“I never doubted that Czech glass art would succeed. After all, it belongs to the best in the world”, art dealer Eliška Stölting says with respect and admiration. She knows what she is talking about. With great enthusiasm and comprehensive expertise, she inexhaustibly promotes this new art direction in Germany and abroad. Today her glass gallery is one of the nationally and internationally renowned institutions in this field. When I had the fortune to visit the Glass Gallery Hittfeld for the first time a few years ago, I expected an aesthetic and cultural experience. I was chief editor of the journal Neue Glasrevue and wanted to research an article. I found much more than I had hoped for, however. I met an enthusiastic woman who has the ability to concentrate a very heterogeneous group of people around herself and “her glass”. She is able to create a unique atmosphere based on a common denominator: the interpersonal communication resulting from an artist’s work and his individuality”,
says Ludmila Hálkovová.
LH: I have read much about you, for example in the International Herald Tribune, but for this publication I would like to ask you: How did your work as an art dealer begin?
ES: Looking back, I think the beginning is to be found in my student years, although I would like to note that art dealer is not a profession that can be learned. Thus my education is not that of an art dealer; quite the reverse, my occupation as art dealer grew out of my education. In 1958 I began to study at the glass school in Zˇeleznê Brod in Northern Bohemia. That was the time the glass movement began and Professor Stanislav Libenskê, a great artist and excellent teacher, was director of the school. This four-year course of studies leading to a diploma not only teaches technical skills, it also conveys a feeling for the material glass. Thus we were able to realise our own designs in glass in the respective studios. After finishing school, I worked in one of the centres of glass activity – the glassworks in Novê Bor – and therefore also learned industrial glass production. In addition, I had the opportunity to visit their artist studio where outstanding artists such as René Roubícek designed their glass objects. Later I went to Prague to study art education at the faculty of education at Karl University. By chance, this branch was linked to special education that year. In addition to taking a degree in art education, I also graduated in the education of mentally ill children. I received my degree – as planned – in art, but my additional studies left their mark. Subsequently I worked in children’s psychiatry and at a special school where I held the position of director in the end. During this interesting period of work, I learned that we can also communicate without words, for example with painting, and this experience was of great advantage for my later vocation in the art gallery. A long road still lay between my teaching and the decision to open a glass gallery. As a consequence of my marriage, I moved from the former Czechoslovakia to what was then West Germany in 1974. I only opened my glass gallery in Hittfeld in 1988, however. A gallery specialising in contemporary Czech glass art was unique worldwide at that time.
LH: Your gallery lies “outside the gates of Hamburg”, not in the city. Was that the right place to introduce a new and unknown art direction?
ES: My husband, a civil engineer born in Hittfeld, renovated the beautiful old half-timbered house where my gallery is located in 1976. Tradition and a modern interior come together in this house. From the beginning I was convinced that quality could be presented anywhere. Thus here as well – or perhaps especially here. Looking back, I would say that this location certainly has its advantages. Those who come to me are art lovers who are seriously interested in this new art direction and often are prepared to travel a long way. For them, my gallery meeds not to be located in a city. And due to today’s means of communication, this location is not a hindrance for staying in touch with lovers of art, collectors, and museums around the world.
LH: Was it not risky deciding to open a gallery specialising
exclusively in contemporary Czech glass art?
ES: I did not think about it at the time. I wanted to convey what I understand, what I am convinced of, and – above all – what I love. I had known the individual artists personally for many years and, in addition, I was familiar with the whole Czech glass scene from the beginning. I regarded all of that, together with my training, as my strength. I knew that Czechs are excellent glass artists. I also knew, however, that due to the political isolation of Czechoslovakia then, they were not sufficiently well known. Thus it was my innermost wish to change this. Today people are much better informed worldwide about the high quality of Czech glass art. No doubt the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and the subsequent opening of the borders contributed to this. So many artists then had new opportunities. One of these was to be able to present their objects as individuals worldwide – and for that they needed good art dealers.
LH: Do you give young artists a chance as well, in addition to the established glass artists?
ES: Certainly, if I am convinced of their personal artistic qualities and I can see that they are developing. In the exhibition Young Czech Glass, young artists had the opportunity to introduce their works at my glass gallery as a group. Furthermore, I exhibited and promoted the objects of young glass designers from the Czech glass schools. I wanted to show those who are interested, where the roots of contemporary Czech glass lie – in addition to the
Bohemian glass tradition.
LH: Although you exhibit the leading Czech glass artists and promote them worldwide, I would like to know why you are publishing a book about Jan Fišar specifically.
ES: As I mentioned above, Czech glass art is founded not only on tradition, but also on the unique education of Czech artists. Most have gone through a ten-year training period: four years of glass school leading to a diploma and six years at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. This education forms the basis for the harmony between technique and the personal message. In contrast to this typical course of studies, Jan Fiçar took another path. As a classical sculptor who originally worked with stone, wood and bronze, he came to glass much later. It is exactly this other approach to the material glass as well as his high degree of individuality, how-ever, that makes the sculptor Jan Fišar a special glass artist who repeatedly gives contemporary Czech glass art completely new impulses. His working method is very different from that taught by the glass schools and thus he is an exception in the Czech glass scene. A casual observer cannot immediately categorise his works, which appear on first glance very diverse. He personally never strove for recognition. With this book, I want to make the viewer understand his varied work.
LH: What do you see as your gallery’s responsibility and how do you explain your success?
ES: For me the artist comes first. My responsibility lies in mediating between his works and the viewer. I must be convinced of that which I exhibit to be able to credibly represent his objects. My many years of knowing the Czech glass scene helps, my constant contact with artists, as well as the artists’ faith in me. My specialisation and the high artistic quality of the exhibited objects are the basis for my gallery’s reputation. People are an important part of this success, however: the artists who convey a message with their objects as well as the collectors and art lovers who receive them.
LH: Thank you very much for our conversation.
“I leave the hospitable house. I also leave the meanwhile “famous” barn next door, where glass lovers, collectors, experts or friends meet the artists for animated discussions after exhibition openings. Here, in a small cutting workshop, visitors get an impression of how artists work and how they use the material glass to create an art object with their hands. ” – Prague 2003