Meet the Artist: Jiří Harcuba & April Surgent

Corning Museum of Glass, June 24, 2010

Tina Oldknow: Thank you all very much for coming out tonight.  I think many of you will remember the snowstorm that you braved to hear Dante Marioni speak last February. Tonight is a thunderstorm that heralds the “Meet The Artist” lecture, which will be presented by a team of two artists: Jiří Harcuba from the Czech Republic and April Surgent from Seattle.

Jiří and April have taught and lectured together several times, and it is truly a special treat to hear the voices of two very different generations and backgrounds speak with passion about cutting and engraving glass.
Jiří is the current subject of the Museum’s Masters of Studio Glass exhibition series, which focuses on the work and careers of influential artists. You can see his portraits and learn about his ideas on the West Bridge, next to the exhibition of another influential artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany.

An artist and educator who is widely respected, Jiří’s specialty is portraiture in engraved glass. Whether the subjects of his portraits are friends, renowned artists, or historical personalities, he treats them all in a similar fashion, using spare sculptural cuts and subtle optical effects to create their individual profiles.

Jiří works in an abstract style that is inspired by the pureness and simplicity of prehistoric art. “By engraving,” Jiří says, “we leave traces of ourselves. . . I show the relationship between prehistoric carving and contemporary art. . . linking the past and the future.” Jiří sees himself as an innovator and as a guardian of tradition, which is a perfect description of his approach to his art. Without Jiří’s quiet but powerful influence, the art of engraving in contemporary studio glass would be close to extinction.  He is that important. 

Jiří has exhibited internationally for over 50 years, and he has received numerous prestigious awards. In 1988, he was honored by the American Numismatic Society for lifetime achievement in the art of medals, and in 1995, he received our own museum’s Rakow Commission. In 2006, Jiří was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by Urban Glass in New York, and, in 2007, the Glass Art Society also awarded him for his lifetime achievement in glass.

The other half of our duo tonight is April Surgent, a young artist who has quickly achieved international fame for her cut and engraved fused glass panels. April’s images, often of urban scenes but also of landscapes, are derived from her photographs, which she says, “are a record of our time as I perceive it. . . The transformation of a photograph into a relief engraving on glass makes a passing moment permanent.”  April has brought a fresh young perspective and energy to a technique with far-reaching roots that go back to ancient Roman cameo glass.

A graduate of the glass program of the Australian National University in Canberra, April returned to her hometown of Seattle in 2004 to establish her studio.  Her work is much sought after by collectors, and, in 2010, Urban Glass recognized her achievements with its New Talent Award. April’s first solo museum show opens later this year at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle.

Finally, our program this evening will include a few songs by an artist who is the Czech Republic’s top female vocalist, and this is Lenka Dusilová. This is a wonderful honor for us, and I thank Lenka and her friend Martin Janecky for her performance tonight. Lenka is an award-winning singer and songwriter whose records—that’s right, more than one—have achieved gold status.

It really is a special event to have such accomplished artists with us tonight, so please welcome Jiří, April, and Lenka.

Songs performed by Lenka Dusilová.

April Surgent: I wish I could always follow a music act, it kind of relaxed me a little bit. First of all, I want to say, it’s really an honor to be here and a really big pleasure too. I’ve never been to Corning before and I—yesterday and today—have had a chance to look through the museum a little bit, and look at the library, and it’s just been a really amazing experience, and of course it is an honor to be here with Jiří. Again, we’re doing a collaboration.

When I was thinking about how to put this lecture together, Corning asked me to speak about my work and a little bit about Jiří’s and my relationship, and how is it that I ended up to be here tonight speaking with you. So, I am going to talk a little bit about how it is that I ended up here, and a little bit about my work, and how Jiří has been so important to my art-making practice.

