Verre églomisé is a decorative art technique involving a process in which the back side of glass is gilded with a variety of luminous materials, most commonly gold leaf or silver leaf. The gilding may also be combined with reverse painting on the glass. As Miriam Ellner, one of the most sought-after artists in this decorative technique says, “it’s magic … they’re like moving paintings.” The word “églomisé” is derived from the 18th century French decorator, Jean-Baptiste Glomy but the art form dates back to pre-Roman eras. We visited both Miriam’s apartment and her studio—it’s always a delight to discover that some ancient art form is still very much alive in New York city. In fact Miriam is looking for more space for her team because of awakened interest from clients in “new money” countries such as Russia, China and India.
What drew you to this particular form of decorative art?
Oh, it was one of those things. When I studied decorative painting, I studied in Brussels and I learned wonderful techniques that I still use today but I learned how to gild and once you actually use gold leaf, it’s such a beautiful material I can’t describe it. I knew about églomisé and once I started working with it was like magic. I mean you can put glass, gold, crushed abalone … some of the most beautiful things. It’s all about the light, all about the angles—they’re like moving paintings.
There is something otherworldly about these materials, even in the names: moon gold, crushed abalone, japan paints …
It’s beautiful to see it coming into the 21st century. It evolves and I’m just somebody … well some people like to go wide—I like to go deep.
In everything one reads about you, there’s this sort of elegiac tone, you know “one of the last few artisans doing this kind of work” but in places like Asia for example, are there people doing this?
I think about five years ago I went to Europe because I wanted to spread my wings and I had a contact who was going to introduce me to the French divas …
Oh, there are églomisé divas?
I tell you, what I found was they didn’t have anyone who could do it like I did. Now it’s definitely more popular [to train as an églomisé artist] but I’ve been doing it since 1990 and I have to say, I’ve expanded it and done some really complex things that at least, I haven’t seen.
[Miriam’s studio manager for the floor, Brad Stokes adds: Miriam is fearless! People originally églomisée-d small things but with this woman, it’s, “Let’s do the entire ceiling in églomisé. Let’s do the entire room!”]
For how many hours are you able to stand here and physically do this work?
Oh, I get up at 7:30 in the morning. And I have just a wonderful team of people. And many of them are artists—I find they’re the best to have work for me.
I read that you said, “I’d be a mess if I didn’t work with my hands.”
Yeah … I mean what I do is part of who I am. I don’t want to separate out those things. I don’t think it’s a choice. And you don’t make money for a very long time. But the things that I love to do, I’m good at. So I have a certain confidence. If someone asks me to do something I’ve never done, I just say, “Oh sure, I can do it.” Then I figure it out.
You said that you do have plenty of demand for this, I was a bit surprised because we don’t see many places where this work is used as part of the décor. The last place I saw it was in Ellie Cullman’s apartment.
Well now I’m looking for more space because the projects are all really big.
Worldwide, which countries give you the most work?
I mean I do have work in the US but I also have English designers and I have French designers [who commission pieces for their clients] and they all work in Russia, Switzerland, China, India … Dubai.
In some ways it seems a very feminine form of decorative art. The word “powder room” keeps cropping up.
Weeell … it was … and I mean it lends itself to entryways and powder rooms and dining rooms. And statement rooms.
People like looking at themselves too!
[Laughs] There you go!
And you can check out the people behind you when you’re at the bar …
Now, that’s what we can offer!
So, Miriam you’re covered in glitter. Are you always covered in glitter? You look like a 1970s disco queen.
[Laughs] Yes … it gets everywhere.
And at last Sian is going to have to learn how to do the accent on the “e” in Microsoft Word. But I have to ask you, do you know how to do it?
Yes, I do. [looks at Brad] um … [Brad says, “option e e”]