The great master of glass grinding
Neighbouring Austria, in Hungary and only about 100 kilometres from Budapest, the capital, there is a patinated holiday resort which was visited by many celebrities in the 1920’s from all over the world.
At the northern foot of the Mátra Hills, there is a beautiful mountain town, Parád, the heart of Mátra whose main attraction is the hospital and the health sanitarium. The attractions of Parád include the Castle Hotel, a period barn, Cifra-barn which functions as a museum and a stable today. Due to its natural circumstances, Parád and its neighbourhood are perfectly suitable for enjoying sprots like hiking and learning about the fl ora and fauna of forests. I visited Pál Mata, the great master of glass grinding, in his home in this special environment with a picturesque setting whose custom-made, special lead crystal objects can be found all over the world.
How did you become a glass grinder?
In our childhood we did not really have too much choice. Usually job opportunities were offered by companies and factories in the neighbourhood. I actually did not really want to become a glass grinder but rather an electrician. I used to have a friend who was a few years older than me already wooing ladies. He told me not to become an electrician because this profession is not too attractive for ladies. It sounds much better to tell the girls that you are a glass grinder because it means you are an artist! – said my friend. I know it sounds rather strange but this is the way I became a glass grinder.
Where did you begin your studies?
Since I was a true-born resident of Parád, it was obvious that I study in the Glass Factory in Parád. I completed the 3-year apprenticeship and I started to work in the Glass Factory in Parádsasvár for about half a year. As I really liked this profession, working in the glass factory was not too much of a challenge after a while. I did not want to produce series but something more unique and more special. When I fi nished technical school, half a year after that, in 1965, I went to Budapest to work where I worked with craftmasters from before the war. All together, I worked for three craftmasters and I learned all I could from them.
Were these people talented craftmasters?
Yes, they were people who knew everything about working with glass. Not only about melting and grinding it but all fi nesse. I learned everything from them before I took my master’s exam. At the age of 21 I was already a craftmaster.
Where did you start practising your profession?
I did not have enough money to rent a workshop in Budapest so I came back to Parád, and in 1969 I started my own business. I was working on my own for a few years in the workshop in our garden. Then we started a construction with my wife and we needed every penny. Therefore, because of financial stability, I had to go back to work to the glass factory for a shorter period of time. After finishing the construction, I continued my own business and I have woked continuously since 1981.
How did you manage to improve your business and make it unique?
I went abroad a lot and visited many exhibitions on glass factories so as to improve my knowledge related to glass grinding and engraving. I always returned with new ideas. The most interesting things for me were not the products themselves but more the tools they were made with. For example, the length of the axis and everything I could realize myself in my own workshop as well. From Murano to the Bavarian Forest I have been everywhere where there is glass production. What is more I did some work on the sites I have been to and I met a lot of colleagues. I worked in Nunberg, Innsbruck, Graz and Maastrich, I can say I have been to half of the European countries and I always worked at these places for a while. We talked a lot with my colleagues there and exchanged our professional experiences. I found a special company in Germany which produces tools for glass grinders. I have been buying all necessary tools there ever since. Everything happens for a reason; since the crèche of glass culture is in the Bavarian Forest and of course in the Czech Republic.
By the way, did it sound ʻfancyʼ for your wife that you are a glass grinder?
I guess so, since we have been together for almost 40 years now. In the old regime (in socialism) it was something rather unusual to have your own business. The glass factories did everything to stop me from getting the permission, as I was a competitor for them. In my opinion it was rather ridiculous that a factory considered one single person to be a competitor and that they were professionally jealous of me.
It was not a coincidence though, was it?
Of course it was not. By that time I had already learned the ins and outs of the profession, whereas in the factory there was only mould production. There were mainly unskilled workers taught for specific actions. Without pomposity, I had better knowledge than 20 of the factory workers together as I was always aiming to make unique things while they dealt with serial production.
How did the real big business start?
When my wife and I finally decided that we were going to deal with this, I built a new, large workshop, where I hired staff and we started the production of unique special pieces. Orders continuously came. My products started to become well-known abroad as we were always invited to major trade shows such as Hungexpo for example.