My story starts in Seattle. I was born in Missoula, Montana, but I grew up in Seattle, and for those of you who know Seattle, it’s a huge glassmaking center; there’s a lot of glass there. I saw some people blowing glass when I was 14 years old and I was immediately infatuated, and I begged my parents if I could have some glassblowing classes and they were fortunate enough to support me with that. So, subsequently, during high school, I studied glassblowing, and then at time for graduation I decided that instead of continuing to be a glassblower in Seattle, I wanted to study art. I also love to travel, so I decided to go to the Canberra School of Art, in Australia. That was really the first kind of awakening that I had in glass. I had been blowing glass for a few years up to that point, but I didn’t know anything else about any other way of working with glass. While I was at the ANU, I was still interested in blowing glass, but I had all this introduction to other ways of working, and this is my first cameo-engraved piece. It’s a layer of white with some green and red underneath it, but this was my very first experimentation. I had cut through the layer of glass and I kind of found this world under there that I was really excited about.

So, there came this point where I stopped, kind of almost stopped working with glass, and I was spending more time in the print shop, more time drawing, and more time painting than I was making any sort of glass. It was at this time that it was my third year of studies, it was in 2003.  And I am giving you all this background so you kind of know where I am going here, but in 2003 I ended up doing a competition, and the prize for the competition was a full tuition scholarship to Pilchuck Glass School.  And I ended up winning that scholarship, and it just so happened that year Jiří was instructing a course, and my lecturer Jane Bruce had encouraged me to take his course and I was accepted. From that point I entered his class, from a blowing perspective. As you saw, my very first engraving that I did, I really had no idea what I was going to encounter when I entered his course. Jiří was there. Pilchuck is only a 2 1/2-week course, and he was there, and he said, “Just do it, just go ahead and try. You can do whatever you want to; there’s no limit to what you can do.” And it was really his words of advice and encouragement that let me go back to Canberra at University and start to make some figurative engraving work. 

This is the first piece that I made after I took Jiří’s course, and it was also the first figurative piece that I did. This piece really captures everything I had wanted to capture in glass at that point, and it was the very first time that I was able to clearly connect my ideas to the objects that I was making. It really was a turning point for me. I didn’t, I didn’t have great skills at cold working, you know, I had just taken that very quick course, but I was experimenting, I was fusing glass and carving through the layers and I was able to just record the subjects and the basic elements that I needed to record. The simple stories that I was trying to tell. There weren’t very many, there were very many great teachers in Canberra, but there was nobody who specifically taught glass engraving, so I was kind of put in this back room where the engraving lathe was and I was off to do it myself.  And I came across a lot of technical difficulties and questions that I had about engraving, and that’s when I turned back to Jiří. I started to think, “How can I learn more about engraving,” so I started writing him letters and I would ask him everything about equipment, glass engraving schools in the Czech Republic, and anything engraving. I just wanted to find some information. And to my surprise, Jiří wrote me back and he kept replying, but he never—I guess maybe once or twice he mentioned engraving—he really never, you know, focused on the engraving, and I soon stopped asking about engraving but he. . .  We would talk about things like life and death, and art and travel, and I think it seemed like I got more letters than I did cause it took me so long to read his handwriting. I don’t know [laughter], it was, I had to sit there and have people try and help me decipher it, but I think I’m pretty good at it now.

So, over the last seven years Jiří and I have, he’s become my mentor and my great friend and I go to him for all sorts of questions of advice, and over the last seven years we have had many projects together. We had a show together at Bullseye [Gallery] in Portland last year. Of course, as you can imagine, it was an incredible experience for me.  So, I did not know at the time, but winning that scholarship and taking that course with Jiří that summer really changed my life. I kind of walked down this road and I haven’t looked back since. And though our work is very different, our correspondences and his words of encouragement have really been inspirational and influential to me.
 
So now, I’ll start talking a little bit about my work.  I view, as Tina said, I view my work as a visual record of our times, and I look at things from my daily surroundings, from my routines, to my travels—as I said, I like to travel—and I am always looking for the things that are really basic and the things that make life what it is, nothing extraordinary, just the simple things that we see every day. I like to look for the kind of seemingly insignificant moments that just kind of make us stop and look and think about what’s happening, and how we live our lives, how we interact with each other, and what people are doing. I live in the city, and I feel like sometimes I am running around with my blinders on and I can’t really focus on what’s actually happening around us.  So, I like to think of my work as a stopping moment where I kind of digest what’s going on.

