Once Upon a Bottle

by Kira Resari

Once Upon a Bottle is an artistic project centered around the idea of giving new life to discarded bottles, using artisanal methods to reincarnate used glassware in the shape of drinking glasses, carafes, plates, bowls, spoons, wind-chimes, vases, table lamps, chandeliers, as well as countless other forms.

Kirsten Matos-Thümecke, the woman behind the project – originally from Puerto Rico – has been fascinated by glass since childhood. As a child, she would comb the beaches of her island home for bits of colorful sea-glass, alongside her mother.  She was amazed and delighted by the smooth-edged, colorful gems which the sea would tumble back to her shores after years of exposure to the elements, and wondered what stories these little treasures might have to tell. It impressed her how the sea could effectively turn something as negative and destructive as littering into something positive and beautiful by converting carelessly discarded bottles into tiny little gemstones.

Her mother further inspired her. Firmly believing in the principles of recycling and sustainability, Kirsten’s mother did her part to keep wastefulness to a minimum, often re-utilizing particularly beautiful old bottles to store infused olive oils and vinegar among other things. Frequently the bottles she used had a special meaning attached to them: They might have been mementos of a celebration, a trip, a romantic dinner, or perhaps been given as a present from a dear friend. Often, seeing the bottles decorating the kitchen counter – or noticing how they reflected the light from a window – would bring back happy memories, just like a cherished photo. This left a deep impression with Kirsten, who eventually started her own collection, giving a new home and purpose to pretty and unusual old bottles.

Kirsten graduated from university with a degree in Sociology, already busy raising two young sons. She worked as a case manager in Child Protective Services and Foster Care for the state of Georgia, and later on accepted a position as a teacher. However, she soon realized that this was not her true calling. She enjoyed being a mother, but she also longed for the opportunity to do something creative and work with her hands. Finally, at age 40 – with four sons and a dissolved 20-year marriage – she found herself having to start over.

Fate intervened, and Kirsten moved to Germany, marrying her childhood sweetheart, Marc Thümecke. Looking for her calling, she began thinking about what she could do that would combine her inventiveness, be fulfilling, and simultaneously have a positive impact on the world around her. She was animated by the pro-recycling attitude in Germany, and the idea of turning something unwanted into something beautiful and useful greatly appealed to her. A pretty, amber colored cheese plate – made from an old bottle – which had been given to her by one of her sons many years before, served as further inspiration. She began contemplating the potentials of bottles if they could somehow be professionally refined. However, unable to speak German and without any experience in the field of glass-working, the idea of processing bottles seemed farfetched. Nevertheless, she began to collect her ideas on her laptop in a file named “Once Upon a Bottle”, an appropriate name, she figured, for what in her mind was a fairytale. She soon shared her notion with her husband, Marc, who loved the idea, and encouraged her to pursue her dream. And so, with newly found determination, Kirsten set out to learn all she could about working with glass bottles.

While there are many masters in the field of glass-working, there are almost none that specialize exclusively on working with used bottles – the chemical composition of which is often indeterminable – which is fundamentally different from working with industry-grade artistic glass with uniform properties. Kirsten, however, learned the basics of melting glass from masters of the trade such as Gabriele Metzger and Anne Hein, but had to figure out the specific techniques required to process a vast diversity of bottles entirely on her own.

From 2013 to 2016, Kirsten gradually honed her skills and learned about the unique properties of used bottles by trial and error more often than not. However, emboldened by the spark of resolve within her heart and the tremendous support of her family and community – she persevered to find a new way to give new life to these discarded and yet beautiful victims of contemporary consumerism – she overcame all challenges before her and eventually became a master in her own right.

Today, Kirsten works in a spacious atelier in Poing, Germany a village outside of Munich, where she has hundreds of reincarnated bottles on display. Her goal now is clearer than ever before: To breathe new life into beautiful, discarded bottles, and open a new chapter in their story.

One that begins with the words:
Once upon a bottle