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Author Topic: Signed Glass  (Read 12264 times)

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Signed Glass
« on: June 10, 2006, 09:43:14 PM »

In the light of several recent topics and personal e-mails.....

Who needs a signature?

As some are aware, I have the greatest respect and affinity for Czechoslovakian glass, its designers, and the glass-masters who, for probably the most difficult forty-two years in living memory, had to operate in the most trying of conditions.

Recent postings to the board, have, IMHO, been submitted, with a collectors view.

I, personally, have felt very uncomfortable with some of those posts.
Suggestions that current Czech glass-masters should sign their work, even must sign their items....

So I pose some questions.....
A glass-master is, by the very term, some-one whose skills are un-doubted.
Is it necessary to sign, and if so, who for?

Arguably not for the glass-making community, by definition, quite small, so, a glass-master, needs only to be recognised by his peers and equals.
Lipofsky would recognise work by Herman etc....
like-wise with the very best of Czech/Slovak makers and engravers.

So the pleas for signatures are driven by whom? Can I be really contentious, and suggest, the collectors????

A signature does something , allowing (sometimes) a positive id, and thus bolstering a collectors' view of the value.

But, that rather supposes that the designer/maker, signs themself.

Now, being the anarchist that I am, I will re-call a joke, from Stoke-on-Trent, where once I worked in the potteries.

"How do you tell some-one who works in the potteries? They are the one's with food on their shirts."

Looking at, or for, labels does not make you an expert. A signature is arguably a lazy person's option, and pleas for signatures, says more about the collector, than the artist, designer, glass-master.

Is signed glass the lazy collectors option? IMHO, yes.

When some-one accuses some-one of being elitist, because they do not need to see a Biemann signature, on a glass to know it is Biemann, that may be a reflection of some-one's hard-won knowledge, and familiarity with Biemann's work. We cannot raise him from the dead to service collectors insecurity.

Nor can we demand that a current glass-master, or master glass-engraver, sign their work. That is to deny them their democratic right to choose, whether they sign, or not. In a Czech/Slovak context, having been denied their human rights for such a long time, it seems ironic that now certain people think that their new, hard-won freedoms should be subjugated to the whims of collectors.

Only familiarity with current work, by the likes of Igor Muller, will help. No collector has the right, to expect another human being should abdicate their democratic freedoms.



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Offline Frank

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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2006, 10:08:07 PM »
Wow! Marcus, I am impressed! I totally agree with you.

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Offline Anne

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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2006, 11:21:44 PM »
Absolutely agree 100% Marcus. I know how frustrating it can be not knowing who made something but you are spot on that we do not have the right to demand pieces be signed (or even labelled) by the maker, the engraver, the decorator, the seller or anyone else involved in the process.

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Offline Max

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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2006, 11:38:44 PM »
I don't think it's contentious to say that the desire for signature is collector driven.  In my case it isn't to bolster value, but just to make my life easier (I'm lazy! lol)...but then collecting is about learning, isn't it?

I agree that we have no right to demand signature.  At the end of the day, it's up to the glass artist/studio to decide about signature and up to them only.  Interestingly though, I bought an expensive painting that wasn't signed, and got the artist to sign it on the back when he brought it round.  That was to save any problems in the future.

I do think it's a shame that naive and ignorant collectors (I include myself there) can be duped by similar glass styles though.  However, that's what any collecting field is about - learning to tell the difference!

Edit:  When I say 'problems in the future' with regard to the painting...I did mean regarding be honest.
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Offline David Hier

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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2006, 12:10:01 AM »
There are various ways to approach this issue........

If you take a historical perspective, very few makers or designers used to sign their work, hence all of the speculation that takes place on this board about identifications.

When historical pieces were signed there are examples of makers marks and artists marks, and occasionally (if we're lucky).....both.

You also have an issue about the signature of a maker Vs a designer/artist (as per the recent controversial Chihuly thread). The same can be said about older glass. You may find a piece signed 'Stuarts' accompanied by an 'RD', which helps trace a piece back to the manufacturer. It does nothing for the craftsperson that created the glass.