I use my camera as kind of a sketchbook, I guess, and I use the photograph as my way of just quickly recording the moments around me. I look at it as a way of drawing. I do draw a lot, and I like doing prints and things, but I also like the photographed image as opposed to the drawings because of how quickly it can capture the subject. 
With the glass, I find it intriguing because of how quickly it enables me to record those moments, and those moments that I’m looking for in my work might be moments that would have otherwise been lost, that you can really only catch with a photo. Because I’m trying to capture moments that are the essence of our surroundings, that immediacy is really important for me.  So the photograph is really essential for my work, and it works as a really good base for the composition for my work, but it doesn’t always tell the full story. I like to look at my work as experiential and the photograph is a great base for me, but when I am doing the engraving I do a lot of abstraction, and I’ll take a photograph and I’ll paint over it, or I’ll draw over it. As I am engraving it’s a very slow process, so I am able to really think about the moment that I am recording, and relay my feelings and interpretations of the story into the glass.

So, I view myself really as a storyteller, and I use my engravings to define my experiences and share them with others. With my work I try to also accentuate that I capture things only as I perceive them to be. I understand that individuals—we all come together and we all come together with our own perspectives and our own perceptions, and I think it’s really important to understand that, especially with my work, it’s all just an image. So, you’re all coming here together listening to a lecture, but you’ll all leave with a different understanding and perspective of what happened. I like with my work that people can look at it and they are reading a story just through images, and they’ll all relate their own histories to the image. So when people look at my work, I like how, I really like how I get the different reactions, and it’s just like a series of images. I think it’s really neat how people can look at a series of images and get different stories, and how vivid imagery can be on us. I have a series of photos that kind of tell a story without words, and how powerful imagery can be.

So, the purpose for me is to make these engravings and have just a better understanding of my surroundings and daily life through our interaction with different people and places. People often ask me, you know, why do I bother using glass versus the photographs that I take, or why do I bother using glass versus the prints or the drawings that I make, and there’s a few different reasons for that. Aside from being passionate about engraving, and a little mildly obsessed about it, I don’t think that any other material really captures the moments that I am trying to capture, the way that I want them to, like glass does.

That transformation of the photograph into a relief engraving; I am really able to spend the time and put my emotion into it.  And I notice when I am having a bad day, you can tell in the work, and when I am having a happy day, you can tell in the engraving. When I am really thinking about what’s happening it’s, it’s in the engraving. I feel really close to each piece that I make, just because I think of that time. Any engraver, any artist, who spends a lot of time on a piece will feel a certain connection to that work. And of course, glass has a quality of light that you don’t really get with any other material. For me, I did a series of experiments where I took some of my engravings and I printed off of them. The prints were amazing, I loved the prints, but they didn’t have that same quality of light that you get with glass. So, I think over all of the reasons, I engrave on glass specifically for the quality of light that you can get versus any other material.

I want to go over just briefly my technique, because a lot of people end up asking me, how do you end up doing it, so I thought I would also include that. I start off with the photograph, as I said, but then I have to make panels, so I cut and fuse glass. I typically layer three colors of glass. People always think my work is black and white and there’s actually a lot of color in there, but I guess I’m the only person who knows that because I hide it a little bit, but it’s there.
 
So I start off, I work from photographs or drawings and I—this is after the panels have been fused—and then I mark on the panels with a red wax pencil and that just stays on the glass. I mark out the composition accordingly to the photograph. I always have a photograph, or whatever I am working off of, right by me as a reference. And then I use, first I start off with a cutting lathe, and this is my Spatzier that I use. I use this machine, it has really big wheels, and I use a lot of, I remove a lot of material with this. I’m working with Bullseye glass, which is really hard glass, and if I were to go straight to the engraving lathe it would take a really long time, so because of the material, I am using this big lathe.

