Glass in All Shapes And Colours

  26.02.2017 Profile

Over half a century ago, in 1962, Giovanella’s grandfather Hans Hirt founded the workshop at the Oberdorfstrasse. He was often on the road to repair damaged church windows, which still is one of the most common uses of stained glass. Giovanella was born in Neuchâtel but her parents returned to the Saanenland when she was only aged 2; they took over the workshop. Her parents' work soon stirred a sense of creativity and artistry in the young girl, who spent a lot of time in her parents’ atelier. But it was still a long way to her current position, including a detour in administrative jobs.

As a young adult, Giovanella decided to return to her place of birth – at least temporarily – to visit the École Supérieure de Commerce. Her formative years continued in the Federal Administration and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. After some years of administrative work in the capital, Giovanella returned to her roots in Saanen. In 1999 she was back home to learn the trade of her grandfather in her parents’ workshop. Two years later she was running the business.

A Dream Come True
Continuing the family business was a big dream for Giovanella. After working in her own workshop for thirteen years, she decided to broaden her knowledge and abilities as a stained glass artist. In 2014 she began an abbreviated apprenticeship. Every other month she spends a day in Bern for this purpose, time she appreciates. Even though she has years of practical experience, Giovanella learns many new things that she can adapt and integrate in her own work.

Stained glass workmanship is strongly related to history, culture, and art. This combination fascinates Giovanella as well as the interplay of colours and light. Last but not least she appreciates the contact with her clients. Most orders begin with a meeting, in which she needs to find out what the client wants – not always an easy task but one Giovanella enjoys.

Standing Out
If glass painting has never been a common profession, it has become even rarer in our modern times. Giovanella owns the only stained glass workshop in the whole Bernese Oberland. Her class in the Design School (Schule für Gestaltung) in Bern only counts three students – Giovanella included. Often she leaves Saanen for her bimonthly trip to the school with her bag full of glass to provide the exercise material for her fellow students and for herself. People know each other within the Swiss glass painting community and they are happy to help, be it with a word of advice or a larger furnace.

Fresh Colours for the Anglican Church
Giovanella’s most recent project is the renovation of the leadlights of the Anglican Church in Château-d’Oex. Her grandfather used to travel all around Switzerland to restore church windows, probably the most famous form of glass painting. Now Giovanella can renovate a church just across the Vanel, a work she is looking forward to.

The Anglican Church is currently organising a fund raising to finance the renovation of the windows. Two have been financed so far but there are nine more, for which funds could not be secured yet.  Giovanella hopes that finances will no longer delay the work.

What exactly is waiting for her is hard to say. It all depends on the condition of the various parts of each window. In a work of restauration such as this one, Giovanella follows the guidelines of the Corpus Vitrearum, an initiative for the documentation and rescuing of historical stained glass windows.

Reinventing Tradition
Apart from the traditional leadlight techniques Giovanella uses glass fusing, for example. It's a technique used to join two or more glass pieces together by partly melting the glass at 800 degrees. In a second step the joined glass pieces can be shaped. The results are modern interior objects for lighting, bathrooms, or doors, for example. So stained glass should not be reduced to antiques or dusty churches.

Giovanella is neither afraid of dusty churches, nor of modern interior decoration. Her proudly cherished speciality are lamps and lightings of all kinds, be it a traditional streetlight or a modern interior installation. After all, that's what stained glass has always been about: the interplay with light.

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