Further north of the Vosges mountains, at the edge of Alsace and Lorraine, there are several villages (St-Louis, Lemberg, Goetzenbruck, Soucht and Meisenthal) which had long specialized in producing glass and crystal ware.
The village of Meisenthal is famous for its Centre International d’Art Verrier (CIAV; international center for studio glass). Glass has been produced in Meisenthal since the early 18th century, and since the 19th century Christmas decorations from Meisenthal were famous. They say the Christmas baubles hanging in the Christmas firs were first invented and created there.
The Christmas tree, a tree with a long history …
Between myth, legend and childhood memories, the Christmas tree is for most of us the symbol of a holiday that brings together family young and old. It is in a manuscript of the town of Sélestat in Alsace – dating back to 1521 – that the oldest currently known reference to the Christmas tree can be found. We published a special report dedicated to Selestat, the craddle of the Christmas tree.
Long before Christianity, at the time of our ancestors the Celts, people were looking forward to the end of the winter, the cold, the long dark nights and leafless trees. The fir, evergreen tree with its evergreen needles, mistletoe and holly plants were venerated. Presumably this old Celtic custom was perpetuated by Christians, especially in the Rhineland. Christians will put firs in front of churches. These trees will make up the “mysteries” played in winter. It seems that one of the most popular themes has been the story of Adam and Eve. In the winter season, the apple tree had long lost its leaves. The fir, king of winter par excellence, perfectly played the role the apple failed to do. Red apples, symbol of temptation were hung on the branches of the tree. Later large white hosts and even other fruit were added.
1858 – the year when a bauble of glass replaced the apple …
In 1858, following a particularly bad fall season without apples, the glassblowers of Goetzenbruck (a village just 2 kilometers from Meisenthal) hung on the Christmas tree the glass baubles they had made for a completely different use (optical glasses). The Christmas bauble was born and later produced in numbers until 1964.
The history of glass and cristal in the northern Vosges has a special personal meaning for me: the family of my father came from Switzerland back in the years 1690 to settle in the Meisenthal – St-Louis area to work in the new-born glass and crystal industry. As a child I remember when I went to my uncle in Saint-Louis. He had an important position in the Cristalleries Royales de Saint-Louis and was very proud of the beautiful artifacts created there for many kings, majesties and celebrities in the world.
Take home your own original Meisenthal Christal baubles!
The glass factory of Meisenthal sadly closed in 1969. But the revival started in 1992 with the establishment of an International Center for Glass Art (CIAV, Centre International d’Art Verrier). Step by step, backed by a consortium of local communities an incredible revival occured. The CIAV is now a unique place of production, demonstration, transmission of knowledge, creation and discovery.
It is possible to watch glassblowers in their activity of glassblowing, especially during the holiday season, when they make thousands of Christmas baubles in the old traditional and artisanal way.
There is a small shop and show room where you can choose among several models and plenty of colours and sizes baubles. This is indeed a fantastic and original gift when Christmas time comes: take some home for yourself and your beloved ones. Christmas baubles from the authentic origin and blown by the glass makers in the very old way and art.
The Glass factory’s museum of Meisenthal
Here in Meisenthal and for 250 years – from the early 1702 to 1969 when the local industry stopped its activity – a wonderful knowledge leaded to some of the most beautiful pieces of art and glass in the world. At the end of the Sixties the market share held by this high skilled workers who created everything manually had dropped dramatically and the activity was not sustainable anymore. The factory closed. From the golden age when the famous Emile Gallé learned glassmaking at Meisenthal in the mid 19th Century, most of the know-how had vanished and was lost.
Housed in one of the buildings of the former Meisenthal glassware since 1981, the House of glass and crystal traces the different stages of the manufacture of glass and crystal. It reflects the old glassmaking tradition of the region of Bitche, while a training school of glass puts the local glass art on the way for revival.
Some prestigious pieces signed St. Louis, René Lalique, Burgun-Schwerer, Émile Gallé are on display, as well as some new acquisitions in the Art Nouveau style. Two beautiful cups created by Désiré Christian for the wedding of the plant manager of Meisenthal are also presented. These cups have been recently acquired by the museum at an auction in New York.
Practical hints, tips and links
Meisenthal is some 130 kilometers only from Colmar, Riquewihr or La Vancelle. When staying at one of our holiday apartments you will need a 2 hours drive to go there. It is a beautiful area off the beaten track.
From Nov 9 to Dec 29, 2013 (except Dec 24-25), everyday from 14:00 to 18:00
Exhibition – show (see how glass is blown) and sale of original Meisenthal Christmas baubles.
You may combine your visit at Meisenthal with the visit of the Cristalleries Royales de St-Louis les Bitche (the village just nearby) and the beautiful new Lalique museum in Wingen-sur-Moder (on your way).
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