Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Murano Italy - The Island of Glass


Nancy Peterson
Beaver Island Jewelry

Last year I was offered an opportunity to take a glassmaking class from a master artisan, Lucio Bubucco, on the island of Murano, Italy, which is the “heart” of glassmaking. I thought about it for about a day and then decided what an opportunity to work with the maestro of glass control and expand my horizons, both professionally and personally. The class consisted of 8 other American beadmakers from around the country. As many of you know, I am a glass beadmaker, creating flameworked beads from a rod of glass that comes from Murano, Italy and then selling the beads individually or designing them into jewelry which I sell on my website, http://www.beaverislandjewelry.com/, or at Livingstone Studio, http://www.livingstonestudio.com/.

Murano is a group of islands lying about .6 of a mile off the northern side of the island of Venice. Several interesting islands hide in the shallow Venetian lagoon which is part of the Adriatic Sea. The shallow waters and treacherous sandbars made Venezia safe from attack by land or water; no city wall was needed!

Lampwork Primer

First, will be a short primer on the art of making flameworked beads. Glass rods that I use are called “soft glass” as they contain high soda content and have a bright color palette. They are in the form of about 13 inch rods of glass which are then melted with a focused source of heat: a torch flame. Most of my glass rods actually come from the Moretti factory on the island of Murano, through an American supplier. Glass can then be formed into any composition. It is a process of both science and art. Everything is done to a bead while it is molten hot; no poking with your fingers! A variety of metal tools are utilized to poke, form, or pull the molten glass to create your little piece of art. After a bead is formed, either on the mandrel, or off the mandrel, it goes into a kiln set at 940 degrees for annealing or hardening. This temperature is ramped down over about 6 hours. Here you can see me making a bead with my kiln in the background. Notice that there is a ventilation system to draw the fumes outside and I have on didyium glasses so I can see the work without the flare from the soda glass. This process of making glass beads with a flame is called lampwork. The “lamp” is a gas-fed flame that is used to soften and model canes of colored glass into articles of various kinds. In the 15th century, the flame was supplied by oil lamps and was permitted in Venice after furnace glassmakers were banned to Murano.

History of Glassmaking in Venice and Murano

The earliest evidence of glassmaking in Venice is from AD 982. Fragments of Murano-made glass date from the 13th century. In 1291 the demolition of all glass kilns in Venice was ordered due to the risk of fire with all the wood buildings. From then on, Murano was the main center of glass manufacture in the Venetian Empire. Being on a separate island protected the buildings of Venice plus the secrets of glassmaking. Originally mosaic glass was made on Murano, developing then to glass vases, goblets, sculptures and beads. The glass of Murano from the 19th and 20th centuries was embellished with filigree and adventurine, dragons, swans, serpents, storks and flowers, in a distinctive style. At the end of this series I will list some good references on Murano Glass and the island of Murano.

Lucio Bubacco Class

My class was six days long with Lucio Bubacco who makes artistic compositions of glass – not beads but whole structures which can sell upwards of $1500. As his website (www.luciobubacco.com) says: Lucio Bubacco's sensuous works combine the anatomic perfection of Greek sculpture with the Byzantine gothic architecture of his native Venice. Seductive themes, metamorphosis and transformation, forms emerging from the void, echo themes from our mythological past when sexuality was spiritual, not political. Lucio is really a glass maestro. He only uses a rod of glass, a marver and the torch and people and figures just dance out of the flame! It is amazing and inspiring to watch him work. Here’s a photo of a mermaid he made in our class and a glass structure that he had for sale:

Some more photos from class:

Making a centaur.

A speciality - the ladies.

A little froggy that was suppose to go home with me--but he must have been lost in the studio!

Lucio working at his bench.

Leaf lady: Lucio made this in about 10 minutes. I bought it at the end of class.

Me working in class.

A Glimpse into Life in Murano

Everything goes by water in Murano and Venice; it reminded me of Beaver Island. Most people who visit Venice only go over to Murano for a few hours, with their eye on the clock and the timetable for the vaporettos back to Venice. I was living on Murano for about three weeks, with a little side trip to Florence and Tuscany, which gave me a glimpse into the rhythm of Murano (yes, I will go back!). There is an invisible side of Murano with furnaces that the public cannot visit, the people that you usually don’t meet and some little shops that you may not have time to visit. Glassmaking on Murano is more than a job; it is a passion that absorbs the glassmaker’s lives.

Early in the morning my roommate and I got up in our ground floor apartment, opened the window to the canal and made some café latte in our little gas percolator. We did have a washing machine (tiny) but no dryer (that is a clothesline outside). On Sunday walking around I saw lots of laundry hanging outside to dry. Of course, there are no vehicles. You walk everywhere or take a boat or ride a bicycle. The vaporreto is the means of transportation everywhere – from different parts of Murano to Venice or to the airport or other islands such as Burano. The locals have a pass that allows them to hop on any boat. We usually bought a one way ticket for 6.50 euro or a 12 or 24-hour pass such as on the weekend.

Fresh vegetables are sold from a boat and in Venice I saw the fish market boat! There is a very nice grocery store (actually two) on Murano, called “The Coop”. We fixed a lot of fresh pasta, very delicious sweet sausage, cheeses, fresh bread, and of course, wine! In the morning I would see unloading of cargo, the DHL boat, the dump boat, the veggie man along with people waiting for the vaporetto.

Everything closed up on Murano about 7 p.m. The trattorias or restaurants take turns being open on the island in the evening. One night we stumbled upon the one open restaurant where we enjoyed some wine, café and sweets. Walking around at night you could hear and see the furnaces charging their furnaces for the next day’s glassmaking. A few people would be out walking their dogs. Speaking about dogs, you had to be careful about where you stepped on the cobblestone walks as the dogs had no grass to do their duties. Italians seem to love their dogs and it is a very dog-friendly country. Dogs were on the trains, in stores, in the trattorias, on the boats, in the airport, everywhere!

Following are some photos showing life in Murano, Italy. Next time I will show you some of the special access we received behind the scenes of glass furnaces, mosaic makers and others.

The dog at our lunch restaurant. Foggy morn in Murano.

Our caffe pot. Delivery via boats.
The dump boat. See blue "street art - Murano Glass" in the background.

Glass abacus street art on Murano.

Here's the bus!
The Faro lighthouse

Maximillon glass vases.

Murano doorway.

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Sassy Becker Designs said...

Hi! I love the info on murano glass and congrats to you on your visit and bead making. I'm trying to connect with bead makers directly in murano to purchase their beads (i am not a beadmaker but a jewelry designer)....is there a way to do this? Sorry for the off subject comment! Desperate to find some way to directly work with the italian bead makers! Appreciate any help. Amber

muranovase said...

I see some of your works of glass beads and you know all I can say is, all of them are really beautiful.

I love beads, I love wearing them, I also love to give them as gifts.

Your blog was a great help becasue little by little I am able to make my own beads.

Thanks a lot!

murano vase

Cialis said...

That looks like a lot of fun!

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Elliott Broidy said...

I love this type of art. I wish I had the talent.