The Arts While Studying Abroad

Rückl Glass Factory

Located in the Czech Republic is a must-visit destination for all lovers of art, history, and culture.

By: Robert Bagby

This is the second installment in a series about the art Robert encounters on his semester in the Czech Republic, Germany, and England. To view the first installment, click here.

Photos by Anna Inscoe

Robert Bagby, 4th year industrial design major with a parks & rec minor is in the back row, 2nd from the left.

6:00 am on Thursday. The van arrived to pick up my classmates and me. It was a gorgeous 20-degree and foggy morning in Prague; the capital of the Czech Republic and home to the NC State European Center in Prague. We were all up bright and early to visit the Rückl glassworks. Established in 1846, Rückl glass in the Czech Republic is a renowned producer of quality crystal and glass. The factory’s history dates to the 19th century when Jan Rückl founded it. Barely surviving through multiple wars and economic crises they have remained operational thanks to Jiri Rückl buying it in 1992.

The van took us on an hour and a half drive west to Nizbor, the factory’s current location. As we arrived an older lady sporting some purple heels and a pink fur coat greeted us. She led us on a tour of the factory showcasing the process of hand-blowing and cutting, as well as providing a unique insight into the history of this craft. In addition to seeing the production process firsthand, we also explored their extensive collection of amazing glass sculptures, cups, and vases. I will admit the entire time I was worried to touch anything as I would be the one to end up knocking over a crate of beautiful glass cups. 

Each piece was first created on the page of one of Rückl’s four designers. Katerina Handlova has created multiple pieces while also working with other companies. Notable is her designs for Bomma, a lighting glasswork artist that has also offered education and experiences for NC State students. Rony Plesl is one of the most prominent Czech glass sculptures and is the lead of glass working at Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague (UMPRUM). “Rückl is for me a piece of the wonderful history of Czech cut crystal. I enjoy discovering hidden inspirations in old patterns and just regrouping them into other forms, stories, and contexts,” explains Plesl.

Lukas Novak and Kristina Venturova are both Plesl’s proteges. Novak is a modern glass artist who created the Wilde collection that combines classic Czech glass with sharp and tempting lines. Venturova is a master of evoking emotions through stimuli and spirits in glass forms. Marnie Julie is the latest designer who brought her cosmopolitan flair to the Rückl collections and carried a line for first-time presentation at Design Week in Milan in 2019.

Production began with the melting of the glass, based on exceptionally pure quartz sand mined in Bohemia (the southern region of the Czech Republic). This raw material can be added to colored glass to create uniquely unrepeatable pink or so-called cigar, a staple of Rückl. In the furnace room, it was hot as could be. The bright orange glow of the fire and the smell of sweat filled the warehouse. Craft masters blew the glass into natural shapes or by inserting it into a wood cavity mold. These guys were definitely pros as they were able to make tiny alterations with the slightest of ease. We could definitely tell we were in Czechia because they were wearing foam flip-flops and shorts. OSHA would never let that slide. The glass was cooled as the men blew it into shape and became more rigid. Once approving of the piece they would carefully swing their big blow poles with the glass across the factory floor to the other side of the room, placing it into the giant cooling ovens.

These big metal conveyor belts took it into the next section of the workshop: the rooms of the quality controllers, cutters, and painters. Skilled glass cutters were standing at their stations. Each one was hunched over a loud diamond blade saw. Using their calloused bare hands they held tightly to the glass to cut the precise sharp edges that are characteristic of Rückl pieces. There were diamonds, stars, and letters that buyers could customize. In particular, one design has an interesting snake shape that wraps around the shape of a crystal piece. On a few of the products a painter would quickly and sharply add a shimmering, metallic ring on the neck. Lastly, the iconic stork logo was stamped.

Rückl’s logo is that of a stork holding a cork in its mouth framed by a shield – an ode to the company’s early ties to medicinal manufacturers. Trademarked initially in 1891, the current logo is a 2017 redesign that allowed for a more modern look that also was also able to have maximum legibility at even the smallest sizes. A nod to the logo and the endurance of the company, between the factory and the shop, we visited a large enclosure that houses two beautiful storks. Do not worry though, they are both rescued and are safer in captivity than in the wild.

Our visit to the glassworks would not be complete without stopping into the shop. A giant showroom of glistening cups, vases, and more in bright clear or colored crystal. One prominent showcase houses the Czech Lion, the most prestigious Czech film award, which has been awarded since 1993. We ensured we looked around the staircase before heading out. The nearly non-visible walls were covered in a myriad of signed photos. The frames and frames of Czech and American celebrities, the queen, and some European politicians I did not recognize. 

The newest addition to the showcase was the picture of the glass being featured in a Netflix Original movie. Producers of Glass Onion ordered multiple pieces for the film. The shop was honored and gladly created the pieces. When the movie came out the team ended up having different feelings. As they watched, the horror came in waves as all of the pieces were smashed and shattered in an extravagant fight scene. It made me think and realize that artists still have to create works that belong to fake artists in films. These walls of pictures and notes showcased the importance, reach, and legacy that Rückl has upon the glass, design, and decorative world.