Deborah Ehrlich has been designing exquisitely simple crystal glassware since 1999. Sketched in her Hudson Valley studio, and hand blown, cut, and polished by master craftsmen in Sweden, each piece is a union of contemporary forms and traditional techniques. Her work is featured in collections around the world, including E.R. Butler & Co., The Cooper-Hewitt Design Store, Turpan, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Moss.
Paper thin, clear as water, and absolutely flawless, Ehrlich’s creations are instantly recognizable for their purity and delicacy. The strength of non-lead Swedish crystal allows a fineness of line that enhances her graceful, unadorned shapes. Achieving the right scale is paramount. “I work very, very slowly, just connecting dots on a piece of paper trying to find the most beautiful proportion,” says Ehrlich. “I’m looking for a certain silence, a quiet.”
Ehrlich’s tools are basic: plain white tracing paper, sharp pencils, and a thin metal ruler. It’s an old-fashioned approach informed by an unconventional training. Born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1966, Ehrlich received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Barnard College in 1988, and moved to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, to study under master sculptor Mike Skop. In 1990 she began to travel through Europe, helping to restore the stained glass of St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, learning design at The Danish Design School in Copenhagen (where she was introduced to blown-glass production), and sculpting large-scale installations from local materials in Provence.
In 1998 Ehrlich returned to New York and produced her first glass: a narrow, stemless champagne flute inspired by the small, everyday wine tumblers she’d grown accustomed to in France. She found a Swedish glassblower to manufacture four for her personal use. Upon seeing one, the Japanese department store Takashimaya immediately placed an order — and Ehrlich founded her own company. She still works with the Swedish glassblower who manufactured that original prototype.
Ehrlich’s commitment to the highest quality artisanship, and deep appreciation for the craftsmen she works with, imbues her products with a distinct authenticity. So, too, does her faith in the artistic process. “Knowing when you’ve found a perfectly balanced proportion is no guessing game,” she says. “It’s like feeling in the dark for a door handle — when you come upon it, the emptiness becomes structured. It’s very, very clear that by finding it, you are holding onto a much larger piece of architecture.”
Today Ehrlich works out of an 18th-century stone farmhouse in Accord, New York, which she shares with her husband, the artist Christopher Kurtz, and their small daughter.