The mnemonic meaning behind souvenir glassware relates to broader narratives associated with the lived experience of both their physical use and their symbolic connections to the life of their individual owners.

Excerpt from:
Springs of Salvation: Theoretical and Literary Readings of Glassware from Bohemian Spas

Michelle F. Jackson, MA History of Decorative Arts & Design ’13

Michelle F. Jackson —Excerpt from "Springs of Salvation: Theoretical and Literary Readings of Glassware from Bohemian Spas" ∕ MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies ’13
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The contrasting elements of the handle and body re-form the traditional Bohemian beaker form, just as the mineral water it is made to carry would revitalize the body. The more existential reading of the mug places its problematic decorative scheme in a larger context, admittedly of amusement and leisure, but also in the more nuanced realm of corporeal restoration and communal ritualism.

The transformation of chemical agents and basic elements into a highly crafted, usable drinking vessel can also be translated to an interpretation of the artistic experience: glass objects play a role in a larger living experience, namely the concept of Lebenskunst, or “Living-Art.”

My thesis addressed Central European spas/sanatoria from an interdisciplinary perspective involving literary and theoretical models to interpret specialized glassware produced in Bohemia for domestic and international markets. To enrich my contextual approach, I analyzed both objects and period literature to explicate cultural memory practices, ranging from the Biedermeier period to the early twentieth century. I explored these objects as signifiers of national and regional movements concerned with cultural identity. To complete this study, I worked with glass collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Museum of Glass and Jewelry (Muzeum Skla a Biuterie), Jablonec, Czech Republic.

I am interested in objects as agents within broader social, political, and economic contexts, especially the notion of architecture and design as signifiers for identities--personal, regional, national. My process begins with the physical object. I try to first immerse myself fully in primary source materials, and then see how my findings in the archive or museum collection may speak to or differ from existing scholarship. Knowledge of materials and the making process is also influential to my research and writing projects as a teacher and historian.
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The offerings of spa resorts, or Kurorte, in Bohemia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been addressed from many different perspectives. Architectural history, period literature, and geographic surveys all comprise the historiography of the spa and its
ubiquity in the popular conception of physical and mental health for the upper classes in Central Europe and abroad. Utilitarian glassware associated with the spa and sanatorium experience rarely appears in exhibition catalogues as an object of interpretive study. Rather, the available scholarship often focuses solely on connoisseurship, ignoring the value of a material culture interpretation. My thesis addresses the experience of the spa/sanatorium from an interdisciplinary perspective involving both the interpretive study of this specialized glassware and a focused literary and theoretical analysis. In order to explore these objects as noteworthy mediators of the curing process, I discuss glassware as a physical emblem of German and Bohemian material culture. To enrich my formal analysis and contextual placement of the glassware, I examine the role of spa and souvenir glasses made during the Biedermeier and late-nineteenth century periods through the lens of Romantic portrayals of the Central European landscape in fairy tales by Adalbert Stifter as well as Thomas Mann’s portrayals of the sanatorium in early twentieth-century German literature.

The English word “spa” omits many of the heightened spiritualistic and mystical connotations surrounding the multiple German synonyms for this word. In addition to Kurort, the synonyms Heilquelle and Heilbad can be translated literally as “spring of salvation” or “wellness bath.” The sense that the spa offered both corporeal and spiritual wholeness delineates a mystical reading of its physical environment. It references the holistic renewal achieved through embracing the natural environment and the material objects that purvey its elements. The
ritualistic use of specially crafted objects for taking water is traced to the traditional thermal and mineral springs and baths of Greece and Rome. The study of mineral and thermal springs during the nineteenth century reached its height with the institutionalization of balneology as a medical discipline in universities across the German states and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

By relating this knowledge and experience of nature to aspects of cultural identity inherently woven into Central European literature, I will argue that spa glasses possess an innate hybrid identity, a combination of varied regional notions of self and location. My thesis addresses Bohemian glassware from visual and literary perspectives in order to draw on the perceptions of Bohemian cultural identities during the early twentieth century. By combining methodologies, I aim to analyze the role of spa glasses and cups beyond basic surface appraisal; this project situates glass objects in the physical and metaphysical realms of the Bohemian region and its literary imagination.

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