For the Polish glass industry, the 1960s and 1970s were the decades of dynamic growth. The industry functioned in the socialist economy’s system of centralized management and planning which fostered specialization and this influenced the character of production.
And so, the “Sudety” Glassworks in Szczytna specialized in coloured glass, “Ząbkowice” in Dąbrowa Górnicza focused on pressed glass, and the glassworks in Pieńsk on light fittings and lampshades. Several glassworks specialized in the most profitable production of crystal glass: initially the leading producer was “Julia” in Szklarska Poręba followed by “Irena” in Inowrocław and “Zawiercie” in Dąbrowa Górnicza. The best coated crystal glass was produced by “Hortensja” in Płock. Occasionally, designs developed in one glassworks were made available to another to be reproduced with slightly altered decoration. The big glassworks were proud to maintain their own R&D departments and develop new metals. In particular, “Hortensja” patented new technologies of “hortopalin” and “koral” glass.
The emphasis on R&D did not always go hand in hand with appreciating the role of the in-house designer. In many glassworks, the designers complained about bureaucratic limitations and the management’s insistence on maximizing profits while minimizing risks which usually resulted in reluctance to introduce new products and design lines. It was also common that orders were placed by foreign contractors who supplied their own designs.
A recurring theme recalled by many designers is the fate of innovative designs presented at trade fairs and exhibitions: the prototypes were then proudly displayed at the studio but rarely went into serial production. Still, the fashion for the “antico” glass in the mid-1960s and the popularity of Zbigniew Horbowy’s designs („Sudety” glassworks), encouraged other glassworks to develop new original and attractive product lines. Among the designers who rose to the challenge were Barbara Urbańska-Miszczyk and Barbara Kaczmarek-Górska.
She studied glass design at the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) in Wrocław (class of Professor Stanisław Dawski). Immediately upon graduation (with honours), she was hired by the “Hortensja” Utility Glassworks in Piotrków Trybunalski where she would continue – with intervals – until 1985. In an interview, she recalled that her yearly output there was about 200 designs of which about 80 would be prototypes presented at trade fairs. Presumably, some of them would be produced in a (very) small number of pieces.
The most dynamic period of her designer activity was in the 1970s. Particularly successful were the objects realized in layered glass, like the vases from the Koral series, with motifs executed in ceramic paints sandwiched between the layers of glass. The term “koral” glass also applied to the method of decorating which optically enhanced the colour by infusing glass with air bubbles. Very – and deservedly – popular with customers, “koral” glass was made in multiple colourways, often with mélange effects: green, cobalt blue, orange, and ruby red. Although serially produced, every piece seemed – and indeed was – intriguing and unique.
From the very beginning of her career, the artist purposefully divided her time between work for the industry and her own artistic pursuits in studio glass. Presented at many individual exhibitions, her creations were praised by critics. Early on, she moved from vessel forms to free-formed glass sculptures. In time, art glass became her primary pursuit although she continued designing.
In 1978, Barbara Urbańska-Miszczyk was presented with an offer thaw was a chance of a lifetime for an artist from behind the Iron Curtain: she was invited by the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia to stage her individual exhibition. Planned for only several weeks, her stay in the United States extended to two years of intense exhibition activity in the East Coast. But her success in America almost cost the artist her job in Poland as upon her return, she was fired by the management – and re-hired only after many interventions.
She studied at the PWSSP In Wrocław (1962–1968). MFA in 1968 in ceramic architectural painting, class of Professor Zbigniew Karpiński. Upon graduation, she was hired as an in-house designer at the “Tarnów” Utility Glassworks in Tarnów (together with her husband Józef Górski) where she continued until 1986. In 1995–1996, she worked as a designer for the privately-owned “Alicja” Glassworks in Tarnów (according to the artist herself, her involvement with the firm lasted only a year).
Untypically and unlike her husband Józef Górski who majored in glass design, she had not participated in Stanisław Dawski’s glass design class at the PWSSP, but together they undertook to establish the in-house design studio at the “Tarnów” glassworks in 1968.
The majority of Barbara Kaczmarek-Górska’s designs were developed for the Western market and marketed by the state-operated “Minex” Export-Import Agency. In the 1980s, it became quite a common practice to have designs registered with the Polish Patent Bureau: it was to secure the glassworks’ interests and first of all confirm the originality of designs presented to foreign customers. Yearly, Barbara and her husband each developed dozens of designs and today attributing some of them to one or the other is problematic.
One of Barbara’s signature designs are “threaded vases” (as the artist called them) dating to 1972, distinguished by the foamy structure of glass and painterly decorations in the form of cobalt blue or carmine red ribbons floating inside. The Kanna tableware set (1973) was successfully presented at the National Exhibition of Art and Utility Glass in Katowice in 1974.
The designs of Barbara and her husband Józef Górski show a certain affinity, especially with respect to their original decorative motifs whose source of inspiration is apparent, particularly in Robert’s works. A native of Podhale, a region at the foot of the Tatra Mountains known for its vibrant folk culture and art, born at the iconic village of Murzasihle, the alumnus of the famous Secondary School of Art Techniques in the region’s capital Zakopane, he was inspired by the region’s folklore, its characteristic items (ladles) and motifs (wood carvings). Barbara was also keen on some charming folklore-inspired details, like handles that look like stretched extensions of the vessel’s body and snail-like motifs composed of tiny loops.