Panorama

Crafts
Doris Becker_Wheels, 2019 © DR
Crafts

Crafts

People who work in the crafts are, first and foremost, men and women who love their jobs. They make, restore and invent exceptional pieces that walk the line between beauty and utility. Most of them are the custodians of the skill and know-how that they have received from those who taught them, and they themselves are capable of passing their skills on to the generations to come. Master artisans make their names in a very wide variety of – sometimes surprising – fields, from decor to architecture, via fashion, theatre crafts, manufacturing and even cultural heritage.

As in most neighbouring European countries, interest in Luxembourg artisanship has, been resurgent in recent years, with a proliferation of exhibitions and very widespread recognition.

In Luxembourg, master artisanship is still being undermined by a lack of available training and an inability to hand skills down to a new generation. Despite this, artisanship in the country is vibrant and, in particular, stunningly diverse. For example, in addition to know-how in working with traditional materials available throughout Luxembourg’s history, such as ceramics, wood and metal, there are also experts in trades as varied as glass-blowing, felt-making, harpsichord-making, stonemasonry, silver- and goldsmithy, jewellery-making, weaving and lacquerware-making; there are even experts in puppet-making, concrete-design and plastic processing. In total, there are over 50 trades listed in the country.

Institutions

The Chamber of Skilled Trades and Crafts represents all Luxembourg craftspeople, including master artisans; the majority are registered with the Chamber.

In partnership with Banque et Caisse d'Épargne de l’État, the Chamber founded the non-profit De Mains De Maîtres Luxembourg. It is supported by the Ministry of the Economy and by the Municipality of Luxembourg City.

The purpose of De Mains De Maîtres Luxembourg is to promote master artisanship in Luxembourg and throughout Europe. Since November 2016, it has been holding a biennale under the same name at the 19 Liberté building and at various other cultural centres in Luxembourg City.

Not including printers, graphic designers or photographers, some 450 master artisans – citizens of Luxembourg or working in the country – are registered with De Mains De Maîtres Luxembourg, most of them self-employed or working in a studio where there are 10 people or fewer.

Two other non-profits – the Luxembourg Arts Circle (CAL) and the Luxembourg Association of Visual Artists (AAPL) – represent Luxembourg’s visual artists, and defend their interests and rights. Master artisans can also be members of these bodies.

Education

Although there are no courses in the artisanal trades available anywhere in Luxembourg, numerous courses are available in parts of neighbouring Germany, France and Belgium, often very short distances from Luxembourg. For glassware, there is the International Glass Art Centre (CIAV) in Meisenthal and the European Centre for Glass Art Research and Education (CERFAV), both in France; for textiles and fashion, there is the Trier University of Applied Sciences, in Germany; and there are art schools equipped with pottery, glass-blowing and jewellery studios, such as the La Cambre Higher National School of the Visual Arts, in Brussels, Belgium, or the Rhine Higher School of the Arts (HEAR), in Strasbourg, France. Centres in more distant parts of France regularly accept residencies by artists of all nationalities, including the Martell Enterprise Foundation’s newly established and highly innovative Arts and Craft Studios initiative, in Cognac; the more established International Glass and Visual Arts Research Centre (CIRVA), in Marseilles; and the long-established Centre for Research into the Art of Fire and Earth (CRAFT), in Limoges.

Grants and support for creatives

A variety of grants and other types of support are regularly awarded to master artisans.

Bursaries for education were awarded, in 2017, to Sarah Meyers (ceramicist) and, in 2019, to Doris Becker (ceramicist), Anne-Claude Jeitz (glass-blower) and Ellen Van der Woude (ceramicist).

Creativity grants have been awarded, in 2021, to Romy Collé (master goldsmith), Nancy Fis (artistic jeweller), Katarzyna Kot-Bach (wood sculptor), Tine Krumhorn (artistic interior designer), Iva Mrazkova and Jean Bichel (sculptor and artisan blacksmith), Karolina Pernar (wood sculptor), Maïté Schmit (designer goldsmith), Alejandra Solar (artistic jeweller) and Birgit Thalau (artistic jeweller).

Meyers & Fügmann_Duotone ©Meyers & Fügmann

European partners

At the European level, De Mains De Maîtres Luxembourg has joined the World Crafts Council Europe, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. It has also forged links with organisations in Luxembourg’s neighbouring countries: Ateliers d’Art de France, the French union representing over 6,000 master artisans; Be Craft, which brings together the main players in the applied arts in Belgium; and, in Switzerland, the Michelangelo Foundation, founded in 2016 by the Richemont group as a forum for Europe’s master artisans.