Who were your clients?
My clients were very different. I was very popular for example among the society of hunters. I engraved animal motifs on glass objects which always proved to be a great gift among them. These figures were manufactured according to my own ideas. I had a dream about them and then I made them. My last order similar to this was made for a Duke, but I am not allowed to tell you more about it.
In the old regime, especially in the 80‘s I went to a lot of trade shows financed by the government. Wherever we went all protocol gifts were made by me for trade managers, local ambassadors and city magistrates. Among others, I used to work for the Embassy of the Unites States and Britain. I even received a thank you letter from the British Embassy at the time. However, I have never actually known the final destination of my products. Once I made a special bowl, which is currently still in Japan. There was a Japanese director in Katona József Theatre in Debrecen who I met through a common acquaintance and he had a look at my gifts. He spotted this special bowl among my work which we actually were not planning to sell with my wife. But the Japanese director fell in love with this specially crafted bowl and eventually he won, he was sold the bowl. He bought it for himself, at least he said so. However, when he returned home, we received a letter from him saying he was ashamed for having such a beautiful masterpiece in his own home and therefore he gave it to the city museum. Our special piece has been exhibited there ever since.
In fact, in recent decades, there were very few heads of state in Europe who did not have some unique and special products from me. Some of whom I know personally, and some of whom, I do not. And there are many things I am not even allowed to talk about.
Could you please mention at least one celebrity from the past?
I made a 24-piece set for the 50th birthday of the Tatar Prime Minister which was placed into brass-bound box made of cherry wood and was personally given to him by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Hungarian government.
In the wooden box, separate trays were placed row-by-row with the accessories of the given set in each row. A special request related to it was to make a couple of products of each set visible in the top row so that the Tatar Prime Minister could see them all when the box was given to him for his birthday and the lid is opened. For example, a jug, beer, liquor, wine and champagne glasses. So when the box was opened, the content was visible straight away.
I beautifully produced the requested items, I had the trays and the cherry wood box made and had it coated with velvet to make it fit for the purpose. I did not really want to undertake the latter work since I had to have them made. I was convinced by their trust. However, my mandate was not completed there, as I had to have another case made in which the box was placed to avoid damage. In spite of all these precautions, my clients still did not dare risk transporting it by a civilian plane. In the and, a separate plane was sent by the Tatar Prime Minister for the gift and the prominent leaders who took part in the big ceremony. This was about 25-30 years ago. After a while it became second nature for me to make the presents of Ministers in Europe as well, including for example, Hans Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister.these precautions, my clients still did not dare risk transporting it by a civilian plane. In the and, a separate plane was sent by the Tatar Prime Minister for the gift and the prominent leaders who took part in the big ceremony. This was about 25-30 years ago. After a while it became second nature for me to make the presents of Ministers in Europe as well, including for example, Hans Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister.
During the long decades you learned all the tricks of glass grinding. What further possibilities do you have in this profession?
I learned a lot of things. I tried various new technologies during the past decades. I always designed something new, something special and unique. Besides others, I learned to re-colour the glass, to add further colours afterwards, because there are some places where ornate objects are more popular than the natural lead crystal; for example, in the Arab world, America, England and Russia. In Europe clearer and more modern pieces are preferred. I could also say that better-off people like the very labor-intensive products. There is no expert who could know everything, so there are always new opportunities to learn, but the biggest problem is that it is not possible to enter workshops like mine anywhere in the world. I am still open to new things and willing to learn throughout my life.
Haven’t you thought about passing on your knowledge to the new generation?
You’ll be surprised! Here, at home there is no candidate who would undertake this not very easy area of art with the necessary humility and providing all his knowledge. Technically, I’m already at the end of my profession, it is only a matter of time when I will stop doing it. There might be a couple of years until I finally say goodbye to the great art of glass grinding. In fact, I would be eager to teach this to anyone in the world who is susceptible to it. A few years ago I went to Namibia where I met a few talented, skillful young men who were able to make miracles out of nothing. I also bought some of their artfully carved wooden gifts which have been the pride of our home since. I would be glad to teach them the art of glass grinding.