About us 40 years ago
Correspondent: Boris Danushevsky (1977)
The name of this Belarusian village is forest-like and absolutely not modern - Berezovka. It is situated asides the railway and motorways, amid a reserved forest, where, however, there are more spruce and pine than birch trees. They say, earlier it was vice versa, this is why they called the village “Berezovka”, but gradually the birch trees grew smaller and smaller, as the glass plant, which was founded in these places last century, grew and developed rapidly - for glass melting furnaces white-bodied beauties were cut out. A thin, elegant tree was necessary for the plant in large quantities to produce just as thin and elegant products - glassware. Now the glass factory "Neman" that took its name from the wide-spread river flowing nearby, switched to gas; cuttings of birch-trees stopped, and young, slender birch trees, lit up in the twilight by furnace lights, bravely peer over the factory fence, pleasing the citizens with their appearance.
When you come for the first time to the factory where glassware is produced, you feel as if you are in an unreal world. As in a well-placed circus attraction, where aquariums with fish or dozens of colorful shawls appear "out of nothing" in the deceptive hands of an illusionist, the same is here - in front of your eyes, at the will of designers and glass blowers magic transformations occur: from melted glass into beautiful vases, glasses, goblets, decorative things. Isn’t it a miracle? But after all, the very opening of glass you can’t call in a different way than the phenomenon! Because for the first time, and quite by accident, glass was melted by Phoenician merchants, who transported soda through the Mediterranean Sea. One evening, driven by strong wind and high waves, they were forced to adhere to a deserted shore. In order the wind did not blow out the fire kindled right on the sand, they brought from the ship pieces of soda and put them all around the fire. Early in the morning the Phoenicians saw in the embers something transparent, flat, like a dish that glittered in the sun, and rang, when pricking the tongues with surprise, they began to tap on it with the knuckles of their fingers. That was real glass, born from the combination of sand and soda with fire.
This beautiful legend exists for more than three millenia, and therefore now we think that glass existed always. We are so accustomed to it that sometimes we do not even appreciate the beauty that is contained in glass works of art. And you can be sure that they are artistic works when you look at the products with the brand of Berezovka glass factory. One can not help recalling Leskov's Lefty and two of his comrades, who did not only manage to shoe a steel "aglitsky" flea, but did also something "beyond any idea" – they put their names on the horseshoes and nails. On "Neman" glassworks there are also things made "beyond any concept." And one of the creators of these things is the young master-designer Anatoly Fedorkov.
Konstantin Paustovsky has a story written in pre-war years, "The Glass Master". It is about a young glass blower who lives by a stagnation dream to make a small crystal piano that "must shine and ring." I do not know if Anatoly Fedorkov read this story, but I know for sure that even before starting to work at the plant as a simple glass blower, he also dreamed of creating something extraordinary out of glass. And when Anatoly felt that he had mastered all the secrets of glassmaking skill perfectly, he decided to try himself in art, so he left the factory for a time and started self-education.
There is not a single book about glass, porcelain or ceramics that he has not read, there is not a single factory museum that he has not visited. But most of the time he spent in the Hermitage's storerooms, where he saw the richest collection of glass from different eras and schools, beginning from the oldest - the Egyptian and ending with the Venetian. At that time they widely used in "Neman" zinc sulfide glass, invented in the late 50's. Adding it to crystal gives the whole range of opal color - from completely transparent to dense, reminding frozen lava. Opal jugs and decanters came in large batches from the factory conveyor. And it prompted Fedorkov to use zinc sulfide glass in a different quality - as a decoration, that is, to use its ability to give a clearly visible drawing. His drawings were ready. For a long time he wanted to capture in the decorative glass his favorite flowers, repeat the lace of the Vologda craftsmen, convey the architectural harmony and the compositional expressiveness of the ancient monuments of culture.
Anatoly tried to apply zinc sulfide glass so that it fell on the walls of a crystal vase with thin horizontal threads. While the transverse cords were not frozen, he pulled them in the form of a spiral to the bottom of the vase by a specially made hook. When the vase cooled down, beautiful white and blue garlands appeared on it, flowing down the walls. The new color effect, obtained in this way, immediately attracted the attention of specialists, and the design that now decorates Fedorkov's products began to be called "Neman thread".
