August 10, 1934
A Venetian Glass Maestro
GLASS IS A WONDERFUL MATERIAL.
Why? because the glass is alive.
Even when it is cool, it is still moving.
It is connected with fire,
it is connected with water,
it is so natural.
Glass is my life.
One Thousand Years，One Lino Tagliapietra
The history of Venetian glass can be traced back to the 8th century. The successful industry brought wealth and success to Venice and in 1291 the Venetian government imposed a decree forcing all glassmakers to relocate to Murano for a couple of reasons: first, they feared a fire would start from the furnaces in the wooden structures of the crowded city and secondly, they wanted to keep their glassmaking formulas secret.
As other European countries witnessed the beauty of Venetian glass and the wealth it produced, glassblowers were bribed to leave the island. To prevent defection, officials increased the punishment to include fines, imprisonment and even death. By the 14th century, those who stayed and were loyal to the legacy of Venetian glass were treated treated like royalty and their daughters were permitted to marry into Venice’s most affluent families.
By the time Lino Tagliapietra was born in 1934, Venetian glass had already enjoyed a fruitful 1,000 year history.
One Thousand Years, a Fated Encounter
The relationship between Lino Tagliapietra and glass can only be a work of fate. In this tiny island that holds the world’s richest glass legacy, behind the refinement of Venice, behind the surgical-like precision of artisan glassmakers, is one individual shaped by a rigorous and stringent apprenticeship.
Peering through the window of a glass studio, 6 year Lino witnessed the magical formation of a glass orb. At 10, despite the objection of his family, he dropped out of school and entered the studio as an apprentice. For two years he performed menial duties and endured the reproach of his master. He persevered and then gradually, starting from the basic cup and vase, he began working with glass.
“Flying hand” is a glassmaking technique in which the only tools used to create perfect balance, symmetry, and elegance are the artist’s own hands. The ability to remain one’s composure despite the onslaught of a 1,400°C fire is a sweat-drenched undertaking. 10 years toiling under these conditions can reshape a person down to their core because here, defeat prevails over success; only with the will to persist, bear failure and desire to learn will one discover that the “self” is trivial and develop a care for the outside world. Within the formless is the universe of an artist, one that shapes a steadfast artistic soul.
It is not for everyone.
But Lino passed the test.
A Venetian, an Artisan
Lino Tagliapietra earned the rank of “maestro” at 23 but it do not stop him from learning or challenging himself. During this period the Venetian glass industry was going downhill. To find someone willing to labor in front of a punishing fire was a rarity; the once prolific fires scattered throughout the island went out one by one. On the other side of the ocean, American Studio Glass was just getting started.
American artists – passionate but lacking technical knowledge and their Venetian counterparts – technically advanced yet creatively stalled, appeared before Tagliapietra simultaneously. The Americans beckoned to him yet he knew how protective his homeland was of their glassworking secrets.
It is our luck that Venice had long abolished the death sentence upon anyone who revealed the secrets of Venetian glassblowing to outsiders but it did not mean that Tagliapietra did not receive criticism for travelling to the US to teach.
Fellow Venetian glassworkers condemned his choice, “What you do is your business but don’t reveal too much because what you know does not belong to you, it is part of our tradition and spreading it to others is wrong.”
He responded: All our knowledge comes from someone or somewhere; knowledge does not belong to any one person or entity. No one brought technical know-how to Murano, it was developed as glassblowers worked together and pushed each other to try new and different things. I like America because the Americans believe knowledge is to be shared.
When a tradition is not shared, it is lost. And then it becomes a loss for all humankind. At the intersection between the past and future, Tagliapietra was given a choice. How does one extract oneself from a national view and embrace a worldview from a historical perspective? How does one become aware of a global cultural and artistic inheritance? For someone whose soul has been imbued with glass since he was 10 years old, this would be the choice that would affirm his legacy.
The Venetian Glass Missionary of Fire and Glass
In the last thousand years, Lino Tagliapietra is one of the few glassmakers who has left Venice. He left not for personal profit or commercial success but to open the door for glassworking in other countries. Not even a language barrier could stop him from investing wholly into teaching at Seattle’s Pilchuck Glass School. If Tagliapietra never made it to the US, Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky and other seminal American glass artists may never had become who they are today. If Tagliapietra never made it to the US, he would only be “Lino from Venice”. For the love of craft, the world and learning, the “self” dims to make way for a “global Lino”.
In leaving Venice, Tagliapietra cracked open a mysterious vault that had been sealed for a thousand years and shared secrets concealed by generations of Venetian glassmakers. This event permanently changed the American Studio Glass Movement and raised the standard to a never before seen level. This effort put forth in the name of glass was subsequently felt across Europe, Australia and Asia.
A soul that believes in the craft is willing to bear the fallacies of history and the weight of the heart’s charges. With humility, this soul will then have the capacity to become the bridge between different cultures and draw from all corners of the world, the energy to create a monumental geyser of energy. This catalytic force created a notable place for Venetian glass in the history of the art.
Renaissance Artist of East and West
The American Studio Glass Movement has a short history of 55 years. But behind the fully realized creative and conceptual vision and an unbridled American passion is a foundation based in the technical and cultural heritage of Venetian glass. American glassworkers are fortunate to be bolstered by this adopted heritage.
Thirty years ago, Asia’s first liuli studio LIULIGONGFANG was founded with the purpose of reviving Chinese pâte de verre, a technique lost to the nation for 2,100 years. But they had no model to follow and instead had to start from scratch. In 3 years, they spent NT$75 million (close to US$2.5 million) with the cost of their efforts resulting in the thorough understanding of material and technique. It was a necessary step for the absence of this knowledge would mean an absence in a creative signature; one would be no more than a reproducer. LIULIGONGFANG co-founder Chang Yi asserts: The LIULIGONGFANG philosophy has been established upon a handmade legacy, education and historical reverberation.
Tagliapietra’s life has mirrored LIULIGONGFANG’s thirty year journey.
Lino Tagliapietra’s conviction in glass art, selfless instruction and earnest attitude toward life and creativity echoes LIULIGONGFANG’s long-held beliefs. Thus for this exhibition to be held upon the studio’s 30th anniversary is quite significant. Tagliapietra and LIULIGONGFANG come from opposite ends of the world, differ in technique and language, but their art reverberates with the same soul.
In the history of glass art, Venetian Glass has held on for over a thousand years due to dedicated artisans who hold craft and art to the highest esteem and make it their mission to pass on the legacy of their work.
One thousand years, one Lino; one Lino, a legacy spanning over 1,000 years.
1934 born on the island of Murano
1940 resolved to become a glassblower at age 6
1944 quit school against his parents’ wishes and began working in a glass studio at age 10
1946 began an apprenticeship under glass master Archimede Seguso at age 12
1957 earned the rank of maestro at age 23
1976 held the positions of Artistic and Technical Director of Effetre International at age 42
1979 traveled to Pilchuck Glass School in the US to teach at age 45
1989 became an independent studio artist at age 55
1997 received the Glass Art Society Lifetime Achievement Award at age 63
2004 received the Museum of Arts & Design Artist Visionaries! Lifetime Achievement Award at age 70
2006 received the James Renwick Alliance associated with the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum Distinguished Educator Award at age 72
2009 received the Istituto Italiano di Cultura IIC Lifetime Achievement Award at age 75
2011 first major retrospective of the artist held in his hometown at age 77
2018 still devoted to glass 74 years later at age 84
Read More– Why Glass? The Must Know 13 Glass Artists