In the early nineties, an authentic cottage industry was born in Krakow, Poland, with products that have grown to be highly coveted and acclaimed by collectors. It was in just two rooms and a bathtub that Patricia Breen Designs got their start.
After college and wanting to make a difference, Eric Shaikewitz and wife Patricia Breen, went to Poland with MBA Enterprise Corp., similar to the Peace Corps - but giving help and support to local businesses.
Living in Poland, the couple searched for Polish glass for their collection and to give as gifts. They found the old pieces of glass were quite beautiful, but the quality of the new glass ornaments that were being produced was poor and mass-produced.
A Post-Dispatch article quotes Breen: "They (Polish Factories) prided themselves on the fact that they were mass-producing things: it was a yardstick, a milestone for them. But there was no attention to detail. I realized a craft was being lost."
Breen became interested in designing ornaments and working with the glass factories. Unfortunately, the glass factories were not really interested in working with someone that wanted quality instead of quantity. This turned out to be fortunate for collectors, as Breen and Shaikewitz went to work producing their own glass ornaments and now make their home in Poland.
Breen comes up with the wonderful ideas and Shaikewitz (who has a background in art) sculpts the models. From the very fine micro-glitter, to the impressive detail in the painting and embellishments, there is no escaping the fact that these ornaments are more than glass ornaments, but have evolved into miniature works of art.
Breen sold her first few pieces to the St. Louis Art Museum, and the next year the ornaments were introduced to the rest of the country in the 1995 Neiman Marcus catalog.
Today the ornaments are still carried in select Neiman Marcus stores, as well as their catalogs. Gumps and Bergdorf Goodman also carry the ornaments, along with a limited number of retailers across the country. Only twenty different stores currently carry the Patricia Breen Designs.
Although the molds are limited to 2000 pieces, many ornaments are even more exclusive than that. At the autumn (very limited again!) signings, Breen introduces a few pieces exclusively designed for each "signing" store.
For instance in 2001 each store that had a collector's event, had a variation of the Into The Blue Hot Air Balloon ornament for purchase. Of course the enthusiastic collectors usually try and get all the different variations through furious trading or buying on eBay auctions.
Official website: patriciabreen.com.