The five-day New York International Gift Fair kicked off on Aug. 14 with a selection of Czech glass on display that is as unique in its appearance as the story of the company that produces it. Artěl Glass is an American company founded by Karen Feldman that uses traditional hand-made Czech glass production skills to succeed in the luxury retail market.
Feldman’s starting point in the Czech Republic actually did not have anything to do with glass. She arrived here in 1994 to head production for a shampoo company. When the company head made a switch from hair care to chicken farming, Feldman found her attraction to Czech crystal leading to the idea to start her own business.
The name Artěl comes from a group of Bohemian artisans established around 1900. Feldman aims to put both the high standards of craftsmanship as well the design aesthetic of that time period to use in the 21st century.
“If you say the words ‘Bohemian crystal’ people associate it with traditional glass,” Feldman told Czech Position. While the positive aspect of this is the clear indication of quality there is an old-fashioned overtone as well that might make people think of the glass on display in their grandparents’ apartment.
Artěl does not promote itself as Bohemian crystal, Feldman says. “We are slotted as a Czech-made glass company, but a modern variation on that tradition.” According to Feldman the Czech reputation for top quality is particularly significant for Artěl in the luxury crystal market. “They think of it as the best of the best,” she said.
The new Autumn 2011 designs being introduced in New York make this blending of old and new crystal clear. The Jungle Baroque motif incorporates vivid jungle animal figures that draw on influences as diverse as Edward Topsell’s 1658 book “The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents” and Prada’s 2011 Spring/Summer fashion collection.
The new Mod Maxi and Polka Dots motifs, on the other hand, represent a more straightforward modernist design aesthetic filtered through the 1960s. Specifically, Mod Maxi was inspired by Josef Albers’s 1965 modern art landmark painting “Homage to the Square” while the Polka Dots collection refers to Damien Hirst’s “Spot” paintings as well as Op Art of the ’60s.
Feldman pinpoints the company’s appeal in the unexpected mix of different looks and feels, neither entirely modern nor retro, showing the inspiration of Czech design as well as other international influences. What is most consistent are the time-tested production techniques that are the chief benefit of Artěl’s Czech location. The glass in the new collection is created through a technique called sandblasting, in which the glass is ground by hand to give it a textured, tactile surface.
While the company is continually introducing new designs it never eliminates any older collections, as its products are all made to order.
Artěl has exhibited at the New York fair since being established in 1998, providing the company with valuable exposure to the North American market in addition to attendance the fair garners from Asia and the UK. The show takes place twice a year and for each occasion the company introduces four new motifs.
From Sept. 9 to 13 Artěl will exhibit its new collections at the Maison & Objet Paris trade fair, which gives it access to the European market. Currently Artěl sells to 26 different countries and has partnerships with a number of high-end retailers including Paul Smith, Bergdorf Goodman and Scully & Scully.