The Stisom glass factory at Crucişor, Ţara Codrului, 1998
It was a cavernous steel building rocked by winds that blew through its uninsulated walls, the din of furnaces, and hundreds of people at work. They were making blown glass tableware for the international market. The gaffers - all men - moved like ballet dancers and jazz musicians in the fearful heat; by contrast, they seemed incredibly cool. But the factory was struggling to survive. Eleven years after our visit, made while I was researching Maramureş for the Blue Guide, it closed, throwing wonderfully skilled people out of their jobs. You might think such a Dickensian place was long past its sell-by date, but most of the employees looked remarkably cheerful, and their products, created by a process known since the second millennium BC, were beautiful. I did not realise how rare they were.
Back story: In 1989, the year which ended with Romania’s revolution, Stisom employed 1500 people who kept the factory going 24 hours a day, in four shifts. When I went there, with the ethnographer Georgeta Iuga and her husband, the poet, Dumitru Iuga, the number of workers had fallen to a couple of hundred. It finally shut down in 2009, having lost the fight against cheap Chinese imports and the rising price of methane gas (used to power the furnaces, and no doubt horribly polluting). Scanning the net in June 2012, I found articles that said its ex-workers had been struggling to survive, and that many had joined the throngs of economic migrants to Western Europe. It wasn’t all gloomy though: one of the reports said the son of the factory’s founder (it opened in 1938) claimed it had been nationalised illegally by the Communists, and he wanted to get the company back. Another focussed on the mayor of Crucişor who used to work in the factory and was also trying to restart the firm, despite the fact that a lot of the machinery had been sold to pay debts. And a son of one of Stisom’s craftsmen had established a glass-blowing business near Sibiu.