As the new millennium has arrived, the Polish glass industry’s prospects initially seemed bright, with many promising initiatives and newly-established factories keen on collaborating with designers to create signature collections and develop product lines. But instead, the energy crisis and growing competition from the cheap glassware imported from Asia contributed to the gradual decline of the Polish glass industry.
In 2004, the “Hortensja” Utility Glasswork in Piotrków Trybunalski ceased to operate and recently, despite ownership changes, the same fate befell the “Irena” glassworks in Inowrocław. In 2014, the “Sudety” glassworks in Szczytna Śląska not only closed down but was demolished and two years later, in 2016, the “Zawiercie” glassworks went bankrupt. Other famous factories are also gone: “Zabkowice” in Dabrowa Górnicza (2006), the glassworks in Tarnów (2012) and Tarnowiec (2012), “Barbara” in Polanica-Zdrój (2018), and “Violetta” in Stronie Śląskie (2018, demolished).
And so, the Polish glass industry has lied in ruins, literally and figuratively. Some small privately-owned factories have survived. The giant glassworks in Krosno has changed hands several times… In Piechowice, the “Julia” glassworks has had more luck although it is but a fragment of the large company that once comprised several factories. The present owners have been able to explore its heritage and inspire new interesting projects, like Polish Table (2015) in collaboration with two Lower Silesian ceramic works: “Manufaktura” in Bolesławiec and “Krzysztof” in Wałbrzych.
Today, young designers generally do not aspire to in-house jobs. They value their freedom although it comes at a price and requires vary hard works and determination. From 2007, the Łódź Design Festival has become the leading forum for innovation and exchange of ideas and its Must Have plebiscite or Make Me! competition have become prestigious. Its laureates – Agnieszka Bar and Aleksandra Kujawska – are featured in the exhibition’s final section.
She studied at the State College of Fine Arts (PWSSP) in Wrocław (MFA in 1982, class of Professor Zbigniew Horbowy). From 1984, she has sat on the school’s faculty (today the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design). She became Gull Professor in 2001. Her primary interest is art glass. She was one of the artists who in the 1980s began working in optical glass using “cold glass” techniques. She designed for the “Wzornik” design bank and “Puck Glass” factory in Puck. Presently, as an independent artist she realizes her projects at privately-owned glassworks in the Sudety Mountains.
In the early 1980s, it may have seem that of the class of 1982, Małgorzata Dajewska was the one most likely to become glass designer. First of all, it was her family tradition: her father, chemist Józef Śliwiński, was deputy director at the Utility and Technical Glassworks in Krosno. Already as a child, she knew glassmakers and was familiar with glass manufacturing. She has recalled her first visit to a glassworks as a self-revelatory discovery of what she would like to do in and with her life. As a student at the PWSSP, she had internships at the glassworks in Szklarska Poręba and Szczytna and the “Staszic” glassworks in Dąbrowa Górnicza. At the latter factory she realized her diploma project and was also a recipient of a two-year scholarship funded by the company. The set she designed as her diploma project, intended as an official gift for the Embassy of Japan, skillfully combined simple shapes with restrained decoration and referred to forms characteristic of Far Eastern ceramics.
Yet, after graduation, Dajewska joined the faculty of the PWSSP and devoted herself to “cold glass”, becoming a pioneer of this approach in Poland. In 1995, she took part in the Glass’95 competition and of some one hundred fifty entries, it was her Aquarius set that won the first prize. But, despite of lots of enthusiastic publicity, the competition’s winning designs never made it beyond the prototype stage and did not go into production.
Inspired by this success, Dajewska got briefly involved in designing for the “Wzornik” design bank founded by Beata Bochińska. An impulse for her artistic re-orientation was provided by the rise of the collecting movement and re-discovery of the “antico” glass and Zbigniew Horbowy’s designs. The admirers of Polish glass design have noticed the contemporary bottles created by Małgorzata Dajewska and recognized her a continuator of this splendid tradition.
She studied at the Academy of Art and Design (former PWSSP) in Wrocław (MFA in 2004, classes of Professor Małgorzata Dajewska and Zbigniew Horbowy). In 2003–2004, she also studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan. In 2006, she joined the Academy’s faculty (doctorate in 2016). In 2004–2006, she worked as an in-house designer for the “Krosno” SA Glassworks in Krosno. In 2006–2009, as a freelancer she collaborated with the “Violetta” Crystal Glassworks in Stronie Śląskie and the “Makora” Decorative Glassworks in Krosno.
