In Venetian arts and crafts

Lino Tagliapietra in these days is in Murano. Last February he was in Washington State. When the first Covid-19 cases arrived in Seattle, the glass laboratory where he was working closed. So Lino flew back to Murano, the island in the Venetian lagoon, where he was born in 1934.

The Fondamenta dei Vetrai (sidewalk of Glass workers) in Murano

The Exhibition “Venice and American Studio Glass” on San Giorgio Maggiore island

In those same months the Fondazione Giorgio Cini within the Stanze del Vetro project ( arranged an exhibition on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, dedicated to Venice and American glass. Lino Tagliapietra’s works would be there, too, together with America avant-garde.

Curated by Tina Oldknow and William Warmus, the exhibition “Venice and American Studio Glass” opened last September and because of the pandemics it had to close untimely and can now be enjoyed virtually only: During the over 3-hour long zoom conference introducing several artists participating, Lino Tagliapietra was invited to talk about his art, too. Here’s the link:

The online conference about “Venice and American Studio Glass”

I loved his intervention. He almost immediately put aside all the slides that had been prepared. He talked about his life as a glassblower working with Archimede Seguso, with Giovanni “Nane” Ferro at the Galliano Ferro factory, or at Venini. Putting words one after the other, he explained how he became a “maestrino” (young master) at the age of 21, adding how important it is that someone trusts you when you are young, emphasising how he could always rely on these masters for advice… What teaching means. In fact, never talking about his work or himself, but constantly paying a tribute to the “giants” that helped him become what he is.

While listening to him, I had a flashback and a photo of him in the furnace, pulling a long glass neck, came to my mind. His words at the conference had the same movement, but with words. Something anarchic, full of energy. Watch these photos:

Lino Tagliapietra working at the Venetians Series; photo by Russell Johnson; courtesy of Lino Tagliapietra inc.

Lino Tagliapietra working on the Venetians Series with Dale Chihuly; photo by Roy Charles White.

And he added

… in America it’s different.

Why working with glass in America is different

First, because when you teach how to work with glass, you need to explain in words what Venice is, what color, life, style Venice is like. Its culture, its paintings, its churches. Its food. Mmm, I don’t envy him. It must be so difficult to explain Venice in words without being here. With Archimede Seguso, no words were needed.

Second, because in America, there is a different philosophy:

In America I don’t work as a designer, I work as an artist.

In other words,

You have more freedom.

Meeting with Lino Tagliapietra in Murano

“Would it be possible to meet with Lino?” I asked Silvano, his son. And so, in front of some frittelle and wearing a face mask because of Covid-19, drinking some coffee, there we were. In his showroom in Murano, we talked about his glass, surrounded by that same art, true wonders of colours, forms, textures and reflections.

Spigoli tondi, Lino Tagliapietra, Murano, January 2021

His blue poignant eyes, with no glasses as lenses get dim when wearing a mask, were gleaming while talking. The espresso was on the table, getting cold. I said, don’t let coffee get cold, Lino, please. He looked at me and said, “well, the truth is that I don’t like this caffé” 🙂

I imagined those eyes in 1979 absorbing the light of the coast in Washington State, leaving the lagoon. He added, now that the water is often high, when I go out, I notice the lagoon colour is really unique and beautiful. From Murano to Pilchuck Glass School with Dale Chihuly and later back to Europe, France, Finland, reaching then the Pacific Ocean again, but on the other side, to work in Japan and New Zealand.

In Lino Tagliapietra’s showroom, Murano, January 2021

Making glass as divertissement

He told me about the “bomboniera” he had just made for the birth of his grandson —and for the future grandchildren. A sort of a “box of sweets”, a “souvenir”. This is a story I have always loved. Upstairs in his showroom, you can see a bookshelf filled up with tiny objects, each of them created on a special family occasion. Each of them a treasure and a prototype. For a wedding, for a communion, for a childbirth. A family story told through glass creations.

What is a small object for a glass blower giant?

