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June 2003

Art of Glass

Walking past the somber gray exterior of the Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, at Stiglmaierplatz, few passersby would guess that this building houses one of the world’s leading studios specializing in architectural glass and mosaic. Founded by Joseph Gabriel Mayer in 1847 as the “Kunstanstalt für kirchliche Arbeiten” (Institute for Christian Artworks), a center of fine art, architecture, sculpture and painting, the company branched out into stained glass in 1862. The company soon developed a reputation for excellence and was rewarded by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1882, when he bestowed upon them the royal title “Königlich-Bayerische Hofkunstanstalt und Glasmalerei” (the equivalent of “by royal appointment”). The internationally renowned company has had a branch in New York since 1888, works with leading artists and designers and has undertaken diverse projects in every corner of the globe.

The Munich workshop, completed in 1923 by architect Theodor Fischer, boasts more than 25,000 square feet of studio and atelier space, including an immense exhibition window, on which stained glass can be viewed. Visiting the light, spacious studio is at once an energizing and overwhelming experience. The vast stock of materials, one of the most extensive in the world, is somehow just as beautiful as the art it is used to create. The selection of handmade, machine and industrially produced materials includes 3,500 different colors of glass alone. Mineralogists would have a field day examining the many types of stone—about 100 tons in all, from marble and granite to an abundance of semiprecious stones. Shelves of plain and patterned mouth-blown glass, trays of bright glass smalti (the small tiles that make up a mosaic), works in progress that line the studio walls, artists’ sketches and stained-glass windows being lovingly restored—all this creates an exciting and dynamic environment.

It is the combination of an excellent international reputation and flexibility that has allowed the Hofkunstanstalt to survive in times of economic recession, such as the years after World War I. By the outbreak of World War II, Adalbert Mayer—grandfather of the current owner—had only ten craftsmen left on the payroll (compared to around 300 in the 1890s). The company was able to recover from the war by renewing international contacts, restoring damaged buildings and expanding the mosaic department.

Most of the works produced by the Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt are designed by independent (rather than in-house) artists who supervise the work of craftsmen on the premises. This helps to explain the incredible diversity of the company’s projects. The Mayer family has international business connections and, in their studio, provides a meeting place for artists, designers and architects from all over the world. There is evidence of the company’s work throughout Munich, from the reconstructed de Bouché windows in the new city hall, The Alps mosaic at the airport, the floatglass painting at the Neue Messe, to the blue portal glazing on the Sacred Heart Church. And their work is by no means confined to Munich. “Sun Life Insurance” located in Bristol, UK, boasts a Mayer’sche mosaic floor and the glass ceiling of the Hyatt Hotel, Hamburg, hails from the Stiglmaierplatz, too, not to mention the altar wall mosaic of the World Peace Church in Hiroshima, Japan, to the mosaic floors and frieze in “Barneys” department store in New York. Some of their most recent exports include glass panes for the women’s restroom at Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts, (the most pleasing-to-the-eye restrooms you are ever likely to experience!) and a stunning series of mosaic murals in Pennsylvania Station, New York.

When looking at an overview of the projects completed in architectural glass and mosaic, you are sure to come across the name Brian Clarke. The British glass artist began collaborating with the company in 1982. He is only one of a handful of modern artists working in modern stained glass to achieve international acclaim. His awe-inspiring work includes a huge glass ceiling at the headquarters of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in New York, which features cross-sections of human cells, joints and bones, to glass panels and mosaics in a Rio de Janeiro shopping center. Passengers departing from Stansted Airport in the UK can enjoy his architectural glass designs, as can visitors to the New Synagogue in Offenbach.

The Hofkunstanstalt has been run by the Mayer family for five generations and is currently being managed by Gabriel Mayer and his son, Michael C. Mayer. Enormous enthusiasm for the work at hand, incredible attention to detail and the desire to maintain the highest possible standard of craftsmanship are the qualities that ensure that the Hofkunstanstalt will continue to be one of the leading studios in its field.

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