Review of Beranek & Skrdlovice Legends of Czech Glass by Robert Bevan-Jones and Jindrich Parik, edited by Mark Hill. ISBN 978-0-9552865-9-9
As a collector of post-war Czech glass with a passion for Skrdlovice designs, I was eager to get my copy of “Beranek & Skrdlovice”. I had the cocky belief that since I already knew my fair share about the glassworks and designers, the book would simply serve as an ornament -- an attractive representation of everything I already know.
I was mistaken.
Yes, the book is attractive: over 150 full-colour photographs of gorgeous glass by the talented Graham Rae, accented with pattern book drawings and photographs from symposia and of glassmasters at work by the furnaces; a visually pleasing layout which draws the reader’s attention and holds it from cover to cover.
But the book is so much more than aesthetics and visual appeal.
It is a history: A very well-written history of a glasswork’s amazing journey in socially turbulent times.
The years spent on research by both Robert Bevan-Jones and Jindrich Parik are apparent from the very first page. Though both men are known to us here on the GMB for their passion for Czech glass, they lead us on an objective journey of the glassworks and its workers, from the days of early production to the factory’s closure in 2008. Each chapter covers a specific period of design, roughly one decade of production, and offers insight into how and why designs evolved. This chronological approach not only serves to put styles and form into context, but encourages readers to rediscover and re-evaluate the glass in their own collections.
After reading the book, I now (more than ever) wish to have an ‘antique glass’ example from the 1940s. I am amazed that with such limited resources, the factory (and not least Emanuel Beranek) was able to produce items of such beauty and form from waste glass. I’ve also found more appreciation for the feminine, curvy designs of the mid-to-late 1950s and 1960s. Though they stand in sharp contrast to the heavy, ‘muscular’ forms of the early 1950s -- a period of Skrdlovice glass design I very much appreciate, unlike Ricke who called it a period of trial and error [p.33] or Ada Polak who criticized Skrdlovice for having no feeling for form [p.34] -- I can now more fully understand their importance in the evolution of design. They are symbols of innovation and mark a clear departure from the randomness in handmade production.
Skrdlovice glass design of the decades following are equally fascinating. The introduction of new colors and forms, controlled internal bubbles, textured surfaces, half-casing, and the use of templates for imprinting patterns were but a few of the techniques used in the factory’s evolving designs. Beranek & Skrdlovice Legends of Czech Glass presents the transformations and new stages of glass output with clarity and purpose.
The Afterword on page 114 very eloquently states what Beranek & Skrdlovice Legends of Czech Glass is essentially about: “Every single piece produced, in its own way, documents a part of a fascinating history of hand-shaped glass production of the highest quality…[ ] In reading this book, hopefully the collector can find where their pieces fit into the larger picture.”
When I picked up Beranek & Skrdlovice Legends of Czech Glass I expected a good book. I did not expect, however, enjoying ‘Oh wow!’ moments from beginning to end. The book holds more than a few surprises and encourages collectors to take a more critical, if not more appreciative, look at the glass on their shelves.
Kudos to Robert, Jindrich and Mark for their great work on Beranek & Skrdlovice Legends of Czech Glass.