When it comes to contemporary glass, I would find it odd if an artist didn't sign their work. This has nothing to do with the demands of collectors, but everything to do with the pride of the maker.

Since the industrialised origins of commercial decorative glass, the emphasis has been on industry and the status of manufacturers. Individual craftspeople rarely received the props they deserved.

Today’s culture is based around the 'self' and the individual reigns when it comes to design and art. We don't talk about designer watches by Fossil, but watches designed by Philippe Starck for Fossil.  We don't talk about the quality of Waterford crystal, but the latest range of designs by John Rocha.

In an age of the individual, why wouldn't a designer want to sign their work?

If we were talking about paintings, wouldn’t it be odd to find an unsigned canvas?
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2006, 07:03:20 AM »
Good morning all,

As David, rightly points out in the industrial context, very few western glass-masters have ever been acknowledged by the companies that they worked for, or even by the artists-designers themselves. The designer is the marketing focus, and with some big-name designers, sadly the quality of the designs come a poor second to the marque. This contrasts very strongly with the former Czechoslovakia, where most glass-masters during the communist period of control, were acknowledged for their contribution.

We may know the designer, if the work is documented, the factory if we have a trade catalogue, but rarely the maker.

In the post-communist period, often, the Czech and Slovak glass-masters have had to make choices. When privatisation of the glass industry took place, a number of large factories went to the wall very quickly. So those glass-makers have often started small scale enterprises, some making historical reproductions, others very challenging modern glass. Not all is signed, often with an expectation that one should be familiar with their work and style.

This really only becomes problematic, when the glass comes into the hands of unscrupulous third parties, who deface pieces with spurious signatures and pass these off as.... to people who are not as familiar with the output of factories, as perhaps they should be.

I am currently working to identify Czechoslovakian glass-masters, and the factories they worked for, and time-scales. Once I have made more progress, this information will be made available.
If anyone knows the where-abouts of any list of the fifty glass-masters, who were moved from the Hantich/Flora works to the new Uzitkoveho Sklo factory in 1967 (Crystalex Works Number 2) I'd be very grateful for the lead.



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Offline Bernard C

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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2006, 07:23:05 AM »
Marcus — I totally disagree.    You appear to be discussing one-off or very limited runs of art.   My limited experience of the art world in general is that the designer/artist's signature indicates that not only was he or she the principal artist concerned with its creation, but that he / she had carried out the final quality control examination and was happy with the outcome.

The lack of a signature indicates a second, not sufficiently defective to be scrapped, but not a piece worthy of the artist's signature.

Also your comments about collectors took my breath away.   They're one half of the deal by paying for it.    Without them there would be no art created.    What is so special about glass that demands that collectors should be authorities?   What is wrong with relatively easily verifiable signatures?    Ridiculous.

If, however, you are talking about factory glass, then the lack of a maker's mark is not not traditional.   It was plain and simple bullying by a handful of trade buyers.   This plus the factories' failure to publish detailed catalogues, turning customers into collectors, were, I believe, the major reasons for the closure of the Stourbridge factories.

Contentiously yours,

Bernard C.  8) (written before the previous reply)
Happy New Year to All Glass Makers, Historians, Dealers, and Collectors

Text and Images Copyright 200415 Bernard Cavalot

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Offline Leni

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« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2006, 07:47:06 AM »
Quote from: "David Hier"
Today’s culture is based around the 'self' and the individual reigns when it comes to design and art.

In the Western world, David!  Sadly (IMHO) not (yet) in China, for example!  

Marcus, I take Bernard's point (although perhaps not so vehemently  :wink: ) about your comments on 'collectors'.  

Yes, I'm a 'collector'.  But I don't buy to sell.  Yes, I would like to be able to identify the artist who made (or designed) the pieces of glass I collect.  However, this is NOT for the purpose of assessing their value (although I realise that when I die my children or grandchildren may have a financial motive for wanting to identify my glass  :twisted: ) but simply for my own curiosity!  