Exhibitions and events

In its first year, 2016, the De Mains de Maîtres biennale presented, at the 19 Liberté building, 50 master artisans from or working in Luxembourg, along with some 20 artisans from other European countries. It was a genuine hit with the public, drawing some 10,000 visitors. In its second year, 2018, it was split between several Luxembourg City museums and cultural centres, presenting some 70 Luxembourg master artisans and some 40 creatives from other European countries. Delayed in 2020 because of COVID-19, the next biennale is slated to be held in November 2021.

Luxembourg master artisans will also be involved in ESCH 2022, the events surrounding Esch-sur-Alzette’s time as European Capital of Culture: the CRAFT 3.0 exhibition will be held in spring 2022 at the creative hub 1535°, in Differdange.

Outside the Grand Duchy, Luxembourg master artisans have, since 2017, been exhibiting their work at Révélations, Europe’s premier master-artisanship biennale. In that context, 35 Luxembourg creatives were the guests of honour at Révélations 2019, and the country’s artisans are expected to be involved in the next biennale, slated for spring 2022. A selection of Luxembourg creatives have also participated, since 2018, in HOMO FABER, the major forum for European crafts, organised every two years in Venice by the Michelangelo Foundation; it will next be held in September 2021.

Every year, on the initiative of the UK Crafts Council, Collect art fair brings together a selection of international master artisans in London.

Prizes in Luxembourg and abroad

An audience prize and a jury prize are awarded every two years at the De Mains de Maîtres biennale. In 2016, they both went to ceramicists: Damiano Tussilagine and Ellen Van der Woude, respectively. In 2018, they went to Léa Schroeder (ceramicist) and Claude Schmitz (goldsmith and jeweller).

There are several important prizes dedicated to master artisanship in Europe, including the Liliane Bettencourt Prize pour l’intelligence de la main, awarded every year by the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, and the Loewe Craft Prize, created by the Spanish luxury brand of the same name; to date, no Luxembourg master artisan has been nominated for either prize.

The Tremplin Prizes, awarded by Be Craft, Belgium; the Young Creative Craftsworker’s Award, organised by Ateliers d’Art de France; and the award of the Matières Libres association, all reward young creatives who have just finished their studies in the applied arts.

As for the Blanc de Chine International Ceramic Art Award, every two years, it is given to a piece produced in white porcelain somewhere in the world.

©Claude Schmitz

Some of the best-known Luxembourg master artisans

Pascale Seil is a famous glass-blower, who has opened a boutique workshop in Berdorf and is known throughout the Grand Duchy for his blown-glass sculptures and other household decorations, whose colourful palette makes them recognisable.

Anne-Claude Jeitz and Camille Jacobs, two other glass-blowers, are better known abroad than they are in their own country.

Katarzyna Kot-Bach (wood sculptor), Wouter van der Vlugt (wood sculptor) and Tom Flick (stone sculptor) have created the Sixthfloor art collective, based in Koerich, where they do very well every year; they also have a presence at Luxembourg Art Week.

Doris Becker and Ellen van der Woude are the dominant figures in Luxembourg ceramics, and regularly exhibit their work abroad.

Known for her paintings on wax, Marie-Isabelle Callier, is also an author and recently published Mysteries at the Museums for Les Amis des Musées – Luxembourg and created two stamps, issued by Post Luxembourg for Christmas 2020.

Numerous master artisans have had their work put on public display following orders from municipalities, such as Bettina Scholl-Sabbatini, Iva Mrazkova and Jean Bichel. Lastly, Yvette Gastauer designed the Luxembourg face of some euro coins.

Ellen van der Woude_ A Prickly Package, 2016 ©Ellen van der Woude

Artisans and the media

ln Luxembourg, there are no media genuinely dedicated to master artisanship, such as the Revue de la Céramique et du Verre (France) or The Log Book (UK), or media in which the subject is regularly covered among other aspects of the arts, as is the case with Collect and L’Eventail (Belgium), Beaux-Arts Magazine, Connaissance des Arts and L’ŒIL (France).

More generalist media, such as PAPER JAM, cover the subject regularly, and RTL and Radio 100,7 cover all crafts-related events. There have been some 20-minute features about some creators on de RTL TV’s Artbox programme, such as the stylist Ezri Kahn (2018) or the wood sculptor Wouter van der Vlugt (2015).

Jean-Marc Dimanche
May 2021