Interview with Lino Tagliapietra on the challenges faced by Murano’s glass industry, and his career as a maestro
Does Muranese glass have a future?
This question preoccupies Lino Tagliapietra, one of the leading glassblowers in the world.
Born on Murano in 1934, Lino started at a glassworks at the age of eleven as a garzonetto (assistant ‘boy’), and rose up to become a maestro in 1957. He won awards in Italy, but his worldwide reputation took off when he started teaching in the US in 1979.
Collaborating with Dale Chihuly and many others, he profoundly influenced the American studio glass movement. In 1989, he established himself as an independent artist. Today, he divides his time between the US, international engagements, and his studio on Murano, where I interviewed him.
Has Murano changed much during your career?
Yes, a lot.
When I went away [to the US], Murano was already showing symptoms of decline: few young people, a way of working that was a bit too industrial – with less class, if you like. But it was still at a high standard. I had the good fortune of seeing hundreds of maestri at work. Today, there are few young people here, and they will only see two or three maestri. So it’s more difficult for them.
Is there a centre in the world for glass art today?
Historically, it was perhaps Murano. But there have been many centres which were important.
Nowadays, Murano represents, I don’t want to say the past, but it represents a future that is in decline. There are different centres which are evolving in a more solid manner.
In America, there are two, on the East Coast and West Coast. In general, America is invested more in glass as art than other countries.Then there is also Sweden, the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia.
Glass is becoming very popular. America has influenced a trend: the acceptance of glass as an expression of art.
What impact did working in the US have on you?
It changed my life, definitely, for the better. Working in America, and with Dale Chihuly, opened my mind in this sense: to think on a large scale, in a manner that was not too traditional. The liberty, while respecting the rules, to be, to make, to think: this was the best and most important thing. The difference between Murano and the US is liberty.
When I was in America, there were students who had a little experience of glass, who spoke of the ‘art’ of my work. They were convinced that they were making art, even if they made objects for ordinary use. This surprised me. In Murano, we knew that we were making objects for ordinary use, but we did not think we were making art.
Where should the line be drawn between glass as design and glass as art?
I do not believe that there is a great distinction. It depends on how it is done, on the spirit, the energy which you succeed in giving it, and on the person who looks at it.
How do you feel when you blow glass?
In the best cases, you begin with a conversation with the material. You seek to establish a rapport with the glass, through the joy of touching this material which is so beautiful. You have to approach it with respect, but you also have to express your ideas. And if you succeed in conversing, in maintaining a cordial rapport, you have a feeling of joy. You are happy, because when you make something that’s beautiful, you feel it. Another thing that I have is a curiosity about the material. I don’t want to say that I know –– I seek to know.
When did you make your most recent work in glass?
I made my last piece in the Corning Museum of Glass in May this year. They came out very well – I did not expect it. Three ‘Dinosaurs’.
Are you planning to continue?
That’s the million-dollar question! I don’t know. I’d like to, but I’m not becoming any younger. I think that my future was back there, in the past. But I’ve got a few ideas.
Does glass on Murano have a future?
I hope so. At this moment, it seems that it does not. Gas is a problem, but we became great on Murano without gas. Clearly if one wanted to produce only for tourism, we have big problems. But what worries me more is that the young seem to have lost the vocation for glass. There is not the human material to work with. And society has changed. Glass has become an object of ordinary use, where everyone can have it. It has become a tourist business. These are the things that worry me more. We’re in a moment of transition, to be watched with great attention.
I believe also that the future of glass is with women as well as men. Because, all in all, women now have an independence which never existed on Murano. But there will need to be schools, there will need to be important glassworks, which can produce maestri with ancient and new skills. You can’t do what is new unless you know what is old.
Historically, why did glass take root on Murano? Because there wasn’t anything here – neither water, nor wood, nor sand. But since history has given us this importance of being Murano, why should we let it be lost? I hope that it will return. It won’t be as it was before, but it will be there. It will be special. This is what I’d like.
Interview translated from the Italian by Emma Park.