Glass Biographies. Polish Women Glass Designers 1945–2022 [5]

In Poland, the 1980s was a turbulent period of political conflict and deep, worsening economic crisis. In glass design, it was marked by stagnation.

Glass Biographies

The majority of glassworks just tried to survive. Their design studios had already been staffed so there were very few jobs available to the new generation of graduates of the Chair Glass at the PWSSP in Wrocław and anyway they envisioned their professional future in other areas. The romantic aura of pioneering adventure that inspired their older colleagues in the 1950s and 1960s was no longer there, smoldered by the mundane and harsh reality.

It was a particularly difficult period for in-house designers who in this situation had few opportunities for creative work. The majority of glassworks focused on maximizing the productivity of their automated lines. The expensive production of hand-decorated items became marginalized although they were still being made for some Western clients. Women designers working at the “Irena” and “Zawiercie” factories specializing in crystal glass: Stefania Rybus-Kijawa, Maria Słaboń, and Zofia Szmyd-Ścisłowicz, faced the same challenges.

The 1980s also brought a marked re-orientation in art glass. As it became more difficult for independent artists to get use of glassworks’ facilities and staff, realizing projects in hot glass became a challenge. These limitations inspired search for alternative opportunities and one was provided by recycling waste optical glass sourced from the spoil heaps at the glassworks in Jelenia Góra. The era of “cold glass” was ushered in and with it glass sculptures, assembled of pieces precisely cut, painstakingly polished, engraved, etched, sanded, and finally glued together. The young adepts no longer though about designing glasses, bowls, pitchers, and carafes. The “new glass” gave them relative independence and creative autonomy.

It seemed that the restructuring of the glass industry that followed the political and economic transformation after 1989 would bring positive changes. The first national utility glass competition, initiated and curated by Beata Bochińska in 1995, appeared a welcomed harbinger of change. It was organized undfer the auspices of the Industrial Design Institute and the National Museum in Warsaw in collaboration with the “Irena” Utility Glassworks in Inowrocław which was to produce the winning designs. Among the winners were Katarzyna Hałas and Małgorzata Dajewska.

She studied at the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) In Wrocław (MFA In 1974). From 1975, for her entire career, she worked for the “Irena” glassworks in Inowrocław where she headed the in-house design studio and oversaw the development of new product lines.

Her own designs gained recognition. In 1979, she was awarded the “Design of the Year” award at the International Poznań Fair for a crystal glass set and in 1991 won the Gold Medal for the Klaudia tableware set. Stefania Rybus-Kujawa’s designs illustrate the style of crystal glass popular with the Western market for which the “Irena” Glassworks catered in the 1970s: it combined classic shapes with innovative variants of traditional cut patterns, usually dense and covering the entire surface and enlivened with contrasting of smooth and mat surfaces.

In her exclusive lines of gold-coated lead glass, Rybus-Kujawa successfully evoked the glassware of the Biedermeier period.

(b. 1947)
She studied at the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) In Wrocław (MFA In 1971). For her entire career, she worked for the “Zawiecie” Crystal Glassworks in Zawiercie (1971–2011), initially as a designer and then head of the design studio (from 1995). In 1989–1994, she also taught at the Tadeusz Kantor Art School in Dąbrowa Górnicza.

She got a job at the “Zawiercie” glassworks immediately after graduation, joining the team headed by Józef Podlasek. In the early 1970s, the “Zawiecie” glassworks specialized in two types of products: hand-formed coloured soda glass and hand-decorated crystal glass. Gradually, they also installed automated lines to make pressed crystal. The success of the “antico” glass from the “Sudety” glassworks encouraged experimentation to make their own “antico”. Maria Słaboń used it for simple floral vases made unique by an addition of hemp rope threaded through the openings in the upper section of the vase’s body, eschewing the elegance of geometric forms in favour of rustic roughness, an idea rather unusual at the time.

From the mid-1970s, Maria Słaboń focused on designing crystal glass which gradually became the factory’s main specialty and product design was expected first of all to appeal to the market and customer preferences. And yet, she successfully and creatively ventured beyond the traditional “canon” of cut crystal covered with dense arrangements of small faceted patterns. Her understanding of tradition let Maria Słaboń interpret it in a modern way by cleverly showcasing the manner of cutting and letting shine select motifs sparingly arranged on the surface.

