Heart of Glass . . . I found this to be a very inspiring story, and I hope you enjoy. Tony P.
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Museum retrospective features works of a glass masterThe Virginian-Pilot - Norfolk,VA,USALino Tagliapietra broke the glassblowing mold by sharing Murano's industry secrets with aspiring American artists. Above is his''Mandara. ...See all stories on this topic http://hamptonroads.com/2009/04/museum-retrospective-features-works-glass-master
Museum retrospective features works of a glass masterBy Teresa AnnasThe Virginian-Pilot© April 8, 2009
THE BEST GLASSBLOWER in the world began his career as a little boy assisting a glass-working team in Murano, Italy. It was a modest start fueled by his red-hot passion to learn.
Lino Tagliapietra blew through his studies and by 22 had reached the level of glass master in his hometown, a high achievement on an island long renowned for its glass.
Tagliapietra, whose work is the subject of a show opening today at the Chrysler Museum of Art as part of the region's "Art of Glass 2" festival, labored in several glass factories, acquiring skills and opening up possibilities at each one, from Renaissance-style goblets with dragon stems to his invention of a modern sculpture that looks like the planet Saturn.
A turning point came in 1979, at age 45, when he ventured to Seattle. As he taught and befriended aspiring glassartists, a free-wheeling American crew that craved his expertise, Tagliapietra's world got much larger and more colorful.
Now he is 74 and has been an independent artist - not designing or blowing for other artists, such as Dale Chihuly, or for Venetian glass factories - since the mid-1990s. Many in the glass world speak his name with reverence and affection.
His career path has mirrored one of his highly complex glass vessels.
Imagine a piece that began with a modest bubble. More glass was added, the form further blown out, the shape paddled and altered, threads of colored glass wrapped around it. And somewhere along the line, symbolizing his shift to America, he changed the axis of his piece by moving the blowpipe to the side of the vessel, one of his signature, mind-boggling techniques.
Tagliapietra, speaking from his home in Murano, said he liked the analogy for his life's work. "It became bigger and bigger and better and better," said the man everyone calls Lino (pronounced Lee-no). "I like it very much."
With one caveat.
"Probably, I still to grow."
Actually, Tagliapietra's first stop in America was a tree farm in Stanwood, Wash., site of Pilchuck Glass School, 50 miles north of Seattle. In the summer of 1979, he took his first-ever flight to get there, to teach aspiring glass artists. He barely spoke a word of English.
Why go? "Mainly curiosity," he said last week. "Not only curiosity. I love United States forever. I read about Mayflower people. I know about Thanksgiving. I like the movie 'Easy Rider.' I like these kinds of things."
When he got there, he soon discovered the level of his pupils.
"I think at the time they are terrible!"
Even the glass they worked with was poor quality and was "totally difficult to work.
"They try to do some 'filigrana,' " blown glass incorporating slices of "cane," which are long, slender sticks of fused, multicolored glass. "Almost impossible."
Mostly he demonstrated, and they made a stab at it.
The Americans had a different take. "God had come to Pilchuck," pronounced one glassblower in the catalog essay by Susanne Frantz, a glass curator who organized the touring exhibition that is bringing Tagliapietra's work to the Chrysler.
When he arrived in Washington, Tagliapietra "was at the height of his skills and cognizant of a new moment in glass in which he could share his culture and build upon it," Frantz wrote.
Murano had been in a slump since the 1960s, and he had been trying to revitalize its artistic heritage by helping to organize glass workshops at home. He was excited about exploring new forms and ideas. That attitude was not shared by most Muranese glass workers.
He came to like the young Americans. "They no care if the glass is the worst material in the world. They are totally free. They try everything.
"This is why I like it so much."
He returned to Pilchuck to teach 13 times between 1980 and 2003. Those neophyte glass artists of the Pacific Northwest, now a who's who list in American glass, absorbed much technical and aesthetic knowledge from him. In return, he got respect.
