Redefining the Public Artist: Franz Mayer of Munich Architectural Glass and Mosaics

In the heart of Bavaria’s capital city lies the Kunstareal, the museum quarter, home to some of Germany’s most famous museums, massive stone and glass buildings showcasing world-class collections of art, sculpture, and artifacts from centuries past. But travel just a short way down the tree-lined Seidlstrasse in that same quarter of Munich, and you’ll find a place dedicated not to commemorating artwork from the past, but constructing it for its future.

A listed structure, Theodor Fischer built this distinctive workshop on Stiglmaierplatz in 1923. The building features big, bright workshops, studios, offices, exhibitions spaces and artist studios as well as the pavilion by Betz Architekten which is used for Float Glass painting. The workshops and offices offer artists 32,000 square feet of space to create artworks.

A listed structure, Theodor Fischer built this distinctive workshop on Stiglmaierplatz in 1923. The building features big, bright workshops, studios, offices, exhibitions spaces and artist studios as well as the pavilion by Betz Architekten which is used for Float Glass painting. The workshops and offices offer artists 32,000 square feet of space to create artworks.

Built in 1923, the building that houses world-renowned architectural art glass and mosaic studio Franz Mayer of Munich is an impressive one, utilitarian in construction, its interior abuzz with the kind of activity that comes from imagination and collaboration, tools and technology. The building provides a rich setting in which to create, learn, experiment, and dream. Artists from around the world are invited to come to Franz Mayer of Munich and stay for days or even weeks at a time to work in glass and mosaic. They are provided with on-site apartments—and the in-house cappuccinos, aren’t bad either.

“It’s a magical place,” describes managing director Michael Mayer, whose great-great-grandfather, Joseph Gabriel Mayer, founded the company in 1847. “Artists who work here say that it’s like a candy shop. It’s a place of immense creativity, where an artist’s vision can unfold before their very eyes.” It can be an unforgettable experience, he adds, a place with the power to change the trajectory of an artist’s career.

More important than the building is the wealth of knowledge that Franz Mayer has amassed over its 169-year history that makes it a dreamer’s paradise. The studio possesses an incomparable understanding of materials and techniques, both ancient and modern, and supplies artists with the tools, ideas, materials, and space to realize their most complex creative endeavors. Quality and craftsmanship are paramount, as are the commitment to seeing an artist’s vision realized in the finest way possible.

Invited artists may be accomplished in contemporary architectural art glass or mosaic, but are just as likely to come from other disciplines or professions: painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, architects, and designers have all successfully completed architectural art glass and mosaic projects with Franz Mayer. “We reach out to artists who have been working consistently in their field for a period of time and whose work we feel might have large-scale applications in the public and private sectors,” explains Erica Behrens, Director of Franz Mayer’s U.S. office. “Outreach is central to the work we do; it defines our creative focus on finding the best artists, no matter where they come from or what kind of work they’ve created in the past.”
To that end, both Behrens and Mayer travel throughout the United States and Europe, meeting with artists, designers, and art professionals at shows, conferences, galleries, and artists’ studios. “The time we spend on the road meeting with potential clients and the conversations we have with them about their art and their vision is critical,” Mayer adds. “We want to expand the market of who can be a public artist—so it’s not that we’re seeking out the most well-known or most experienced public artists. We’re looking for the ones who understand the possibilities.”

A History of Artist Cultivation

This idea of cultivating public artists, of encouraging artists to think of their potential in terms of art glass and mosaic, is not a new one to Franz Mayer of Munich. Founded by Joseph Gabriel Mayer in 1847 as Mayer’s Art Establishment for Ecclesiastical Works, it wasn’t until 1918 that the company would establish itself as a “studio for the artist.” Thanks to influences from Bauhaus and Deutscher Werkbund, new artists with new ways of thinking about art, craft, and architecture joined the studio. Franz Mayer welcomed them and quickly began to share their knowledge, experience, materials, and tools to foster more abstract designs in glass.

