Erna Piechna

Erna, thank you very much for doing the interview with us today. Since your background was initially working with glass, can you share with us a little bit about your own artistic journey over the years, and your development as both an artist and a teacher?

Teaching has always been close to my heart – already as a child I liked the idea of showing others what I had just discovered, but I also liked to make things.

Growing up in the countryside, we did not have easy access to high quality materials and we had to make do with what we found in nature or, in mother’s sewing box.

Nobody went as far as calling this ‘art’, but in my eyes our creations were precious objects.

My very first job after university was teaching at a secondary school in a small village. My subjects covered everything from languages to history, from art to gym, which was typical for any teacher in a small community. I was only a few years older than some of my students, but in those days, that was in no way a hindrance to successful learning and teaching.

After spending some years at office jobs, I rediscovered my old passions. When we first started our stained glass business, it did not take long before I taught evening classes. Teaching technical skills was easy and filled me with great satisfaction.

Not having had a formal art education forced me to find other ways of learning. I was fortunate in so far as when we organized classes with glass artists, my function was to be the teacher’s assistant. This offered me wonderful opportunities to meet artists, ask questions and sometimes get personal coaching. Over the years I was able, in small steps, to build up my own artistic language.

When you first started working with Silver Clay, how challenging was it for you to work with this new medium? Did it open a lot of doors of possibilities for you?

I didn’t go looking for Art Clay – it found me. For the past 20 years glass has been my medium of choice. I had considered working with metal, but it wasn’t until Art Clay that it really became an option. The material did not speak to me straight away and I thought that my artistic skills were not suited for making jewellery but, I kept playing with the material and eventually fell in love with it. It was through Art Clay that I discovered my passion for creating jewellery.

With this new option I set out on a journey to combine metal clay with my first love: glass.

Does working with the two completely different media inspire you to develop as an artist in both areas?

Metal clay and glass are two different worlds, but they also share a lot. Their ability to be transformed by heat is only one aspect. I find that when combing the two, they create a great dialogue, one echoes and resonates with the other. As materials they are both very challenging, but they also allow me to work in a playful manner and to make decisions in stages.

I usually work Art Clay and glass as separate components, sometimes I join them later, for example by riveting. My series ‘Tiny Vessels’ consists of small glass vessels with lids made from Art Clay. I most like to see the two materials side by side, as a happy liaison, allowing each to maintain its individual character.

Where do you draw your inspiration to create from?

As I am getting older, more and more I appreciate the look of aged objects; weathered facades, faded colours in fabrics, bleached wood. I suppose it is the narrative of that which talks to me. I find there is a very special beauty in decay, in ageing, or the incomplete. The Japanese philosophy Wabi-Sabi - embracing transience and imperfection as a sense of aesthetic, sums it up for me.

In museums I am attracted by old artefacts, also by highly crafted objects for example old Persian and Mogul art. I like to look at weapons, coats of armour, or other items which at first glance appear to be purely functional objects, which are by virtue of their craftsmanship works of art and therefore have transcended their function.

As a teacher and educator, you have said that your primary focus is to be a communicator. What is it that you wish to communicate to your students about discovering self expression and what do you try to communicate through your own artistic works?

Part of my job is organizing classes. I invite artists from all over the world to teach at Creative Glass. It is great to see teachers and students meet and exchange ideas.

Despite all the information we can so easily download from the internet, personal communication is important. In this sense I see myself as a mediator who offers a platform.

Another part of my work is my own classes. I teach both glass and Art Clay. Mostly these media are treated separately, but there are a few classes where we combine them. Of course, I want the students to master the techniques, build up their understanding for the media, but more than that I encourage them to develop their own ideas. I introduce them to simple design tools, ask them to make choices and sometimes push them a little bit beyond their comfort zone. It is usually then that the magic happens, when people realise that they are capable of more creativity than they had imagined.

In my teaching I share how I work with my students, what my methods are and what inspires me. My teaching is a most direct form of communication on a very personal level. The idea is to inspire the students to start a dialogue with their own artistic vision.