I want to know who made the glass in my collection because like to - I'm not quite sure how to put this  :oops:  -  'give respect' to the artist responsible.  In my own mind only.  Although of course I would like my family to learn and 'give respect', in this way, too!  (Sorry, I don't know how else to put this.  There should be a word.  Perhaps there is, but if so I don't know what it is  :roll: )

Isn't it interesting, though, that porcelain has traditionally been marked with not only the factory mark, but often the maker and the decorator's marks!  Why not glass, I wonder?   :?  :shock:

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Offline taylog1

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« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2006, 08:18:30 AM »
I've always thought that signatures on factory glass such as Kosta (Scandinavian glass being my favoured area) were a commercial addition; having a signature on a piece aligns it in the minds of the initial purchaser with "true" one offs such as paintings (the purchaser the factory really needs to worry about) and allows them to charge a premium.

Selfishly, one of the things that attracted me to glass collecting (I'll wear the collector badge with pride) is that they are often not signed - the thrill of buying just on style without a clear attribution takes it above the realms of stamp collecting (no disrespect intended to any philatalists  :lol: )- it also increases the likelihood of picking up unrecognised gems cheaply.

However, signatures are invaluable in extending one's knowledge of an area where there are no readily available reference books (virtually everything I know on Ernest Gordon at Afors I've gleaned from collecting signed pieces of his work and extrapolating).

So on balance my preference now is for more unsigned, but I doubt I'd have got interested initiall without the initial signatures to guide and inform me.


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Offline David Hier

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« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2006, 09:14:26 AM »
Quote from: "Bernard C"
It was plain and simple bullying by a handful of trade buyers, who believed that their clients would cut them out of the action if their purchases were identifiable.   This plus the factories' failure to publish detailed catalogues, turning customers into collectors, were, I believe, the major reasons for the closure of the Stourbridge factories.

I'm not so sure about that. I think the issue of factory closures it a little more complicated than that.

Personally I feel that the closure of Stourbridge firms had everything to do with an inability to adapt. For the most part these firms were based on hand craftsmanship and the importance of the skill of the blowers etc. There eventually came a time when the public was unwilling to pay for this quality, especially when there was an option of buying cheap imported or moulded glass. There was also a cultural shift towards ceramic ware that also needs to be considered.

I feel that the same factors came onto play in the Czech Republic, but at a later date. Unfortunately we now face a situation where some of the best glass artists in the world can no longer make a living in their own country.

Many Czech factories are going out of business because they cannot compete with China (there are even examples of Chinese glass on sale on Czech tourist shops, labelled as examples of the countries craftsmanship). Those firms that are still hanging on seem to think that they can survive by plundering the pattern book archive (much to everyone’s chagrin). It is disappointing to hear that there are plenty of designers with good ideas out there, but Czech firms are unwilling to take the risk. One or two ceramic firms are beginning to listen to new artists and designers, so perhaps the glass firms will follow their lead. Diversity and originality is the only way these firms will survive.

Thankfully Czech glass artists appear to be maintaining some kind of spearhead of originality, although most eventually end up working in exile in the US. I would be much happier to see such artists stay at home and be able to produce both sculptures and designs for commercial firms to reproduce.

Bringing the subject back to signatures, I think that you have to distinguish between factory glass and one-off, or short-run pieces. Even though most glass blowers or designers deserve credit for their creations, I cannot accept that many makers would allow pieces to be signed. Surely the factory would want the all the prestige and not really care about identifying individual makers (unless there was a commercial reason).

All 'art glass' (or glass art?) should be signed and if it’s not, then something dodgy must be going on. I understand the point about buyers wanting to buy large numbers of unsigned pieces by an artist (possibly for unscrupulous reasons.........i.e. passing them off as being antique). I would however argue that such glass is usually unoriginal, commercial and not really worthy of being collectable.

I know I am repeating myself, but as a general rule.......I would expect most factory/commercial glass to be unsigned (except by the manufacturer). Art glass or work by small-run glass artists should always be signed. If its not, then something dodgy is going on.
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