ART, HISTORY AND TECHNIQUE OF GLASS…
THE HISTORY OF A MUSEUM AND ITS COLLECTION
After the Second World War, the Belgian glass industry, faced with economic problems, found itself financially unable to invest in the essential scientific research work necessary for the sector to develop and innovate. The Belgian association ‘to promote the study of glasses and silica composites’ therefore launched the project to create the National Glass Institute, which would take charge of the research work and communicate its findings to the industries among its membership. At the same time, the former burgomaster of Charleroi, Joseph Tirou, had the idea of founding a Glass Museum in Charleroi, but there were no suitable premises available, so discussions were opened with the State with a view to getting this two-pronged project off the ground. On 27 March 1950, they resulted in the signature of an agreement on the construction, at the State’s expense, of a building which would house the National Glass Institute and the Glass Museum, on a piece of municipal land yet to be decided. The project was entrusted to Charleroi architect Jacques Depelsenaire. It was not until 1959 that the final choice was made to erect the building on the Plaine des Manoeuvres.
On 11 December 1951, it was agreed between the City, Glaverbel and the National Glass Institute that the City of Charleroi would be responsible for caretaking and maintenance at the Institute’s future premises, as well as setting up and operating the Museum, which was to be devoted to glass technology. The City then decided to acquire the collection of Raymond Chambon, an enlightened and passionate collector who had been involved with the Museum project since its earliest days. His remarkable collection of pieces and archive materials illustrated the progress achieved over the centuries in the manufacture, shaping and decoration of glass, and acted as a repository for the heritage of glassmaking in Belgium.
The Glass Museum was finally inaugurated on 25 June 1973 at a ceremony attended by Prince Albert and the Prime Minister, Edmond Leburton. Critics hailed the design and presentation of the Museum, with its resolutely educational layout intended to offer the opportunity to the largest number of people to understand glass as a material, through science, techniques, history and artistic movements. The Glass Museum then went on to promote new glass products via the intermediary of the Federation of Glass Industries; its close proximity to the National Glass Institute also meant that it was able to benefit from all the technical and experimental advances being achieved.
However, in 2002, the axe fell. The Federal State, which owned the building occupied by the Museum, wanted to terminate the long-term lease and use the premises for the new courthouse offices. The Glass Museum was boxed up and languished for five years until 2007, when it reopened on the site at the Bois du Cazier in Marcinelle, where it was once again able to celebrate the roots of glassmaking and its living memory in the Charleroi area.
The Museum in its current form covers 400 square metres in the old lamp works of the Bois du Cazier coal works, whose architects have successfully preserved its original features. A glass annex completes the building, and a mezzanine doubles the amount of floor space available, so as to optimise the layout. Its architecture, which is open to the outside, combined with the determination to respect what was already there, is all about transparent spaces and the gleam of glass, helping to make the integration of the site so coherent. This is a new setting for the Glass Museum, which has been developing its projects and activities here since 2007 and gradually regaining its place as a cultural beacon and as a museum, both domestically and in international terms.