Agnieszka Leśniak-Banasiak was one of the few fresh graduates who got an in-house design job. At the „Krosno” glassworks, where she stayed for two years, she worked on specific client’s orders, like the Edo set of decorative flower vases and the Teo set in which she explored optical effects in coloured glass. She demonstrated a proclivity for simple, minimalist shapes imbued with a decorative appeal by introducing colour gradations.
Her designs for the “Violetta” Crystal Glassworks are very different. She developed coherent collections of sets of wares showcasing variant asymmetrical applications of cut patterns, the approach informing the Adagio vases (featured at the exhibition), the Como, Allegro, Ethnic, Alto, and Edo sets or the Platinum bowl. The most striking are the designs executed in layered glass – black over clear – with the dramatic contrast of colour and transparent vs opaque glass showcased by strategically employed deep-cut patterns.
Her crystal glass designs testify to the medium’s potential for being used in decidedly modern ways, in marked contrast to old-fashioned shapes and decorations. In recognition of her unique and inventive approach, the designer won the first prize at the PRODECO 2007 competition for her Ethnic vases. After ending her collaboration with the “Violetta” glassworks, she has been pursuing studio glass.
She studied at the Academy of Art and Design (former PWSSP) in Wrocław, Department of Glass and Ceramics (MFA in 2007, class of Professor Kazimierz Pawlak). While enrolled at the Academy, she got scholarships to study at the University of Technology in Liberec (2004) and the Academy of Fine and Applied Arts in Bratislava (2006). She also had internships at the “Krosno” Glassworks in Krosno and “Tarnowiec” glassworks in Tarnów. Her diploma project was selected for the Best Diplomas 2006/2007 exhibition. Together with Agnieszka Kajper and Karina Marusińska, she was the co-founder of the design group Grupa Wzorowo (2009–2012). Presently, she does freelancing and works as an independent artist.
As a debuting designer, she was fascinated with thin and delicate laboratory glassware. Her diploma project was a set of glasses called Na palec (“For the finger”): it consisted glasses and tumblers featuring a single gentle dimple designed to accommodate the eponymous finger and also to enliven the otherwise plain form: a feature simultaneously decorative and functional. Quarterly magazine 2+3D hailed it as one of the best diploma projects of the year 2006/2007.
The designer has won many prestigious awards and honours. In 2009, her Group Vase, a puzzle of cylindrical “test-tube” vases bound together with a mundane rubber band, was awarded in the Make Me! competition. Another ward-winning works were two-tier “pleated” crystal glass flower vases (Plisowanki). She is interested in integrating modernity and artisanal tradition, today somewhat forgotten or underappreciated, and its respect for the material.
Some of her designs allow for the user’s intervention, like the Kluka bowl (Grupa Wzorowo, 2010) which can be “adjusted” and “decorated” as desired by filling it with a chosen material. In the Flow tableware set, the designer engages in dialogue with folk tradition, the connection expressed in the textural treatment of glass that reproduces a wicker basket. Agnieszka Bar designs for those who are not so much interested in original shapes but rather appreciate objects of functional and haptic appeal which simultaneously inspire associations and play of meanings while subverting traditional canons and notions.
After graduating from the State Secondary School of Fine Arts in Jelenia Góra (where she first ventured into glassmaking mentored by Władysław Czyszczoń), she got a degree in journalism from the University of Warsaw (1999) and then an MFA (with a major in glass) from the Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław (2012, class of Professor Kazimierz Pawlak).
As an independent artist, she pursues both glass design and studio glass, glass sculpture, and performative actions. Like Agnieszka Bar, Aleksandra Kujawska’s first design success was her diploma project: a set for serving vodka for the Finlandia brand.
As an independent designer, she focuses on limited serial production and enjoys creative freedom in choosing techniques and topics. But it comes at a price of constantly looking for funding to finance her projects and to secure the use of facilities and the assistance of a qualified team of glassmakers.
But so far, her efforts have been successful and won her prestigious awards, like the Dobry Wzór (“good design”) award in the artisanal category awarded by the Institute of Industrial Design for Kieliszki księżycowe (“moon glasses”). The previous year, the same set had been selected as one of the best Polish designs in the Must Have plebiscite at the Łódź Design Festival. At the festival’s 2021 edition, her Zabawki/Toys set of decorative forms was awarded and in 2023, the Komety set for serving beverages.