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A Master Class in the Maker Culture of Vienna and Munich

An atelier hop through Munich and Vienna alongside Canada’s craftiest curator.

Munich workshops

Clockwise from top left: Glassworks Poschinger; Carl Auböck; Nymphenburg Porcelain; Lobmeyr

Inside the porcelain manufactory at Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace, 75 artisans handcraft statues and dinnerware much as they did when the studio opened nearly 300 years ago. With intent eyes and nimble fingers, they ply clay on pottery wheels powered by a nearby brook, while sitting next to giant windows, daylight illuminating each flower, feather and bow.

The manufactory is just one of several generations-old workshops dotted around Munich and Vienna that meticulously adhere to techniques that predate modern technology. My guide on the journey is curator and furniture dealer Stephan Weishaupt, owner of Avenue Road, which has showrooms in Toronto, Vancouver and New York. Born and raised in Munich, he visits the region almost monthly to source porcelain, brass, upholstery and crystal.

Many of the workshops are run by the fifth or sixth generation of the same family, Weishaupt explains. “They have spent hundreds of years not only developing but also perfecting their techniques,” he says. “First, for royalty such as the Hapsburgs and the Wittelsbachs, now for global markets.” Here, four of his favourite workshops.


Glassworks Poschinger

Fine balance: Poschinger glass-makers craft glasses and the base of the coveted Bell Table in their shop.

Glassworks Poschinger

The Bell Table is an uncanny creation that balances a hulking, heavy disc of metal on a delicate tower of glass. Designed in 2012 by Munich’s Sebastian Herkner, it has to be put together in a very precise way, lest the whole thing topple over and smash. The table is a hot item at Weishaupt’s Avenue Road, and a very important part of it is produced at Poschinger – a 450-year-old glass-blowing studio in a great big wood-roofed barn in the Bavarian Alps.

At the centre of the space is a massive brick oven with black iron doors. Its importance is clear: It’s elevated on a platform, as if on a stage in a playhouse. Fittingly, it is also quite dramatic. When the doors are open, its maw glows a violent red, with lava-like glass bubbling away at 1,200 degrees Celsius.

All around the oven, a half-dozen men spin and blow the glass at the end of 2.5-metre-long steel tubes as a terrier named Linus runs around their feet. They blow the glass into moulds carved from beech, a wood that can withstand the heat, and use wooden paddles to smooth out imperfections. So not only do they need a strong set of lungs, the men must also rely on deft hands to ensure that every facet is exactly straight, smooth and level.

Moosauhütte 14, Frauenau, Germany, 49-099-269-4010, individual-glass.com

Carl Auböck

The metalworkers at Carl Auböck put their best foot (and hand) forward.

Carl Auböck

Carl Auböck II is one of midcentury-modern design’s best-kept secrets. A student of the Bauhaus, he took over his father’s metal shop in 1929 and immediately moved it toward the esthetic of his time. Then Carl III befriended Charles and Ray Eames and collaborated with the fashion house Hermès, architect Josef Frank and furniture designer George Nelson.

The workshop is now in the hands of grandson Carl Auböck IV, an irascible figure filled with wry stories about his grand-father’s notable contemporaries that he’s keen to share. “Oswald Haerdtl [a Viennese architect] lived on coffee and cigarettes,” Auböck IV tells me, “then dropped dead at his desk.” The walls in the shop are cork-lined, the workbenches are a streaky grey, and the sound of pounding metal echoes in the air. “Nobody likes chiselling metal anymore,” says Auböck IV. “Everyone gets nervous breakdowns because it’s so loud.”

Auböck’s objects are impeccable. A small brass hand, for example, with spindly, quirky fingers, makes for an oddly desirable paperweight that’s been highly popular for more than half a century. “When I see the gloss of the brass in the setting sun,” he says, “I get so emotional. It’s like a poem to me.”

Bernardgasse 23, Vienna, 43-152-366-3120, werkstaette-carlauboeck.at

Lobmeyr

Vienna’s Lobmeyr is renowned for its delicate handmade crystal and glassware.

Lobmeyr

Lobmeyr was founded in 1823 to provide ornately engraved glassware and chandeliers to the Hapsburgs’ royal court. Royalty no longer rules Austria (their palaces are now incredible museums, open to the public), and Lobmeyr has since branched out. It was the first crystal studio to make lighting with Edison’s electric bulbs, and has worked with notable institutions, including New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House. “Lobmeyr is amazing,” Weishaupt says, “because it’s one of the few places that still does everything by hand.”

The history is evident in the studio, a squat, peach-coloured coach house in the middle of Vienna. Outside, intricate vases, candleholders and wineglasses adorn the black-trim sash windows. Inside, the stone stairs have been so well-trod they appear soft, concave in the middle like melting butter. Throughout, machines with brass engraving blades – they look older than many of the artisans – shed fine, metallic dust all over the floor like sparkles from a gilded fairy.

The company continues to produce both traditional pieces, like juice cups cut with butterfly patterns, each wing unique, and more avant-garde numbers, such as a glass-domed display that encases seeds at risk of being lost to climate change. “The crystal is incredibly thin,” says Weishaupt. “But it’s so sturdy that it bounces instead of breaks when accidentally dropped on the floor.”

Kärntner Strasse 26, Vienna, 43-151-205-0888, lobmeyr.at
 

Lobmeyr, Starburst Chandelier

Twinkle, twinkle: the Starburst Chandelier.

By the numbers:

Lobmeyr’s Starburst Chandeliers for the met opera

1966 The year the chandeliers were originally completed, for the opening of the Met Opera House and the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra

12 The number of chandeliers that hang in the Met’s auditorium; 11 more hang in the lobby

49 000 The individual pieces of crystal that line the 1,000 steel rods to create the starburst effect

5.5 The width, in metres, of the largest of the chandeliers


Nymphenburg Porcelain

In a pretty yellow manufactory on the grounds of Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, artisans create figurines, tea cups, plates, bowls and even skulls fit for royalty.

Nymphenburg Porcelain

Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace has Versailles-like gardens and a Hall of Mirrors so glitz-filled that it would make Marie Antoinette jealous. Founded in 1747, its porcelain manufactory is housed in a small canary-yellow cottage facing a giant lawn and surrounded by manicured hedges. Skirting the building, a brook flows through a turbine that has powered the pottery wheels since long before sustainable energy was a trend.

The turbine is only part of the time-honoured way that the porcelain is produced. The raw clay is mixed on site, then fermented in vats, almost like wine, for two years to develop the right consistency, colour and texture. After the porcelain is perfect, it’s carefully worked over by artisans. Although rock-hard once fired in an oven, the raw material, in inexperienced hands, crumbles like feta cheese.

One woman working in the studio tells me that she changes her approach depending on the weather. “The temperature, the humidity, all affect the clay,” she says. “It means that every day is different. Every day, I learn.”

Nördliches Schlossrondell 8, Munich, 49-089-179-1970, nymphenburg.com
 

Carl Auböck cocktail shaker

Stephan Weishaupt
 
Stephan Weishaupt
Curator and owner, Avenue Road

Great Shakes

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Avenue Road in 2017, Weishaupt commissioned an extravagant cocktail shaker from Carl Auböck. It’s lined with 24-karat gold, a metal that won’t taint the delicate flavours of the libations within. “I like anything with bourbon,” Weishaupt says.

Tags

AUSTRIA     GERMANY     MUNICH     VIENNA