Glass and Mosaic Art Frozen Light

Mosaic gardens
Mosaic gardens | © Gustav Van Treeck

Two established traditional and highly specialised studios for glass and mosaic art in Munich undertake artwork projects all over the world. Their profound expertise and success has brought back traditional glass craftsmanship and offers this craft a very bright future.

A true institution in glass and mosaic design is the Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, headquartered in Munich’s Seidlstrasse. This Wilhelminian building designed by architect Theodor Fischer in 1847 has up to today served as the workshop and as the family’s home. Extending over five storeys and with 3,000 square metres of floor space this is where delicate and grandiose works of diverse epochs and styles are created. The House of Wittelsbach was one the company’s customers, and for this reason King Ludwig II granted it the title “Royal Bavarian Art Establishment” in 1882. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a workforce of some 500 people, today there are 40 employees – mosaic designers, glass painters and art glaziers. “We are our own laboratory and constantly develop new techniques”, says owner Petra Mayer (born 1964).

Glass heritage

Petra Mayer runs the company in the fifth generation, together with her husband, Michael Mayer. Today the company remains firmly committed to expanding its portfolio of artists. Visionary pioneers launched the New York branch “Mayer of Munich” back in 1880 and were commissioned with the installation of leaded stain glass windows in many church buildings. This is how the famous Mayer style began: “It is a rich, sculptural, textural style, based on the many glass firing stages”, graduate architect Petra Mayer comments. 

“Our global activities today focus on float or industrial glass, lead glass and mosaics – both for religious and non-religious projects, public or private. For the 32 metre long Corridor of Remembrance in Munich’s synagogue at Jakobsplatz we designed back-lit glass panels that were fused five times”. She points to a collection of mouth-blown authentic antique glass sheets: mouth-blown flat glass has inclusions and streaks, giving it texture. This is what makes it so alive”, she explains. In one of the next rooms staff are bent over a life-size portrait of people standing in the New York subway. It is a mosaic – incredibly real and rich in detail. 

Instead of religious figures the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has captured and eternalised people from every-day life. “He has opened up a new dimension in mosaic art, catapulting old traditions into the present day using simple tools”, Mayer explains.
 
  • Herz-Jesu Church, Munich © Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt
    Herz-Jesu Church, Munich
  • Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat © Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt
    Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat
  • Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, Munich © Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt
    Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, Munich
  • Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, Munich © Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt
    Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt, Munich
  • Stephan Huber “Frankfurt Steps” Photo: © Frank Günzel
    Stephan Huber “Frankfurt Steps”
  • Gold Mosaic © Gustav Van Treeck
    Gold Mosaic
  • Edition Van Treeck, Christoph Böninger Photo: © Gerhard Kellermann
    Edition Van Treeck, Christoph Böninger
  • Edition Van Treeck, Elisa Strozyk Photo: © Gerhard Kellermann
    Edition Van Treeck, Elisa Strozyk
Franz Mayer of Munich can boast a long list of references. It includes Alexander Beleschenko’s coded bible text for the Herz-Jesu Church in Munich, mosaic work for the Sultan-Quaboos Mosque in Muscat, the capital of Oman, or Karl Lagerfeld’s glass panorama for the hotel Metropole in Monte Carlo. The German artist Stephan Huber, known for his psychogeographic maps, has also been working with the Royal Bavarian Art Establishment since 1983. “For the wall mosaic Frankfurt Steps I portrayed 56 of the city’s public figures in a scale of grey tones”, he explains – an extremely impressive mosaic work that looks like a photograph.

Revealing the imperceptible

“In addition to the use of highest quality materials it is the craftsmanship that makes a mosaic so special”, says Katja Zukic, one of the two managers at the Gustav van Treeck Studios for Mosaic and Architectural Glass. She is standing in the foyer, in front of a gold mosaic artwork that measures one square metre. Gold leaf has been fused into the 3,481 glass mosaic smalti. It is priced at around 4,500 euros. 

The studios have been based in Munich’s Maxvorstadt district since 1887. Over four storeys the team of ten art glaziers, glass painters and mosaicists are dedicated to the many different flat glass processing techniques, traditional lead glazing and modern glass. Here the artists create glass sculptures or carry out restoration work on historic painted glass windows and mosaics. 

Painting is done on light tables in the north-facing, nine metre high atelier: historic windows of Art Nouveau or Art Deco design, or modern windows. “The glass paint is fired at 620 degrees”, Zukic explains. Through its interaction with light, coloured glass is able to create mystical moments. It is therefore not surprising that besides receiving orders from public enterprises, projects are also commissioned by religious building authorities from places that range from Quingdao to Dublin and Washington.

Transparent tradition

Memorial place Kaprun Memorial place Kaprun | © Gustav Van Treeck “Our work is part of architecture”, Katja Zukic adds. For a cremation urn site at Munich’s west cemetery the Gustav van Treeck Royal Bavarian Studios transferred two pixelated video images into mosaics – an extremely modern work of art. The astonishing thing is that the ancient mosaic technique serves as a perfect bridge to the digital age of pixels. 

Standing in front of a photo that has been printed on glass Zukic quotes the Bauhaus student Wilhelm Wagenfeld, who commented “Glass is the magic of frozen light” – that is brought to life through etching and sandblasting, screen printing methods or float glass painting, using a airbrush or a fusing technique. The close cooperation with the artists is always essential: “Each of them must be allowed to express his or her own style”, Zukic comments. “Every project is different, it is always a new and exciting challenge.” 

Zukic is committed to bringing the thousand-year-old art of glass and mosaic design into the 21st century: The “Edition van Treeck“ combines design, art and object to create installations, unique pieces and series. The set strategy is to open new markets, to place technique and material in a new context. Katja Zukic points to a lamp designed by Elisa Strozyk, next to it are glass tables designed by Christian Haas and Christoph Böninger. The candle holder Gerhard by Arwed Guderian won the German Design Award 2016 and – it would appear – has made it into the future.