And then, here’s the piece. I’ve removed some of the material; you can see I’ve re-marked it and I have established the light grounds, the foreground and the background of the piece. And then, here—I stand when I work on the glass. I bring the glass up to the wheel and move the glass around, like you would a drawing, but bringing the paper to the pencil. After I’ve roughly cut the composition out, I go to my engraving lathe and you can see the photograph in the background that I use as a reference. Here is where I do all my detail work and I spend most of my time sitting here in my studio, and sometimes I listen to music and things, but I really love working this way. I love figuring things out. Every piece is kind of a mystery, and figuring out how I am going to do it and where it’s going to lead me. Because I have to lift the panels up to the engraving lathe, my work has typically been pretty small. These panels—this is a four-panel piece and the two panels there in the middle are about the largest I can do without being too cumbersome.  I’m lifting the panels up and thinking even though they don’t weigh that much for just a moment, they can be really heavy for a long period of time.

In 2007, Jiří and I had a residency at the Bullseye Glass factory, and we were there just to kind of experiment with carving on their glass. And Jiří kind of made me, from this point, look at my work a little bit differently.  He had the folks at Bullseye fuse this really big piece of glass, and he started working on it with this hand tool. And he—there’s a few things that are really spectacular about this—he had never used a hand tool before. And he was open to trying that, and I thought, jeez, you know, here’s someone who has been engraving for, I don’t know, how many years?  [Jiří: Well, 70.] Somebody’s who been engraving glass for a very long time is open to experimenting so freely and so openly, and I thought it was, I thought it was really neat how open he was and how it was no big deal to push his boundaries.  And it got me thinking about how I should, how I could think myself.  I have a quote from him: “To have a Zen mind means always to be the beginner. Always open to accept new ideas. To be amazed by new discoveries. To be a lifetime student.” Jiří has a lot of quotes like this, but he really teaches by his actions which I think is a lot, a lot more powerful.  The words are powerful, too, but to lead by example is pretty neat.

So, his guidance; whether he knows it or not, over the last two years I have been thinking of pushing myself, and I’m currently in the middle of working on a huge project for the Bellevue Arts Museum. It’s going to be my first installation project and also my first large-scale project. This piece is very much in the process, this is right as I was leaving out the door that I took this photo. And it’s just rough-cut into the glass, so you can’t really tell what’s happening, but there’s 105 12-inch by 6-inch panels. It’s 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall and 55 square feet. I’ve never—the biggest piece I’ve done is 3 feet by 3 feet, so it’s kind of a push for me. In my studio we kind of, we laid this aluminum shelving so I can put the panels onto the wall and step back. It’s really important.  When you are engraving, your face is very close to the wheel, so I made this shelf so I can put the glass up and step back and see what I am doing, like a traditional muralist painter would do. And I am marking the composition out with a projector. Usually I work differently, but working on such a large scale, making sure proportions are right, I am trying the projector out and hopefully it works. I’m not sure yet, but it’s a big project that I’ll have some digital video with, and some audio, and I’m really excited and I don’t think that I could have been inspired to do something like this without the help of a great teacher.
 
This spring I had the opportunity to visit Jiří in the Czech Republic and I not only got to see where he works, but I also got to see a lot of the regions where the traditional glassmaking happens. I’d never been there before, so it was really an eye-opening experience. I got to see so much glass and where all of this heritage is coming from.  And I saw a lot of examples of really beautiful glass that I could have stared at for hours and hours and hours. Just amazing examples of engraved glass, and glass in general. But, I always turn back to Jiří’s work for inspiration in engraved glass for its expression, and for its individuality. Going to the Czech Republic, and seeing all these traditional examples of engraved glass, really made me aware of how far he is pushing the boundaries of contemporary glass, and how he’s really making glass his own. And it’s really significant for me to look at his work as, I guess, as inspiration to push my own boundaries.

