her designs of painted and cut decorations, In 1977, she won the third prize in the utilitarian glass category and in 1978, her design line was honoured as the “Design of the Year.”

Of particular interest are the designs departing from traditional brilliant-cut patterns in favour of rhythmic arrangements of deep incisions. The cylindrical and spindle-shaped flower vases featured at the exhibition showcase the designer’s skill in using cut decorations to emphasize the shape’s tectonics: the deep vertical fluting adds dynamism and monumentality.

She studied at the Chair of Glass at the PWSSP in Wrocław (1951–1957), her MFA diploma project was realized in the class of Professor Stanisław Dawski. Immediately after graduation, she was hired as the in-house designer at the “Bogucice” porcelain factory in Katowice-Bogucice where she continued until 1964. Among her designs produced by the factory particularly worthy of mention are the Epos dinner service, Luna coffee service, and Her First Ball figurine.

In 1965, she started working for the “Ząbkowice” Utility Glassworks located in the Ząbkowice district of Dąbrowa Górnicza. She joined her husband Jan Sylwester Drost who had headed the factory’s in-house design studio from 1960. Devoting the next several decades of their professional activity to the Ząbkowice” glassworks, they formed one of the most prominent and dynamic teams in Polish glass design.

Eryka Trzewik-Drost became renowned for innovative and functional designs realized in pressed glass. She started with simple but cleverly shaped small flower vases. Worthy of note among her designs from this early period is the compact and stackable Conti tableware set.

In the 1970s, the “Ząbkowice” glassworks introduced multi-element product lines comprising serving plates, plates, bowls, glasses, tumblers, goblets, cups, containers, etc., for which Eryka developed innovative relief decorations covering the object’s entire surface. Evocatively called Sahara, Igloo, Amonit, and Cora, these structural motifs become her trademark.

Designing small glass sculptures was Eryka’s autonomous interest, unique among Polish glass designers. Her first figural forms combined aesthetic appeal with functionality, like the Mexican Girl candlestick or Birdie ashtray, while later designs are purely decorative.