Roland “Max” Erlacher: Master Glass Engraver
By Debbie Tarsitano
Max Erlacher is an engraving legend in the Crystal City, Corning, New York. Born in Austria in 1933, a young Max witnessed Austrian master engraver Herman Schiller create an engraved glass work of art. Instantly he realized he wanted to pursue a career as an engraver. Later, Schiller became his teacher at a glass technical school in Kramsach, Tyrol, Austria.
While working on his artistic skills, Max also studied anatomy to understand the human form. Max recalls, “First I had to model my engraving in clay bas-relief to envision the depth and scale of the engraving. Then I engraved my design in glass.”
After four years of training in Kramsach, Max went to work at Lobmeyr in Vienna as a journeyman. After only three years, he qualified to be evaluated for his master certification. Max earned his master engraver certificate and remained with Lobmeyr for two more years, and by his early 20’s he was a master engraver with a growing reputation.
Max learned about Steuben Glass from advertisements and from its esteemed reputation within art glass circles. In 1957 he came to Corning, New York to work for Steuben glass as a master engraver.
For many happy years, Max engraved one-of-a-kind and landmark pieces for Steuben Glass. Says Max, “Over thirty years ago I created a portrait of Albert Einstein that is now in the Smithsonian … My other works include the Crusader Bowl bought by President and Mrs. Reagan as a wedding gift for Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles (which took 670 hours); PT109 for President John F. Kennedy; a piece President Johnson gave to Nikita Khrushchev; and a long horn steer and cowboy called ‘Trail Rider’ for President Johnson.”
In 1974 Max started his own business, Erlacher Glass, with his wife Kitty. “I started working on a variety of my own projects. I met flameworker and glass sculptor Debbie Tarsitano in 1976 and began a lengthy collaboration combining my engravings and Debbie’s flamework encased in optical crystal. Over the years we created many portraits including Mother Theresa, Anne Frank, and a major narrative called ‘The Outstretched Hand of Liberty.’ Also during that time, I engraved a window for Cornell University’s Law School, and a set of large Tattoo vases with artist Kiki Smith,” recalls Max.
Today Max Roland Erlacher continues to make some of the finest engravings in the world. He is currently an instructor at The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass. His wife Kitty has a shop on Market Street in Corning featuring vintage Steuben. Currently, Max is collaborating with artist Erik Hilton and discussing new work with Debbie Tarsitano. His work continues to fascinate and delight collectors all over the world.
Debbie Tarsitano is a pioneer, innovator and designer in art glass since 1974. She is a master flameworker, hot glass sculptor, and instructor at The Studio of the Corning Museum of glass. Debbie Tarsitano has written many feature articles on contemporary glass.