I end with a quote from him: “Every genuine creation is poetry. We don’t create what we see, rather what we know, and what we think and feel.” Thank you. [applause]

Jiří Harcuba: My first example is a famous, heavy beaker, the best maybe engraving ever done because of this combination of cameo and intaglio engraving, and this abstraction of the lions that is absolutely contemporary. 
Now let’s go back to the history of Czech, I forgot to say Bohemian, Bohemian tradition of engraving. This is Caspar Lehmann, it’s a diamond [engraving]. Caspar Lehmann was appointed to be the engraver for Rudolph II, the emperor. At the same time, my ancestors came to this small village, being glassblowers, and so the history of Czech glass was also the history of my family. This is another famous piece by Caspar Lehmann, and both pieces are in the museum in Prague. Another one. I am sharing Caspar Lehmann because we are still learning from him, this cutting in glass that’s different from 19th-century engraving. He was using it because he was a skilled rock-crystal cutter, and he started, as the legions say or as history says, he started to transpose it into glass. This was maybe the first after a long period of medieval art; again, glass in the middle European region. So, this detail shows even more how he was using the wheel. Another picture of the same goblet.

This is the small village [Harrachov] where I was born, and Dominik Biemann was born, and it’s a time when Dominik Biemann in the first half of the 19th century, he worked there in a small factory in that small village, where there were 17 engravers and some more in their old houses. It was, almost everybody was an engraver or a glass painter. Now [there] is nobody engraving in Harrachov anymore. I was the last apprentice. And on the right side, on the very right side, is the cottage that belongs to me, that is the house or the cottage of my ancestors, and so I am taking care of it. It may be the only place where the engraving, or cutting, workshop in that small house, still you can still see it, it is like a museum. It’s the only one in the world, I am sure that nothing else is like that.

So, this is Dominik Biemann, after a drawing by Hedonius, so you can see the small engraving lathe and he was working with a foot pedal, no electricity, and doing this excellent work.  And I, when I was about 12 years old, my father got the same kind of engraving lathe with a foot pedal, and I started the work that is now more than 70 years ago. This is my first engraving made on that small [lathe], you will see that was, I did it almost my whole apprenticeship, these hunting motifs. But it’s well done, I mean, for a boy! [laughter] And these are plaster castings from engravings Dominik Biemann made. I think the best portraiture, the best of all times. And it was a time of the Empire called Biedermeier. It was the first half of the 19th century.  So, [Biemann’s] sponsor was Count Sternberg, Caspar Sternberg, who lived partly in Prague, and partly in Germany, in Regensburg, and he made several portraits of him.

So, you can see—and Takeo Takemasa is here, and for him, [Biemann] is the guru. He is doing—in his small workshop at the Market Street here in Corning—he is doing engravings which are very close to the engravings of Dominik Biemann. This is my favorite engraving [Biemann] did; it’s an unknown lady, who knows who it was. It may be—many of the nobility from Russia and Germany came to his spa, the Francis Spa, in the best part of Bohemia, where he worked.  He became also a citizen of Prague and studied at the Academy [of Applied Arts]; it was a different name at that time, but he got lessons in anatomy and in drawing, and this is what made him so special over the other engravers. He knew about the construction of the figure, it’s a gorgeous composition. The central composition, typical for this classical time.

And I made, in his way of composing portraits, his picture; but this was carved into plaster and then cast into bronze. So I was going in his tradition, but doing it a little bit differently, emphasizing some parts and the unimportant, to me, making not so deep [cuts].  This is Tom Buechner; I must say that he was the most important to me, inviting me to the States in 1983 to give a lecture at the GAS conference in Tucson, Arizona. And since then I am here every year, so I became, what I would say, an American living in Prague! [laughter] So, a great man, a great friend, and I am very thankful to him. This is an engraving of Smetana that I did for the exhibition in Corning in 1979. It was accepted, and it is a part of the collection in the Corning Museum.  And you can see that I went more in the way of reducing the figure and doing less, less to get the image.  Even more so in that portrait of Tolstoy, when there is no eye at all, only a few deep cuts building the whole face.  But, this is still copper wheel-engraving. And then later I went more to diamond [wheel] and to stone [wheel], that’s a big lathe.
 
