BIOGRAPHY: Vaclav Fajt

From a very early age, Vaclav Fajt, born in Pilsen in what was then Czechoslovakia, on 4 August 1952, has been obsessed with the art of engraving, admiring especially the works of Albrecht Dürer, which he tried to copy. No wonder then that he never considered any other career option but that of an engraver. 

Even at primary school, Vaclav was interested in drawing and painting. Fajt learnt his art at the High School of Art in Turnov, from 1967 to 1971, where he got acquainted with various engraving techniques. Subsequently, Fajt continued his education at the Hollar Art School in Prague for another two years, where he not only worked on his engraving skills, but delved into typography as well. From this time, Fajt starting engraving lots of different subjects, but especially he tried to recreate the many masterworks of his beloved engraver Dürer.

In 1975, Fajt came to work for the Czechoslovakian State Printing Works, engraving bank notes. His first portraits appear on the 10k and 50k Czechoslovakian banknotes which were introduced in the mid 1980s.

From the start he had also shown a keen interest in engraving stamps. Fajt tirelessly submitted work after work which might enable him to qualify for stamp engraving assignments, but time and again he was turned down. This had nothing to do with the quality of his work. On the contrary, his work on numerous bank notes had already earned him a solid reputation of a very talented engraver. 

No, the reason for all the refusals was a purely political one. Back then, the communist powers in Czechoslovakia had a stranglehold on the production of the state’s stamps. That entailed that everyone wanting to be involved in the design and production of postage stamps had to be a member of the Creative Artists Union. But in order to become a member of this Union, one was obliged to join the Communist Party. Fajt could not bring himself to do this, which meant that all doors remained shut for him.

But luckily for him, the totalitarian regime started to show signs of yielding under popular pressure in the early 1980s. And so, when some of the old guard of engravers were pensioned off or had passed away, an urgent need for new, young engravers arose and this finally gave Vaclav Fajt the opportunity to enter the domain of stamp engraving, without having to renounce his political convictions.

His first two stamps were two values of the 1983 ‘Nature protection’ issue, depicting water lilies and an edible frog, and grey herons. Such was his talent, that the two stamps were promptly awarded ‘Best Nature stamps’ at an award ceremony in Italy.

These two stamps proved to be the start of an illustrious career as a stamp engraver, with by now over a hundred stamps bearing Fajt’s name. These include many Czechoslovakian stamps, but after that country split into two, Fajt has engraved many stamps for both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Among his award-winning engravings are the 1988 'Praga 88' stamps depicting details of Sebastian Ricci's Bacchus and Ariadne. 

On him engraving the many existing art works, for the several Art series of Czechoslovakia, and later of the Czech Republic, Fajt once said that it will not do to just try and copy the existing art work. "One has to try and identify with the original artists and the time spirit as well. Renaissance work needs a classic engraving style whereas more modern art works will require a less formal style. Basically, it's about capturing the essence of the artist, rather than merely copying their work. If you work in that way, which is what we all try, it should be possible to recognise work done by me, or by other engravers such as Housa and Svengsbir, to name but two. The engraving becomes as much an expression of our own individuality as it will remain an expression of the original artist's. And it is dissatisfaction and restlessness of the soul which keeps me going in search of better ways to achieve some form of perfection in my work."

His work as an engraver has yielded praise from the highest echelons of Czech society. When Vaclav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia, stamps bearing his portrait were designed and engraved by Milos Ondracek, another of the country’s famous engravers. Around the same time, Fajt had sent Havel an engraved portrait of the president. The president thanked Fajt and said he preferred Fajt’s portrait and wished that one had been chosen for the definitive stamps.

In 1996, Fajt finally got the opportunity to engrave a stamp portrait of Havel, then President of the Czech Republic, as part of a miniature sheet marking the president’s 60th anniversary, but unfortunately for him, that portrait is usually not regarded as superior to Ondracek’s previous portrait.

Engravers are not merely copying a design onto a plate, but they are often faced with issues of clarity, shades, and other printing problems. In 1997, Fajt and famous stamp designer Albert Fuchs worked together on an issue marking the international stamp exhibition Praga 1998. Fuchs praised Fajt no end, stating that Fajt admirably knew how to solve any technical issues with the design, regarding him more as a co-designer than ‘just’ an engraver.

The 21st century saw Fajt going from strength to strength, winning the prestigious 'Best Intaglio Stamp', awarded by the Government Postage Stamp Printers' Association, twice; for his stamps engraved in 2003 and 2017 for the annual Art series. The 2017 stamp, depicting Pesicova's 'The Victor' has been made available by the Czech Post in a special printing with all colours printed separately.

You will find Vaclav Fajt's database HERE.

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