At first glance, quaint Ebeltoft, located on the coast of Denmark's mainland, about 60 km. north of Ârhus, the country's second-largest city after Copenhagen, appears an unlikely site for an innovative modern museum. But this is Denmark after all; it may be an ancient, historic land, but today it is renowned worldwide for its innovative designs in many fields.
Many and varied are the attractions that draw visitors to this area of Denmark known as East Jutland: the gracious towns of Randers and Ârhus, Legoland, open-air museums, summertime Viking plays, historic rune stones and frescoes, the two-thousand-year-old Graubelle Man in the Moesgård Museum and the Glass Museum in Ebeltoft.
Ebeltoft dates back to medieval times, when it was a thriving market seaboard town trading with Germany, Sweden and Zealand. A Swedish invasion in 1659, when the town was sacked and Ebeltoft's merchant fleet torched, put an end to the town's prosperity. Three centuries of neglect followed, a sad state of affairs for the inhabitants but fortunate for tourism today, since poverty halted expansion and change, and thus, the old town was well preserved. Crooked, pedestrian-only streets lined with timber-framed row houses topped by red-tiled roofs radiate from Ebeltoft's old rådhus (1789) or town hall, said to be Denmark's smallest and today home to the Ebeltoft Museum. However, it is two other quite different attractions that are the main lure for visitors here: one is the Fregatten Jylland, a beautifully restored 19th century three-masted tall ship that lies by the harbour, and the nearby Glasmuseum with its innovative displays that attract glass artists and glass lovers from around the world.
The idea for the Glasmuseum was conceived by the Danish glass artist Finn Lynggaard, who lives and runs his studio in Ebeltoft, together with his wife, glass artist Tchai Munch. In 1985, with a charter confirmed by Royal Assent and a mandate "to administer a museum for modern international glass art" the museum started to become a reality. It was also stated that "the collection of the museum should primarily consist of glass art of Danish or foreign origin created within the last fifty years." Before the museum was even officially established, some 250 of the world's distinguished glass artists from 27 different countries had provided written undertakings that they would support the museum project, either by a monetary donation or by giving a sample of their work to the permanent collection.
Once the matter of the charter had been settled, it wasn't long before a suitable location for the already-growing collection was found in the former Customs and Excise House adjacent to the harbour in historic Ebeltoft. The building was officially opened by Queen Margrethe II in 1986. To celebrate its opening, the Glasmuseum arranged an international competition for glass artists under the age of 35. More than 400 talented young artists from all over the world, including Canada's Megan J. Kenny, submitted samples of their work, of which the chosen pieces were presented to the public during the summer of 1987 in an exhibition, entitled "Young Glass."
To-day there is more excitement in little Ebeltoft, as a major extension to the museum has just been unveiled. The extension will abut the existing building at a right angle, facing the beautiful cove of Ebeltoft. The joining of the two buildings will be carried out taking the existing building into particular consideration and the side facing the existing museum garden will consist of large glass sections, designed to diminish the boundary between outside and inside. Elegant, round columns in glass fibre will emphasize the lightness of the new building, which at the same time will allow light to stream through the location. The building and exhibitions both inside and out will flow together as a whole. The new improved facilities will give the museum's visitors a much better insight into international, contemporary glass as it will be possible to exhibit a larger number of works than is possible today. The exhibition space will also give the museum much better presentation possibilities. The Culture-café will make it possible to hold talks, lectures and musical events while the garden will provide new possibilities for outside glass installations, sculptures and activities. One of the aims of the museum and the architectural company - 3XNielsen - has been to create a building where architecture and art join together in unity while at the same time both emphasizing and respecting the existing historic building.
As of to-day, the museum's permanent collection consists of approximately 1,500 pieces, including works by a number of Canadian glass artists: Roman Bartkiw, Laura Kaufman-Weisbord, Megan J. Kenny, Lou Lynn Barbara Pierce, David Alexander Wilson and others. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum holds between six and nine solo or group exhibitions each year, presenting the latest tendencies in glass art, drawing on its own collection and 'guest' pieces from around the world. The artists regularly exchange or supplement their work, enabling the museum to show current trends in glass and the most up-to-date objects at all times. There are over 600 artists represented in the collection. In the past, the museum's main exhibition activities have concentrated on prominent, well-established and experienced glass artists. However, during the last few years, the museum has also looked towards young students and graduates and those who have only had a few years' experience working with glass, many of whom often have a more experimental outlook.
Established Canadian glass artists have been well-represented in the museum's exhibitions of the new millennium. Canadian Laura Kaufman-Weisbord's name appeared in the Spring 2000 exhibition Stained Glass and Glass Panels, a collection of stained glass, glass-relief panels and wall hangings of various techniques, all of which conveyed stories or messages of a religious, jovial or sad nature. Roman Bartkiw of Montreal joined 57 other international glass artists in the 2001 exhibition Religious Motifs in Glass that celebrated the town of Ebeltoft's 700-year anniversary in that year. A year-long exhibition in 2002 entitled Glass and Poetry brought together sculptures, vases, glasses, goblets and plates from the permanent collection. Designed by Per Arnoldi, best known for his work in furniture and exhibition design, the pieces were exhibited alongside 15 especially selected poems by such renowned writers as Dylan Thomas, whose poems were elegantly printed on sheets of plexi-glass. A glass piece by David Alexander Wilson was included in this exhibition.
The Glass Museum welcomes over 34,000 visitors a year to its elegant galleries, the demonstration workshop, its fine store and welcoming café. It is open daily all year except 24, 25 & 31 December & 1 January.
Ann Wallace is editor of The Travel Society Magazine
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