This is also copper wheel-engraved, another great man, I call it the gallery of my friends: it’s Marc Chagall.  Or, Beethoven. And Goethe, who said, The limitation makes the master. And he also said, It is not what it is, but how it’s made that is important. Not what, but how, is important.  And this I did in Pilchuck in 1985, and the glass in Pilchuck was made from bottles.  And I liked the glass very much, and I did some engravings, and I thought I will finish it later.  But then I came home, I said the piece is finished, so this is [laughter], you know, this is what I discovered last year, this is wabi sabiWabi sabi means to have things unfinished, uncomplete, perfection is not perfection, or imperfection, and this comes from the old Japanese tradition.  And it’s not possible to tell the whole story about wabi sabi, but it is called the art of life.  Reducing things, get rid of things not important, and so forth. 

Then, I did other friends I liked. I mean, like, Egon Schiele, the Austrian painter or Oskar Kokoschka, who lived in Prague, who was Austrian.  But, you see, it’s always about composition.  It’s not only who it is, or what it is, it’s just how you compose it into a frame or into a shape and what you really can leave out. I would say this is a part of wabi sabi: to reduce, just to leave out things. Tina is smiling!

And this is maybe the most reduced picture ever I did, I did it in Pittsburgh. I got Bullseye glass, they slumped it together for me. One plate was red, on top was a black one.  Very hard glass. I could hardly go through it by engraving, but on the other hand, the advantage was I was not allowed, or I couldn’t do, any details. I had to keep only the few [cuts], and it looks like a brush painting, a Japanese brush painting, which I’m very glad that it happened that way. So, this is maybe a long way from the Dominik Biemann to be more abstract, to be more simple. Simplicity is the most important in wabi sabi.

And I did, here in Corning, some demos to show that you build up a picture engraving using just one wheel. And also I thought I would finish it later, but it’s just finished. This is always important not to try to finish it immediately. Leave it for awhile, and then you discover you cannot add anything anymore, it’s just there. 

And quite often, I am going back to Franz Kafka, because this image—and this is also important if I am doing somebody from the past, from the history—so it’s, to me, much more free, I am not so depending on that face. So, it’s not about the likeness, it’s more what they call imaginative portraiture. It’s just to express the person in a little bit more abstract way and to find out the essence. [Kafka] was writing about this terrible 20th century, in fact, he anticipated what was coming, the Second War, and all the terrible things people are doing.

And now I go back to, again, to some influential glass engravings. Jaroslav Horejc was not a glass man, he was working with metal. But Stefan Rath, from the [J. & L.] Lobmeyr factory in Kamenický Šenov, discovered him and asked him to do designs for engraving. And to me, I think he is the best in the second half of the 20th century.  And what’s important to me, he went back to discover this, the wheels, not to smooth it out, but to cut it, as the wheel is asking for. Not everybody likes it, but to me he is inspiring, really. Famous is his piece The Dance. And then there is Jan Kotík. After the war, in the ‘50s, he came up with abstract art into glass. One of his, also, only he’s designing it and some engravers would execute it. And one piece is in the collection in the Museum, and this was also exhibited here in the time of that big Czech show called, how was it called? 

Tina Oldknow: Design in an Age of Adversity.

Jiří Harcuba:  Yes, and it was just 1945 to 1980.

Tina Oldknow: Right.

Jiří Harcuba: So, he is a very important and very influential painter who worked also with glass. And this is another piece you can see in the collection upstairs, made by Václav Cigler.  And I think his engravings belong to the best and are the middle of the century, I think, in 1960. Cameo engraving. I’m saying to the students, Go and look at it and try to do something like that. Which happened. A student made a cameo engraving, and the cameo engraving, in fact, is much easier than the intaglio. So, it’s similar to a woodcut, or a linocut, because this is what they can learn, also, from these examples. This is another engraving done by Václav Cigler, and this is a print a student made here, I don’t know, several years ago. So, we are not only learning from the 19th century, but we are learning also from what happened in the 20th. Recent art, recently done things.