Featured at the exhibition, the Prim and Ovo series (1979 and 1980, respectively) are among Maria Słaboń’s most interesting designs. In the 1980s, the style of crystal glass changes to less profusely decorated. A new fashion appears for plant-inspired decorations, with small, often geometrical patterns scattered on the surface like precious incrustations.

(b. 1952)
She studied at the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) In Wrocław (MFA In 1979). In 1979–1984, she worked as an in-house designer at the “Zawiercie” Crystal Glassworks in Zawiercie. In 1989–2008, she taught art glass and stained glass (inter alia) at the State Secondary School of Fine Arts in Dąbrowa Górnicza. She also taught stained glass at the “Opus-Art” College in Sosnowiec (1995–1999). Presently, she specializes in stained glass design and making.

At the “Zawiercie” glassworks, she became part of the team headed by talented and experienced designer Józef Podlasek and among her colleagues was Maria Słaboń. In 1978, a state-of-the-art production line to make pressed crystal glass had been installed so there was a need to design both hand- and machine-made decorations, taking into considerations the specific requirements of the latter method. It was a challenging job for the fledging designer who had to understand the technology, envision products appealing to the market and customer preferences, and develop her signature style.

Among the tableware sets designed by Zofia Szmyd-Ścisłowicz during her relatively brief employment at the “Zawiercie” glassworks, particularly worthy of attention are those departing from traditional ornamentation. To showcase the material’s splendor and lustre, she uses bold cutting, for example deeply-incised floral rosettes beautifully accommodating curved shapes. She also plays with classic motifs and traditional cutting in a somewhat Postmodernist spirit, juxtaposing pronounced perpendicular bevels with delicate beaded bevels and areas of subtle allover criss-cross pattern. She also makes one-off sculptural objects showcasing the uniformity and beefiness of crystal glass.

(b. 1964)
An alumna of the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) in Wrocław, she majored in ceramics (class of Professor Irena Lipska-Zworska). She designs interiors, furniture, bathroom ceramics, tableware (soda and crystal glass, faience and porcelain), printed and jacquard fabrics. She collaborated with the “Włocławek” S.A. porcelain factory (bathroom ceramics), “Irena” Utility Glassworks in Inowrocław, “Deco-Glass” and “Krosno” S.A. Glassworks in Krosno, AMER-GLASS, DÉCOR S.A. (jacquard textiles). She also operates an art glass studio in Inowrocław.

Katarzyna Hałas first ventured into glass design by accident. Encouraged by Beata Bochińska, she submitted her design drawings to the Glass’95 competition. She would have never expected that her designs will be qualified by the jury to the realization stage. She recalls that at the time “she was thinking in ceramics” and did not really know glass, its specific qualities and demands. It was only when her designs were being actually made that she realized how different glass was from ceramics, first of all that it was… transparent. Her Impresja set of flower vases won the second prize. The jury was charmed by the exuberant explosion of joyful creativity scattering small engraved drawings all over the vases’ bodies to form seemingly chaotic, vibrant constellations.

After this successful debut, Katarzyna Hałas devoted several years to designing glass winning prestigious awards for her sets: Fan Fan Tulipan (1996), Salomon (1996), Cesarski (1997). She joined the “Wzornik” design bank founded by Beata Bochińska. In Poland, it was a pioneering initiative aimed at establishing an institution that would function as an agent and intermediary between the designer, the customer, and the manufacturer. “Wzornik” was active in many disciplines: not only glass but also furniture, textile, and interior design. It also offered project management and consulting services.

Katarzyna Hałas designed decorations for hand-cut and pressed crystal glass but the majority of her designs were intended for soda glass (made by DECO-GLASS, among others). Her designs testify to the growing popularity in the first decade of the 21st century of sanded decorations that were cheaper to produce.

The aforementioned Salomon set is the earliest example of this type of decoration. Featuring a thick hollowed stem that can also be filled with beverage, the glasses are adorned with vertical and horizontal stripes defined by contrasting smooth and sanded areas: their rhythmic arrangements emphasize the form’s tectonics.