The river Neman in general plays a prominent role in the work of the master. Anatoly is very fond of meeting the dawn on its bank. In these early morning hours it is incredibly quiet near the river. There are no bathers, no fishermen. The sun's rays are just starting to break out from behind the tops of the fir trees and lie on the surface of the water. Here, on the bank of the river, among the thickets of willow and lichen, the centuries-old mossy pine and spruce tower up, their sprawling branches cover half a sky above the head. Below the river Neman flows smoothly its cold blue waves. This quiet, like a waking beauty of the surrounding nature, once inspired Anatoly to make a drawing of a set "Flower", for the creation of which he received the highest award - the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition of Glass and Porcelain in Jablonec-na-Nisse.
The secret of such a great success, which fell to the creator of the "Flower", is that the images of the home nature, refracted in the mind of the designer, have become images of art. When you look at a dish of colorless glass decorated with a careful, filigree drawing, it seems that this drawing is not the result of the hands of the master, but the imprint of a real flower. On the petals the slightest veins are visible, which as the finest threads stretch towards the center, where there are pistils and stamens. And it seems that it is not an artist, but nature itself has created this product, so beautiful in its color, expressiveness and simplicity.
Fedorkov, as a self-taught designer, has an exceptionally developed sense of beauty. Moreover, it is surprising that when designing a product he does not use, like other designers, either sketches or drawings. He explains it in this way: - Each person has an inner vision, that is, the ability to imagine an object in his mind. So I'm thinking of doing some new product. I do not aspire to immediately transfer to paper its form, but I try to present it in different versions. I think out the color, the plastic, the sizes. I'll go over dozens of variants, until the one that satisfies me most appears before my eyes. Well, and then, as they say, the matter of technology. I come to guta and start to sculpt.
For hours I was sitting in the guta (so the workshop is called where glass is melted in the ovens) opposite the table of Anatoly, watching his work and trying to catch the moment of creativity, the moment of the birth of the work of art ...
Now Anatoly comes to the gap of the furnace, where, like in a blast furnace, red and yellow lightning flashes – glass mass is boiling heated to a temperature of 1200 - 1400 degrees. He has a thin metal tube in his hands. He puts one of its ends into the bath, turns slowly, threading the tip of the sticky, like honey, mass of glass. The hands continuously rotate the tube so that glass mass does not slide onto the workbench. Anatoly rolls up the taken glass, puffs up with his mouth and rolls again. While this is only a preparation, or "smooth surface”, as the glassblowers say, and only he, the master, alone knows what shape it will take and which product it will turn into.
Anatoly easily touches the tube with his lips, slightly inflates his cheeks, and I see how the obstinate lump of glass turns into a brilliant transparent bubble, then begins to change its shape, becoming a bizarre vessel, then a kind of semi-fantastic animal. At first I thought: anyone can do the same. And Anatoly, as if guessing my idea, took a drop of glass on the tube and handed it to me - try it. I picked up the tube and felt that the glass does not obey me. Hardly I managed to bring the tube to my lips to blow it - it twisted on a workbench as a viscous, shapeless mass. That's the whole thing. I understood: this deceptive simplicity and ease with which Anatoly makes his products, conceals, above all, skill and many years of the master’s experience. However, having only these two merits, you will not become the creator of beauty. It is also necessary that they were combined with the original artistic taste, with the same "God's gift", without which there is no art.
And the longer you observe how Fedorkov works, the more understandable is the phrase of the Austrian poet Rilke: "Almost all things are waiting for a touch" – having written it the poet had in his mind not simply the work of man's hands, but his talent, skill, a particle of character and soul.
Glass, created by Fedorkov, is juicy, saturated with color, decorative. He gravitates to simple, not pretentious shapes, often applies a calm and noble, slightly cooled range of grey and bluish hues, animated by sparks of silvery threads. They, these sparks, so unconstrained and natural in decor, never loosing their life for a moment, probably conquered the Japanese - the visitors of the EXPO-70 exhibition, where Fedorkov's wall dish decorated with "Neman thread" was presented. The Japanese, who delicately feel the restrained beauty of the nature of their country, its chamber colors, appreciated the work of the Soviet master, expressing the desire to buy a dish for their museum.