"I feel important for them. And everything I say, they follow. I like it. I like it very much.
"I feeling totally the opposite what I'm feeling in Murano. I feeling I am something. I think it's possible to grow and do lots of beautiful things.
"I feel freedom."
At Pilchuck, Tagliapietra was sharing processes that Murano had long held secret, because the island depended heavily on the glass industry. "This make Murano probably a little bit uncomfortable," he said. Back home, some glass workers expressed resentment and maybe some jealousy, he said.
"I have lots of very good friends here, honest," he said of Murano. "But if we go talking about work things or shows, I feel much more comfortable in Seattle," where he and his wife, Lina, live for four or five months each year.
Most Muranese (also called Venetian) glassblowers who leave the island stick with what they know, even living elsewhere, he said. "They never grow or change. Probably I am the first guy after going to States, I change. I change a lot of things.
"I stay still a Venetian, but I do lots of new things."
Tagliapietra's show covers his career as a designer, artist and glassblower from the 1960s into the 2000s. The Museum of Glass in Tacoma organized the exhibition, but the Chrysler's glass curator, Kelly Conway, is responsible for the Norfolk stop.
She's been studying glassblowing at Tidewater Community College and can really marvel at the virtuosity on display. But Tagliapietra's pieces don't always betray his process.
"You get to stuff like this and how, how, how does he do this?" she said, gazing at a 2006 vessel called "Medusa," with surface designs suggesting jellyfish.
She knows he used the "incalmo" technique several times, which entails adding on a separate blown form to an in-progress one. She also knows he turned the axis more than once; that is, he transferred the piece onto a new blowpipe to reorient the bubble. These are complex procedures.
But, even if the technique was completely known: How does he do it?
The answer lies in six decades of daily glassblowing, the influence of many mentors, an awe-inspiring physical stamina and a passion for experimentation.
Those things, plus his visionary "third eye." "We have two eyes, and then we have the one eye inside our brain," he explained. "You see one piece and then you see the transformation that could be the next one." One work leads to another in a chain of inspiration.
In a documentary produced for the exhibition, Tagliapietra is shown working. He looks calm, sometimes whistling as he undergoes complicated procedures that would unnerve any other artist.
When he whistles, that means he's nervous. "It relaxes my stomach and mind," he said. No matter what goes wrong, he needs to keep his team of assistants relaxed.
Many people quiz him about technique. But Tagliapietra quickly warmed to discussing what inspired various works, and what they meant to him.
His exhibition's showstopper is "Endeavor," a flotilla of 35 blown-glass "boats" floating in the air. Each is different, a gem of color and shape and surface patterns.
Tagliapietra said he was inspired by a birdlike boat he saw in a painting in the 1950s, but he did not begin blowing his vision in glass until 1995. "My boat is supposed to be like bird. For me, it's very poetic. Sometimes like a big eagle. Sometimes like a pigeon. It's still boat."
Stand before it and squint, and the piece looks like the rippling waters of the lagoon off Murano, with colorful factory glass sparkling on the surface.
His 2004 piece "Stromboli" came from seeing the active volcano on the island of Stromboli. He said he wanted to evoke the contrast between flowing water, represented in a central stripe of turquoise, and the red-hot lava and golden flame that flank it.
"Mandara," made in 2006, means "forever young," he said. The teardrop-shaped vessel, flattened somewhat into a disk, features curving stripes of orange-red, marine blue and green-gold.
Tagliapietra, one of few glass artists who make their own colors rather than buying them ready-made, saw the brilliant orange while watching a documentary on India.
He created the piece after recovering from a 2002 operation for thyroid cancer. "When they remove the thyroid, I start to feel much better. I feel I must do something very important. I want something very bright, very strong. Something make me up, then I go back to work."
The bright colors lifted his spirit and made a statement.
"It says, 'I want to stay life. I want to be forever young.' "