I remember talking about this with the son of another famous glass blower. He mentioned how his father would start as a child in a furnace working as an assistant and during the lunch break he would do little objects with glass. To learn and train.

Lino Tagliapietra is also like that child. Curious to learn and attracted by the potentiality of a small object as he has been by very large art works in glass for long. When I asked which glass pieces he likes at the Glass Museum in Murano, without hesitation he replied, “the ones I cannot make… they are not many, but there are some.” The ones that are technically challenging, some plates, some goblets. Something that was not made with the lamp working technique, but in a furnace.

He told me how he used to make the little ampullae and small trays in glass for almost all the churches in Veneto and for the Popes, i.e. Paolo VI, Giovanni XXIII and Giovanni Paolo I. He then drew one of these ampullae of the 1700s whose design was very interesting and could be “modernised”:

Sketch of an ampoule by Lino Tagliapietra, 2021

Glass design quality

Continuity, calm, tranquility: this is what you need to learn and with these objects of design, you need to continue making them, till you learn how to make them in a series. Just like the souvenirs for his family events as each guest would receive a replica. A replica which however is never a replica as it is not industrially made, but aims at being identical to the other ones.

We should be like that farmer that cuts the grass with a sickle

A natural movement, something you do not think about, something automatic, nothing “pasticciato” (messed up). All of you, visiting a furnace in a factory, will remember the team work. How workers collaborate, each making the right movement, at the right time so the master can create. The synchronisation shows that “it is the good “servente” that makes the “maestro” good”, says Lino Tagliapietra.

Design is important and not easy. You create something and then you have to repeat it. Like the byzantine icons, where the ability lies in painting one icon just like the others. No new elements, no difference.

Design versus art with glass

But, there is a but in Lino Tagliapietra’s career. It was the meeting with Andries Dirk Copier that taught him that glass could be art. When you create something as a work of art, you concentrate on uniqueness. Trying to do something special, some new every time. This is something he could only do abroad, in America. That freedom he mentioned before.

Masai, Lino Tagliapietra, Murano, 2018

There he worked without moulds, confronting himself with several glass masters. To reach the perfect object in glass, you need proportions, technique, lightness. Lino is convinced that a perfect work of art is that work you want to look at and look at again, without getting tired. Something transmitting emotions just like when you look at nature, not something you need to strain yourself to understand. Is there an object able to constantly communicate peace and beauty, whose energy does not exhaust itself?

The Saturn Cup by Lino Tagliapietra

A great example is the Saturn cup made in simple crystal glass. The Saturn cup is an object he started thinking of during the honeymoon at Capodimonte in 1959, when he observed an ancient Roman piece. Nobody knew how it was made and then, in 1962 he managed to make it.

Saturn cup by Lino Tagliapietra, 1962

And more evolutions around the concept Saturn:

Saturn by Lino Tagliapietra photo by Francesco Allegretto, 1995

This story shows the importance of the past for Lino Tagliapietra, the need to be back to Italy and to reconnect to Murano. He mentioned the story of Aeneas and his father, Anchises. Troy was destroyed. The father told Aeneas to leave him behind as he felt he was just a burden for his son that had to flee. Aeneas answered, he would carry him on his shoulders and take him with him as “you know so many things I don’t know and I will not make mistakes if you are with me.” Glass for Lino is his family.

A final note which is a beginning

“We need a new museum in Murano”, Lino Tagliapietra added. And then again, that thinking fast, words that move free, unexpected. “A museum for modern glass art”, where to arrange “conferences, international and Venetian.” “A library, a teaching place for those that want to learn”. It could not end but like that, teaching and learning, without borders towards the future.

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy

On the cover, Lino Tagliapietra, Bull’s Eye

David Landau and his wife Rose founded Pentagram Stiftung and the Centre for the Studies of Glass in Venice; within the Fondazione Giorgio Cini they take care of the Stanze del Vetro project and historical archives regarding Glass in Murano.

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