Jenna Gilley, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
The contemporary glass scene is often viewed as a man’s world. Fiery furnaces, heavy equipment, and long, grueling work sessions have convinced many that this art form, especially in its early days, was not explored by women. Women have, however, a long history in glassmaking; one which does not always involve production. Věra Lišková (1924-1985) is an example of the many ways women can work in glass. Her modern glass designs and innovations using borosilicate glass pushed the possibilities of art glass further, which resulted in her becoming one of the most successful glass designers of the mid-20th century.
Lišková was born in Vinohrady, Prague in 1924 to the family of a restorer. She studied in the painting department at the State Graphic School in Prague, from 1939-1941, until it was closed due to the Nazi occupation during World War II. Wanting to finish her studies, Lišková continued her education at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. She graduated in 1949 with a focus on glass and glyptic. Lišková began her career as a freelance designer of functional glassware, working for high-quality glass companies such as the Vienna-based J. & L. Lobmeyr and Moser. Innovation was always key to Lišková’s design, but like many other production glass artists, she felt her creativity was restrained with the need to make pieces that were simple and mass marketable.
In the late 1960s, Lišková started to make larger, unique borosilicate glass sculptures. Borosilicate glass, more commonly known as Pyrex, was used, at the time, to make scientific instruments like beakers and test tubes. Due to its ability to endure extreme temperature changes, borosilicate glass can be intensely heated and manipulated in ways normal glass can’t. Lišková pioneered the use of borosilicate glass in sculpture, which allowed for the creation of her thin, spindly, climbing forms, for which she is best known. This style set her pieces apart from the frosted, weighted cast sculptures favored by other Czech artists such as Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová (who, coincidentally, studied under the same professor as Lišková at the Prague Academy of Applied Arts). In 1964, Lišková’s work was displayed as part of the monumental exhibition Sculpture in Glass at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which was instrumental in recognizing glass as an artistic medium. MoMA’s director bought the three pieces displayed at the show’s closing for the museum’s permanent collection.
Following the tradition of Czech glass production, Lišková did not in fact make her sculptures herself. Instead, she produced drawings. A factory or laboratory craftsperson would then create the actual sculpture following Lišková’s instructions. Lišková also stated that she was not allowed to work in a factory setting—whether due to her gender or higher class (production was considered rough work) is unclear.
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art recently acquired one of Lišková’s charming borosilicate sculptures. This sculpture features both blown and flameworked glass skillfully combined in the form of a lion. The lion’s mane is created through a series of pulled points—one of the artist’s signatures. Pulling points is one of the first things a glass artist learns when working over a flame. To create this sculpture, small portions of glass tubing were heated over a hot torch flame then stretched to create the tapered drooping shape of fur. The layered variations in shape help imbue the sculpture with an alive, energetic quality.
It seems animals were a favorite subject for Lišková, as she created everything from owls to hedgehogs in glass. All combine a sweet cuteness (partly because of their miniature size) with the crisp modernism of clear, spiky glass. Music was another major inspiration for the designer. Her climbing abstract sculptures are meant to mimic notes of music, rising and falling as they would in a melody. Of all the “older generation” Czech designers, Lišková is the only one who designed pieces for the modern age.
We are so pleased to welcome this delightful little sculpture to our permanent collection, as we seek to explore contemporary glass’ diverse history and makers.