Metal tools for glass are an essential help for glaziers. Maybe it is not what draws your attention when you observe masters or their helpers work on glass in a furnace or at their torch. That incandescent glass blob getting transformed, pinched, blown, turned around… magnetically attracts your eyes. Without metal tools or even wooden tools though, it would not be possible for glaziers to work, though.
In Murano, the most celebrated island for its glass tradition, there are two companies of great value. One, the Officina Arcangeli, makes wooden molds and tools for glass masters. You can read about it here. In Murano there is also a tiny company where Roberto Donà and his four employees make these metal tools. The place is small, two or three rooms. A corridor where the tools are hanging on the wall, a small place to rest and the blacksmith workshop where fire and metal meet to create.
These metal tools are true works of art. If you wonder why glass artists from all over the world contact this company when they need new metal tools, enjoy reading what follows…
Metal tools in the hands of Carlo Donà family-run company
The company name is Carlo Donà and it was founded in 1923. Celebrating one hundred years of activity is not so common. Carlo Donà was the grandfather of the current owner, Roberto. Carlo started the company together with his brother, but then they split and he was the only one that went on till he died in 1969. His son, Carletto, took over and now Carletto’s son, Roberto, who started contributing in 1979 still continues the family tradition. To be precise, Roberto’s great-grandfather Beniamino was also in the same business, even if he had no company of his own. Four generations.
The company was set in the same street where it is today, in the northern side of Murano. The house where the family lived was right above the blacksmith workshop. Space available was larger than today. Around 15 people worked here and the production was not just focused on metal tools. They also built furnaces, machines for glass grinding, moulds, sawing machines and bands.
The main change was in 1996 when the decision was taken to focus on tools in metal for glaziers, whether they were glass blowers or artists using the lamp working technique to work with glass.
Metal tools for glass in Murano as a sign of participation in the creative process
These metal tools last a long time. It happened to Roberto to repair some tools used by the famous glass artist Alfredo Barbini (1912-2007) which had been made by his grandfather. Something you would say should be showcased in a museum and yet still works or can be fixed to work as if new.
In fact, the collaboration with artists is an important element to understand the value of these tools. Even if nowadays it rarely happens that glass designers and glass blowers interact with blacksmiths in the furnaces, it is still true that glaziers ask for special tools, perfectly customized to their creative goals.
Don’t you need scissors that do not cut?
Every single tool you find in this factory is hand-crafted and therefore unique. Roberto explains that the only thing they don’t make are tiny tweezers because they would cost too much to be made in Murano, but even these tweezers need to be sharpened in Murano by hand. Beyond the classical and traditional tools such as scissors, jacks and blowpipes, there’s a whole world blacksmiths at Carlo Donà in Murano can create. They can change the ergonomic shape of the tool, they make compasses to make the perfect filigree, or scissors not meant to cut. By the way, even when you say “jacks”, there are at least eight different types!
And let’s not forget the torch for lamp working, the tools to make glass beads or the machines cutting the murrine glass mosaic.
Even “steel” is a generic term: there are many different kinds you can find employed in these tools, avoiding the formation of rust which could stain glass, or reflecting the need for rigidity or flexibility.
Working for glaziers abroad
Murano’s company sells and ships these metal tools all over the world: USA, Marocco, Ethiopia, Egypt as well as Austria or France. During the last edition of The Venice Glass Week, a lot was sold. It was very successful. Murano is still an island where the whole process of creating glass art is guaranteed —from the tools to the final result. It should still be the place where more can stem.
Glass and its future: the Cluster Glass Project
It felt as the right way to conclude the interview. From Roberto Donà’s perspective it is important to shake Murano and its cultural industrial heritage. Carlo Donà has chosen to be one of the Muranese companies supporting the project called Cluster Glass. Together with several other Italian and international actors, the project was born thanks to Università Iuav di Venezia in collaboration with the other Venetian university, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
Cluster Glass promotes a series of activities starting this very academic year (2023-2024): https://www.letsglass.it/a-tutto-vetro-con-cluster-glass/ (in Italian).
Just last month, September 2023, a hackathon was arranged in Venice: a lab for 12 students from both Venetian universities analyzed issues of different kinds in an interdisciplinary approach, considering environmental impact of glass, the process of recycling glass, energy resources involved both in the industrial and artistic glass production. Till November students will confront themselves with local companies in the field in the so-called glassLABs. In Italian, here is a first recap of the first ideas: https://www.unive.it/pag/14024/?tx_news_pi1[news]=15022&cHash=6068dd0d09bc497e444533ebcb46882a
Hopefully this is the starting point to continue a long tradition too rich to be lost.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy