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Tuesday, Oct 04, 2022

Hungary's disappearing glass masters

James Carcass is one of Hungary's last glass masters. After crafting a name for himself in London his work led him to meet his wife in Hungary – and eventually move to the countryside region of Pest.
When he began setting up his home studio glass making was a strong industry. There were factories dotted across the countryside but 13 years later they've closed, the latest due to COVID-19. Now the skills that have been passed on through generations are starting to disappear.

James told CGTN Europe it's becoming a major problem: "The factories would have been the place to learn glass blowing and now the factories have closed that option is no longer available.

"In England you can learn glass blowing as I did through a university program but here in Hungary the universities teach design, but they don't teach physically how to blow glass."

As well as creating his own work, James teaches students from all over Europe. When his furnace is running it will stay alight for weeks at 1100 degrees Celsius. It means James works around the clock to keep it burning, use the heat and move delicate pieces between kilns.

Szilvia Toth has been learning to blow glass for three years after graduating art school. It's a process she loves but it can take years to master.

"The weight of the material makes it difficult to work with. It is like honey: it is beautiful and difficult to control. It's like it's alive. You always have to be in focus. The glass works by itself, and therefore requires a lot of attention," she said.

To learn the craft people now need to access very few private workshops. The time it takes to learn, but particularly the cost of building and running furnaces means it's a skill out of reach for many.

James fears it means parts of Hungary's unique glass blowing culture – which includes working with iridescent glass – could be lost. It also could lead to pieces of history disappearing.

"Hungarians express their Hungarianess, they express their culture through the activities they do and if they can no longer express themselves through glass making then that's a shame - but it also causes a lot of issues for having special work done. For example, restoration of glass will become increasingly difficult because the restoration of objects is done on a small scale, it's done locally."

Some of James' students are hoping to set up a workshop in Budapest but it's a process that will require a lot of time and money. He believes the factories will never be restored to what they were, but elements of glass making can be saved through access to affordable spaces and teaching the craft at universities.
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