T.B. has a large glass tumbler/vase in cranberry with a small white painted figure of a young boy with a hoop and rod. He is dressed in 19th century knickers and a velvet coat with ruffles. This painting style on glass goes by the amusing German name of Quarkmal. Quark, as chefs know, is a dairy product from Germany that has a sour cream consistency and is used to make those fabulous German cheesecakes. The paint on the glass looks like quark.
This thick, white painted technique on glass was used to depict children at play. Called "Mary Gregory" glass, it's an example of how a material thing can operate like an international fad, crossing borders, with its sweet, sentimental style borrowed from the Victorian era.
This tradition dates back to the late 18th to early 19th century, when Czechs of German origins dominated the glass industry. The famous Czech glasshouses Riedel and Moser made beautiful glass; each father in a glass concern would teach his young son the art of painting Quarkmal. Boys as young as 10 painted these delicate white-on-white images of children their own age.
A fine painting on glass is not as easy as it sounds. A base figure in white Quark mixed with ground glass was first laid down. Linear details were then added after the original figure dried, like the hoop you see and the grass under the figure's feet. The piece was then fired. Then little detail dots were added, then the piece was fired again. Each firing increased the likelihood of breakage, but the painting remained durable, fused to the glass after firing. Fine Czech Quarkmal was an upper middle class collectible all over the world, until World War II.
In 1947, Czechoslovakia became a communist country, and every glassmaker with a German name was expelled for not being Czech enough. Czech glass houses were nationalized and only clear, unpainted glass was produced under the brand name "Crystalex." Quarkmal seemed a lost art. But it was not lost; rather, it was moving.
Collectors in England and America had discovered Quarkmal through another source. The American glass painter Mary Gregory (1856-1908) painted in the Quarkmal style for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. on Cape Cod. Her most valuable wares are the fanciful paintings of children in Victorian outfits on glass lampshades. In Grapeville, Pa., the Westmoreland Glass Co. issued a line of Quarkmal after Mary Gregory's death in the 1920s called "Mary Gregory" glass. The most popular color was Blue Mist, a semi-transparent light blue. Cranberry was the second best-seller.
Czech glass houses after World War II saw the popularity of Mary Gregory glass in the U.S. and Britain, and resumed the manufacture of their original invention, Quarkmal. For cost reasons, instead of double-firing the glass, artisans were trained to layer on a coat of Quark and then remove areas of paint to form the figure. The art was then accomplished in one step. Instead of tinting the gather of glass in the molten state, the red color was "flashed" on clear glass, for example, to create cranberry glass.
Back in Pennsylvania in 1957, the Westmoreland Glass Co. welcomed two brothers who were forced to leave post-war Czechoslovakia because of their German last name, Pohl. The brothers reintroduced Quarkmal back to Westmoreland, and after a second wave of "Mary Gregory" glass, a popular seller from 1960-84, Westmoreland closed.
Quarkmal persisted. Artists from Westmoreland opened "Treasured Editions" featuring those little white-painted children. American collectors bought "Mary Gregory" glass, believing that the art dated from 19th century Cape Cod, where Ms. Gregory began the American tradition of Quarkmal. Even though it is a German technique, most dealers will tell you that "Mary Gregory" glass is an American art form. And because of the belief that it is American and those are American children, the glass has seen some high prices.
T.B.'s paper label under the bottom of the glass reads "Made in Western Germany." Most "Mary Gregory" glass is not made New England, nor in Pennsylvania, but is German or Czech, dating from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Her glass is about 30 years old and not as well painted as the exquisite detail of pre-war WWII Quarkmal. And that means it is not as valuable.
"Mary Gregory" glass, if original to Cape Cod, costs hundreds and thousands of dollars. But 20th century German/Czech is not as desirable. T.B.'s glass is worth about $60 to $75.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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