This is, what’s her name? I forgot her name, do you remember? Her husband is a quite a famous writer. But, why I’m showing that is she. . . Sometimes people bring a photo, and [they] say, I would like to engrave that. At first, I said, do, rather, a Zen drawing, or keep something, you know, from what is here in the history, but they just want to do this boy with a lamb from the Caucausus somewhere. But she did it in such a wonderful way that I’m amazed by the result. That the students can. . .  I’m always surprised, I must say, always the students are much better than I am, I must say.

Or, this is a Zen drawing.  That means—a Zen drawing—you don’t look at the pencil and you are doing it automatically or unconsciously. And this is a good way to make immediately an image, and the people can the very first day engrave it and print it, and it works. So, we often start. . . And this is an abstraction. I remember in 1984 I gave a lecture for the GAS conference, and together with me was an engraver from Steuben. Do you remember the name? He died quite young. Takeo, what was it?  Ja, ja, you know him. [Several names suggested.] No, all right. It’s not so important, but this engraver from Steuben started to talk about engraving, that you have to learn it [for] six years, to be able to do an engraving. And I said, if you would like to have an engraving in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can do it today. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t, it’s just one [always] talks about the craftsmanship, about how. . . Takeo could talk about it. Clearly, to get to be a really good engraver, you have to do it your whole life, to do it really good. [Takeo] is now 60, how long to engrave, Takeo, 40 years? 42 years!  And my point of view was, it’s just about this: what you are thinking about, and the technique is not so difficult. You can spontaneously do something.  Stephen Dale Edwards took out of his pocket a drawing of his son, his 6-year-old son, and of course he engraved it, and of course it was the best engraving. And it could be easy, along with Paul Klee or some other modern artists.

And this; I made some small brochures, called Intaglio, to explain the history of engraving. And this drawing is from a cave carving made in Norway, 25,000 years ago. And maybe this is much better, much more contemporary than anything else. You know, they didn’t draw or carve what they have seen, they carved what they knew. About this elk cow, there in the back is a baby, the baby cow, and they have its x-ray.  Of course, it’s not a real x-ray, it’s just to tell something about that animal which was much more than an elusive drawing as we usually see. Along with that goes another, absolutely to me, again, the best contemporary engraving. And this is done, people wouldn’t believe it, but this is done by a child. A 3-year-old girl, Sophia, she is the daughter of Amy [Schwartz]. In fact, Amy was in my class when I started to teach here, and she became the teacher of Sophia. So, this is just a [piece of] plate [glass], this girl takes a plate and makes something. Is that real? Nobody can know, a dog would be able to do the same. And then they asked Sophia, What is it?, and she would say, It’s a cow in strawberries. And you have to look close, and you will discover, it’s really, it is there! You know, this imagination of a child.  So, these are the real inspirations for us, I think: the 25,000 year-old carving and also this gorgeous drawings of children. They are always the best, and we adults just, we lost it, and we are trying to get it back, somehow, and learning from the children.

There’s another example, and Tom Buechner liked that very much, because this is a carnelian, a semiprecious stone, only one inch large, only one inch, and this carving done in a similar way as we are doing now, and this is from the ancient Greek time, which is before Christ, so, I don’t know how old it is.  It’s a rooster. It’s so powerful and so well made and so good at expressing the wheels, that it’s amazing. It’s the best, it’s one of the best examples. And we always counted how many strokes.  [August] Dietz, the engraver, he would even ask the painters he was teaching, Do a picture with so few strokes like this engraver did.

And there are gorgeous examples of Roman engravings, also in the Museum, and again we are going to look at it, and not engrave but carve it in a similar way like they did. So, this is my favorite, one of my favorite pieces, is a Roman cup, a very small, tiny cup with a beautiful green color and the engraving [made] 2,000 years ago.  There’s an image of Christ healing the paralytic. You can see it in the exhibition, but you can’t really see it very well so there is a drawing beside [it]. You can see it maybe better in the library, some good photos. But anyway, it’s an example where to go with contemporary engraving. And I made a drawing of it so that you can see what it’s about.  And last year, the students made a copy of that bowl to learn more about it, how it’s made, and even this year they started to use some details of it.  That’s all, thank you!

Song performed by Lenka Dusilová.