History of glass nativity scenes
The first figures were carved by the local wood carvers such as Josef Salaba from Dlouhý. Another famous product is the tiny nativity scene by František Pospíšil from Železný Brod in Northern Bohemia.
Nevertheless, the most widely spread nativity scenes were hand painted on layered paper, for example the nativity scenes by František Maischeider and his assistant Josef Šefr.
But the most famous painter of the nativity scenes in Železný Brod, who was so-called „Honzíček“ (little John) or „holy Honzíček“, was undoubtedly Jan Šilhán. The date of his birth is unknown, we only know that he died in 1926. Each wealthy bride of that time used to have a nativity scene made by „Honzíček“ as a part of her trousseau. The painted nativity scenes by Šilhán excelled with its beauty and have been demanded and appreciated by collectors up to now.
Many of these nativity scenes were exhibited at Christmas exhibitions in Železný Brod in 1968. Part of the exhibited scenes has been ever since owned by the Town Museum.
The history of the glass nativity scenes is closely connected with the local High School of Applied Arts for Glassmaking, which was founded in 1920. After the foundation of the school its professor Jaroslav Brychta (1895-1971) together with the fellow workers created the first glass figures. The original pieces were initially made of individual glass wound beads strung on yarns, later on wires.
After that, the first glass lampwork figurines were made. These figurines have been produced in Železný Brod until now.
Many of the first glass school graduates founded their own companies shortly after their graduation. These companies mostly had a flying start and they soon started gaining significant awards at international glass exhibitions.
Železný Brod became world-known thanks to glassmakers. Although the quick development was slowed down by the depression, the well-run companies managed to overcome all the difficulties. They survived another difficult period of the Second World War.
After the power in the country was overtaken by the Communist party, all the property of entrepreneurs was confiscated and some were even persecuted and imprisoned.
The Czech glassmaking industry was centralized into the state enterprises by force. In Železný Brod it was mainly the company Železnobrodské sklo (ŽBS).
Although the production of glass figures was fortunately maintained in this state enterprise, the theme of nativity was not popular because of ideological reasons. Anything associated with religion fell into disfavor, even the popular trio of St. Nicholas, Devil and Angel was not allowed to be produced.
At the time of easing the political tensions in the 1960s, glass nativity scenes were produces again. The ŽBS state enterprise presented itself by nativity scenes abroad. One of the off-hand hot shaped glass scenes was donated to the Vatican and another one to the mayor of Montreal on the occasion of the World exhibition in 1967, where the scene was on show.
However, not many scenes of the official ŽBS production were preserved. One of them is the big figurines nativity scene from 1968 made by the Hlaváč brothers which is put on display in the Town Museum. From the others, there are similar scenes which are exhibitions in the church, in the museum, at private collectors’ expositions from time to time.
Glass figures were created in most cases individually and anonymously. Many glassmakers made their own nativity scenes according to their own designs. Some of these scenes have been passed on from generation to generation as a valuable family relic.
The workshops of glass figures at ŽBS were a very inspiring environment. The long-standing compact group of employees used to meet in its members’ free time even many years after the workshops had been closed down. Some of the unemployed craftsmen found a job at the newly founded private companies, where they have been producing the glass figures up to now.