ith the death of Erwin Eisch Bild-Werk Frauenau has lost its founder, mentor and inexhaustible source of inspiration and encouragement. Accompanied by his family, he passed away on January 25th, 2022 at the age of 94 years.
Erwin Eisch was born on April 18, 1927, the son of Valentin Eisch, glass engraver in the crystal glass factory Isidor Gistl in Frauenau, and the woodcutter's daughter Therese Hirtreiter. He was deeply influenced by his growing up in a working class environment that was conscious of craftsmanship and art, and from which he drew his spirit of contradiction, his humour and his musicality.
After the family set up their own glass processing workshop in 1946, he was committed to building up the Valentin Eisch Glassworks together with his parents and siblings. Against the stream of perfected mass production, he gave the glassworks an unmistakable image with freely designed, blown, painted, and engraved glasses. For Erwin Eisch, craftsmanship and art could not be separated.
At the same time, he was drawn to free fine art. Together with the sculptor Gretel Stadler, his future wife, Erwin Eisch was involved in the artist groups SPUR and the Situationist International. The Bolus Grimm art scandal of the RADAMA group in 1961 was followed by art actions and installations (among many others "Narcissus - an Interior", 1971, or the Chapel on the Zell, Frauenau, 1968-1972), with which he anticipated approaches to conceptual contemporary art.
The memorable visit of Harvey and Bess Littleton to Frauenau in August 1962 and the subsequent invitation to the World Crafts Council in New York in 1964 marked the beginning of the International Studio Glass Movement. Using simple studio glass furnaces in Harvey's garage in Wisconsin, Erwin Eisch, and glassblower Karl Paternoster from Frauenau, taught the American glass pioneers how to blow glass. Then, in 1965, Erwin built his own studio glass furnace in the basement of the Eisch glassworks. Frauenau developed into a European hotspot for studio glass “hippies”, mainly from America. From 1975, the Glass Museum in Frauenau, with its international glass symposia, offered a framework for cross-border and international encounters in glass.
However, "glass art" was not Erwin's thing. Glass with its “material charms” was all too seductive for him, all too banal, empty and much too transparent. Erwin Eisch was concerned with corporeality and poetry, with graphic and painterly narration, with the creative confrontation with inner and outer worlds, with all their contradictions and ambivalences. As a "glass sculptor" he created opaque black or gilded glass sculptures and pop art. He increasingly turned glass objects and deformed portrait busts into painted and engraved image carriers.
From the late 1970s, and in addition to his continuous drawing and the prints from Harvey Littleton's vitreography workshop in North Carolina, interest in painting became increasingly important. Erwin Eisch was first and foremost a painter, this is where his understanding of the world and his philosophy are rooted. From painting comes the experience he took from a young girl's mouth: "Heaven begins on the ground." („Der Himmel fängt am Boden an“).
His painting courses, which he gave at the International Summer Academy Bild-Werk Frauenau from 1988, were simply called “Making Pictures”. Free expressive painting by Erwin Eisch and classic landscape and portrait painting by glass museum man and painter friend Thomas S. Buechner from Corning, N.Y. formed the arc of tension between “image” (Bild) and “work” (Werk), which was to stand for the entire academy. The international summer school and regional cultural institution Bild-Werk Frauenau e.V. was made possible by the Glashütte Eisch from 1987, realized by a voluntary initiative group and supported by an international glass and art community. It was initiated by Erwin Eisch based upon his experience of the free American summer schools. It is, however, unique due to the relations of glass, in all its handicraft facets, to fine arts, in both two and three dimensions, and to music and joie de vivre, and the creative imagination.
This joyful heritage will have a home and live on in Bild-Werk.