Story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri
When I entered Max Erlacher’s gallery, I couldn’t help myself – I just stopped and stared. The brilliant Steuben glass and the stunning designs took my breath away. There is no doubt that the title of “master” is well deserved.
Roland “Max” Erlacher was born in Austria and entered glass technical school in Kramsach, Austria, at the age of 14. He went on to work as a journeyman for five years at Lomeyr Glass in Vienna. It was during this time that he earned his Master Engraver certification and the title of Fine Art Master. At the time, it was customary to leave for a new opportunity once that level was achieved, and in 1957, Max arrived alone in Corning to work for Steuben Glass. Six months later, he was drafted into the army, served for one year, and then spent the remainder of his service in the reserves, where he was able to live in Corning and continue his work at Steuben Glass.
His skill and his reputation continued to grow through his work at Steuben Glass and then in his own business, Erlacher Glass. Over the years he has engraved many one-of-a-kind pieces – The Crusader Bowl bought by President and Mrs. Reagan as a wedding gift for Prince Charles and Lady Diana; PT 109 for President John F. Kennedy; a window for Cornell University’s Law school; a portrait of Albert Einstein that is now in the Smithsonian, to name just a few.
Max is a quiet and unassuming man, but when he talks about his work, his eyes sparkle. He loves what he does. He showed me his workshop – glass pieces on shelves, some completed and some as works in progress – and the lathe and wheels that are the main tools of his art. He explains, “I use stone wheels for large cuts, diamond wheels to cut the glass, copper for engraving and refinement, and lead, felt, wood and cork to polish and finish.”
It’s quite an array of wheels, and he points out the different sizes and shapes as he explains their roles. As for his engravings, I asked him where he gets the inspiration for his designs. “Sometimes clients request ideas, but often the shape and form of the glass can inspire me.”
There is a lot of preparation work before an engraving begins. The glass must be cut and prepared. His designs are first sketched, and then a final drawing is completed before a tracing is done on the glass. The tracing itself is an involved process, as he demonstrated transferring it on the glass and then making sure it stays visible as he does the engraving. And when he showed me the actual engraving process, he was laser focused on the intricate cuts made by a tiny spinning wheel. The selection of wheels, the depth and precision of the cuts, the finishing polish – there is no doubt that hundreds of hours are involved for his complex pieces.
Max continues to engrave beautiful pieces of glass, some for his clients and some for his own artistic creativity. On occasion he is called upon to do engraving demonstrations and instruction at special events. His work can be seen at a location managed by his wife Kitty at 5 West Market Street in Corning, a showcase of a number of his one-of-a-kind pieces, along with several modern Steuben glass exhibition pieces.
From a young age in Austria to his lifelong pursuit of beautiful artwork, Max continues to create brilliant designs.
A master for sure, still engraving after all these years.