Art is not always visible, and this is especially true in the case of glass. Who really sees the window glass? Who notices a light bulb, a vial of medicine, a fire-resistent glass bowl in the oven, or the glass you drink your orange juice from in the morning? Yet, behind all these objects there are also artists and designers juat as much as behind the spectacular and shiny objects. In the years after the Second World War, when the glass industry was booming in Hungary employing more than 10,000 people in 16 glass factories across the country, the factories employed a multitude of materials engineers, chemists and designers.
The situation was far from ideal, however: although theoretically all college graduates automatically got a job as designers in one of the glass factories, few remained in these unpleasant places, where they had to contend not only with the spartan conditions of the factories, but also with a management that was often not open to innovation, but more interested in ensuring smooth production. In addition, the management of the factories was not, to say the least, competent, costs were high, and increasing losses were often covered up by various tricks or simply ignored. The subsequent problems of the Hungarian glass factories were also foreshadowed by the fact that their product profile quickly became mono-planar maintaining mass production without any interest in product diversification. By the time this mistake was realised, it was too late in most cases and changes in consumer tastes, rising production costs and fierce competition swept away even long-established plants.
It is worth making special mention of Júlia Kovács (1947-2021), one of the most successful and innovative glass designers in the early stages of her career. Her design could be found in almost every Hungarian household, but as it was shipped to all the countries of the Eastern Block, it became a symbol of an era on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain and throughout Central and Eastern Europe. It can be called the 'Rubik's cube of the glass industry', as modified versions of this ingenious little invention are still marketed today as a durable, easy-to-clean and aesthetically pleasing object. The apple grater and lemon squeezer also won a prize at the Valencia International Design Exhibition in 1980, achieving great international success. The idea came from the fact that Júlia Kovács's workplace, the then small and insignificant factory in Nagykanizsa, was producing heat-resistant glass. However, the factory's product range was so narrow that Júlia Kovács convinced the factory's management to expand it and immediately came up with two ready-made designs. Together with the Granit porcelain factory in Kispest, where her friend Mária Minya worked, they created a range of interlocking porcelain and heat-resistant glass kitchenware that were an instant hit at international and national exhibitions attracting the interest of designers from Finnish factories such as the legendary Ittala and Arabia.
In the end this award-winning prototype did not go into mass-production, but her other idea, a machine-produced lemon twister and apple grater made of heat-resistant glass, became the flagship product of the glass factory of Nagykanizsai. Júlia Kovács later worked in Salgótarján, where she designed several other products, but when in the 1990s it became clear to her that the problems of the Hungarian glass industry were far from being solved and that she was developing her ideas for the drawer, she changed genres and turned to studio-glass and architectural projects. At the same time she returned to the material of her youth, ceramics. Júlia Kovács originally started her artistic career as a ceramicist, but during her university years she turned to glass, influenced in no small part by her husband András Szilágyi and her mother-in-law Júlia Báthory. In the 1990s she took a major part in the management of Júlia Báthory's oeuvre and was involved in the re-creation of many of her works and designs. In the last years of her life, she was fascinated by one of the everlasting problems of glass alchemists, the "marriage" of fireclay and glass.