Two of the Mayer painters work in the Float Glass studio. Mayer of Munich was involved in developing float glass painting as early as 1984 and has completed many projects using various techniques since then. Image and copyright by Sammy Hart

Two of the Mayer painters work in the Float Glass studio. Mayer of Munich was involved in developing float glass painting as early as 1984 and has completed many projects using various techniques since then. Image and copyright by Sammy Hart

After World War II and with the rise of Modernism and the emphasis on the artist’s expressions of personal styles and personalities, third-generation Mayer brothers Anton, Karl, and Adalbert once again affirmed the studio’s commitment to creating large-scale stained glass works with artists of all stripes, including painters, muralists, and graphic artists. Franz Mayer’s mosaic work, which had launched in the 1920s, was also developing; experimental and innovative mosaics of high artistic caliber and scale were developed for sacred and secular spaces alike.

In the 1980s, fourth-generation director Gabriel Mayer once again refocused the business on the values of artistic and technical quality. He contacted the best artists and architects of the day, many in the United States, to collaborate on innovative techniques, materials, and technologies for architectural art glass and mosaic. The year 1984 saw the Mayer studio’s execution of the first major work to employ the “float glass painting” technique, which the studio continues to use with much success today. (An entire float glass department would be added on to the Mayer studio in 2001.) With no lead panes of small pieces of blown glass required in float glass painting, a new phase of experimentation with artists began. Sandblasting, etching, and burned-in color resulted in highly differentiated, colorful glass works—and stained glass, which had been disregarded in recent years, was reestablished as a dynamic art form not only for churches but also secular public buildings and spaces.

Lasting Art for Future Generations

Today, Franz Mayer of Munich is a modern studio-laboratory of technically commanding caliber. Developments in technology allow the studio to support contemporary artists with a dizzying array of glass and mosaic techniques and materials. Digital printing, etching, and airbrushing can be combined with old-world practices like hand painting, slumping, and fusing to create dynamic large-scale works that pulse with pattern, texture, form, and color. Practical considerations, such as light and heat regulation for a building, for example, can be factored in to a project’s construction. The studio also expertly handles delivery, installation, permitting, engineering, lighting, and a host of other supplementary considerations.

Outreach and collaboration with artists, designers, architects, and other professionals continues to be at the heart of Franz Mayer’s mission. They seek to find not only the best artists, but also the best projects. “Our office in New York works closely with U.S. artists to find and develop project proposals,” notes Behrens. “We want to open the world of large-scale glass and mosaic work to all artists, not just those who define themselves as ‘public artists.’ So we’re more than happy to match any artist to any public art project. Some of the most sublime public art projects we’ve worked on have happened because we’ve worked to find, educate, and lend our expertise to the vision of painters, photographers, conceptual artists, and others who had never before created—or even considered creating—large-scale public art.”

U.S. artists frequently begin a project with a visit to the New York office, where they work with staff to complete a public art proposal and pore over the hundreds of glass and mosaic samples to give them a literal feel for their concept. Visits to any number of completed Franz Mayer projects in New York City are often designed to inspire artists to dream of what is possible. “It’s amazing how these artists who work in other disciplines such as paint, fiber, or light, find new meaning for their work when they consider it in glass or mosaic,” adds Mayer. “We give them a new language, new materials, a new palette for their imaginations. It’s beautiful to see them realize new opportunities and new ways of thinking about their work.”

View of the large stained glass studio where new work by the Starn brothers can be seen against the historic backdrop of various stained glass windows completed by Mayer of Munich. Image and copyright by Sammy Hart

View of the large stained glass studio where new work by the Starn brothers can be seen against the historic backdrop of various stained glass windows completed by Mayer of Munich. Image and copyright by Sammy Hart

Once the artist arrives in Munich to work, a full team of craftsmen and engineers are at their disposal to make their dream a reality. “We all take great care to observe and respect each artist’s unique identity and their desire to create,” say Mayer. “We love it when artists challenge us with new directions or require us to innovate with new techniques. It helps build trust on both sides.”

Naturally, not all collaborative proposals are chosen by the commissioner; there exists a delicate balance of creating a lasting work of art that meets a proposal’s budget and timeline. “There’s often no money and no time,” Mayer laughs. “But quality and artistic integrity must come first. Everyone who works here understands that, and we work hard to give every artist the freedom and space to create something that’s truly outstanding and beautiful. We owe it to future generations to have the time, integrity, and discipline to create works sustainably and joyfully so that they can be lasting.”

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