Best Practice: The World Champions in Glass Art

The Derix Glass Studios in Taunusstein have been entitled to call themselves “Stained-Glass Artists to the Papal Court” for more than 100 years now. Today, they are clear trendsetters and the global market leaders in this rediscovered art.

What do Cologne Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, the Rockefeller Center in New York, and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt all have in common? Glass artworks by famous artists, produced in the Derix Glass Studios in the little town of Taunusstein in the Rheingau region with its 30,000 residents. Today, the family business established in 1866 is the world’s number one glass refiner, it collaborates with world-famous artists such as Gerhard Richter and James Rizzi, and is even entitled to call itself “Stained-Glass Artists to the Papal Court”.

“Derix put in a stained-glass window in Pius X’s staircase in 1908 and, two years later, carried out glazing in the Sistine Chapel,” explains Rainer Schmitt, who is the fifth generation of his family to be at the helm of the company which now boasts 80 employees. “For this effort at the Vatican the company founder and his sons were appointed stained-glass artists to the Papal Court.”

Schmitt has led his company into the future. Alongside churches, nowadays it is increasingly the case that such art is produced to decorate public areas (public art), company headquarters, and transportation hubs such as airports and underground stations. One particularly spectacular instance is the giant glass dome in the central underground station Formosa Boulevard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (photo). “It is now a popular venue for wedding photos.”

As he himself admits, Schmitt is “crazy about glass”. But it was chance that brought this about. In fact, what he really wanted to be was a technical draughtsman or an architect. However, his father advised him to consider becoming apprenticed to a decorative glass workshop. As soon as he set foot in the workshop he succumbed to its magic. He embarked on an apprenticeship, which was followed by an initial job with Derix, a course of studies towards becoming a glass construction engineer and master glazier, his own business, and finally by him taking over the reins in the family business, Derix, at the beginning of 2015.

A powerhouse of know-how and sheer passion, Schmitt truly bubbles over with ideas when it comes to glass art. “Anything’s possible, we really push the physical boundaries,” he says. In the studios the hand-blown glass is refined up to ten times, usually by hand. Etching is used more and more frequently. Derix is the world leader in this technique. Leading and bonding is another of their arts. Schmitt talks about “lead acrobatics”. He has had a number of techniques patented.

A selection of their best pieces is on show in their in-house gallery, where the displays include not only works by Gerhard Richter and James Rizzi but also exhibits by the great glass artists Johannes Schreiter, Ludwig Schaffrath and Brian Clarke, the popstar amongst them: “In his endeavours, you can see what it means to paint with light. We provide the artists with that third dimension,” says Schmitt.

In a side room, a giant painted canvas is spread out over the floor. It is by Markus Lüpertz, a famous German painter, and is to serve as a template for a window in Hanover’s market church. It was former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who paid for it. “This is our next major project,” explains Schmitt.

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