Filled with Ideas

Bead and jewelry designer Martina Schlemminger is imaginative and talented. Her glass toadstool figurines have become her trademark.
Andrea Ott | Dec 5, 2017

Schwäbisch Hall is a medieval town in the northeast of Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany. Half-timbered houses and narrow streets make a picture-perfect setting for a colorful and unhurried yet cosmopolitan ‘togetherness’. History is alive and touchable here: the Hohenloher Freilandmuseum Wackershofen (an open-air museum) with 70 historic buildings and demonstrations illustrating the lives and work activities of craftsmen of times gone by. It is also a culturally vibrant city with the Goethe Institute, the Hallisch-Franconian Museum, a number of open-air summer theater presentations, the Kunsthalle Würth (for art exhibitions) and annual festivals such as “Friendship Day” (Freundschaftstag), where people and organizations from a number of countries and cultures come together to sing, dance and share culinary delights. It’s no wonder that Martina Schlemminger loves her hometown, talks of “Italian” flair and adds that you find the best soft pretzels (Brezeln) right here. Martina practices the “craft of glass bead makers” – but wait! This profession doesn’t officially exist in Germany, because the German government deleted it from the Register of Craftsmen a long time ago. Martina tells us: “In the 70s, lampworking slowly came back from America to Germany – as a hobby. Most tools that are needed for it come from America. From Germany you get more the equipment for glass blowers, who need everything a bit bigger: they work with oxygen cylinders and have a natural gas line, while the lampworker needs other things, such as oxygen concentrators and gas cylinders and they build their own vents. Everyone is creative and uses things that he or she finds somewhere and can put to use. I use, for example, a cactus paddle in my work, but the torch itself comes from America.”
Martina has immersed herself in the subject, spent time learning the history of glass beads. She says that 5,000 years ago there were bead workshops. They were established in Germany towards the end of the first century by the Romans; in Franconia there were many. Tombs from the Merovingian period (5th to 8th century) and named after a Frankish royal family were found that contained beads as grave goods – that were originally connected to jewelry.
Why is this subject so near and dear to her heart? She reports: “My first occupational training was in my hometown in the city administration offices. After that I went to Stuttgart for occupational training as a visual merchandiser, then began in the industry as a workforce manager. When the company was sold, my position was deleted, so I went back to Schwäbisch Hall. Here I got a new job – and a new cat: a cat from the animal shelter. I let him explore our yard on a leash. When I was temporarily distracted, he broke free and ran into the street. I was able to snatch him back – at the price that he bit me on the left hand. He had been abused before. This wound caused sepsis (blood poisoning), which reached to the elbow. I had 3 emergency surgeries and 3 reconstructive surgeries. Then I was given the task to help train my hand, namely to thread beads! So I ordered the smallest from the Internet and tried to grip them with my left hand and stick the needle through with my right. My exercises led to me supplying my co-workers with homemade necklaces. One of my co-workers mentioned that his wife made her own glass beads and I should come by. So I met Christiane Strauss (, who then taught me the basics. When I created my first beads, I couldn’t even hold a coffee cup in my left hand without it wobbling; that was the end of 2007. In early October 2008 I took a course with Christiane and, within a few days, had gotten myself a torch.
At that time I also changed my job, in order to reduce my 120% to more normal working hours. 
I began selling my creations at markets and began volunteering at the Hohenlohe Freilandmuseum Wackershofen (open-air museum): as a living history demonstrator of the historical profession of Lampworker. I couldn’t afford to take any courses, so I looked at the creations of colleagues and sat every night at my torch in order to practice. I wanted to start my own business – what my mentor Christiane wasn’t so happy about – as she felt it was too early and I couldn’t make a living from it. I didn’t listen to her. It was wonderful that the employment office supported this step with funding. I had – and have – so many ideas that I want to try – actually more than I can ever bring to life. I essentially absorb and internalize any and all information that has to do with glass. I’ve learned a wide range of techniques. This sometimes causes a sense of mistrust on the part of some of my colleagues, as if they are afraid that I will take credit for or copycat others’ work. All in all, though, I can only say THANK YOU, Tom the cat! Without you, I would never have begun…and now I can’t stop!”
Martina Schlemminger works for the Glashütte Lauscha (a glassworks in Thuringia) as a glass tester. She tests the compatibility of these glasses with materials from other suppliers. As part  of this work she has, for example, in the course of two years, developed a temper curve (Ed. note: this involves the cooling of hot glass, so that it doesn’t crack) for glass from Lauscha that is fused with glass from Murano – and that fusing is actually commonly considered to be impossible. The head of the local vocational school for glass processing and manufacturing and glass design (Glasfachschule), consequently describes her as “having glass in her blood”.
Martina has her studio “die kleine verroterie” (a mixture of German and French, meaning “small glass beads”) together with her showroom in a 60 m2 aboveground vaulted cellar. “I would have never believed that is financially feasible, as lampwork is essentially an unprofitable art. But I can make a living from it,” she says. She sees problems that crop up not as stumbling blocks – but rather as stepping stones for getting ahead. Her resourcefulness, together with her own persistence, is what keeps her going. An example: because of the many tourists, she applied for permission to be open on Sundays, which was not granted. However, because she is also a collector of old glass objects, particularly those of Lauscha, she unceremoniously opened the “smallest glass museum” of Schwäbisch Hall – directly adjoining her studio.
We are pleased to present some of her many and varied works on these pages!