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Contemporary Conversations: Lino Tagliapietra

The Artist

Lino Tagliapietra is one of the greatest glass makers alive today. Growing up in Murano, Italy, and achieving the title of maestro (glass master) at the age of twenty, Tagliapietra is known around the world for his various achievements, not only in glass but in life as well. Due to the poor economy in Murano, many young boys and girls would turn to the glass factories as a way to earn for their families; hence, he began learning his craft at the early age of twelve. When asked to describe what life was like growing up in Murano, Lino begins to reminisce:

“[We have] the war in Spain, we have [the] war in Libya, and we have the war in Africa, and we lived with the war I remember. Then we have the second war…we have the Fascists…we have the Nazi. We have the Deutch (German) people, and then we have the American, English. So in Murano, we are surrounded in a sort of way. In one way we are protected, more than Venice. But still there we had somebody die. Somebody who the Nazis thought was a Jew, meaning they went to a camp…and never came back. And even still, living in Murano is a wonderful experience if you like it. [On] the island, we had 6,000 people [when I was growing up], now we have 6,000 people and maybe 7,000 workers. Many, many people. Now [we’ve gone] a little bit down. I think we are probably 5,000 people, but those 6,000 people had to work. They had very, very little money, much less. If you work…in the glass community, you would make maybe $400 – $800. Besides that, Murano is a wonderful island, I like the small island with [the] small village, [because] everybody knows you. We have created quite a few differences between Venice and ourselves because of the war. We have less pollution, it’s possible to play in the water, possible to go in the lagoon and catch the fish. We have a wonderful life, for some reason. We are poor. The shoes, we only have them sometimes, but we play without shoes. We don’t have a pool, but when we [were] kids they put us in the canal. I think there’s no place in the world like Murano, it’s so beautiful.”

For some, the culture shock between Italy and America would create a difficult challenge when adjusting to the lifestyle. For Tagliapietra, he feels his move to America was relatively easy:

“Because I have curiosity…I feel very comfortable in America. In the island, for example, if you aren’t a master, a good master – okay, not necessarily the top – but everybody thinks: ‘Good master, man!’, you know? So a ‘master’ is something ordinary in many ways and they sort of brush you aside. But in America, everybody respects you. They greet you in a very nice way and then you feel so comfortable, and then the American spirit is possible, trying everything you want. I like it because [once] I came to America I [no longer had to] do production, I [could] do what I [wanted] to do… It is a good feeling.”

The Process

Before starting any glassmaking project, one must be equipped with the proper team. Lino Tagliapietra’s team consists of about 25 people, both men, and women, who love glass. The youngest, according to Tagliapietra, has been working for “maybe 9 years,” but nobody would truly know as the group is constantly working together. Their teamwork boils down to their love of glass – their passion for the craft. Little is actually spoken during the process; instead, Tagliapietra and his team communicate with their hands and movements. When someone does speak, it means they are on the right track: simple words to keep everyone on the same page. Tagliapietra speaks very highly of his team of “wonderful glassblowers.” He finishes his statement on the relationship of his team by telling us, “it’s very important to have the right team. The team, for me, is about being surrounded by people who share the same love.” These words speak volumes, reminding us of how important community and teamwork truly is.

When asked if he could summarize the glass making process in a few sentences, we Muses received a chuckle from the maestro and a doubtful “I will try.” He began to summarize:

“Perhaps the most important part of the glass blowing process is having a clear picture of what you want to make: what form you want, how much color, designs with canes—colored ‘canes’ of glass—or without. There are many factors and decisions that need to be addressed before the glass blowing process even begins. After a clear picture has been envisioned, the next step is to start.”

Once Tagliapietra has chosen his design, the process is very simple; his knowledge of glass blowing makes the entire process look ridiculously easy.

As the maestro of glass blowing, we were all very interested to learn whether Mr. Tagliapietra had ever worked with other materials. His response—perhaps not too surprising to some—was that he has never strayed far from glass. He has dabbled in working with clay and admitted to liking the material, but it was “certainly not glass.” Most interestingly, Tagliapietra likes to cook. He says it is the only other “art” he works with well. His ultimate response was, “Normally, I am a very, very monoculture artist. I blow glass. I do not do anything else. Sometimes I do something, but it is best not to because I know glass and it is my profession.”

Taking a look around a room filled with Lino Tagliapietra’s work is breathtaking. Every piece has its own story to tell and each story possesses its own challenges. While Tagliapietra makes glassblowing look simple to the average person, he demonstrated that every piece of his work holds different levels of difficulty. “Just because a piece looks simple doesn’t mean it was easy,” he explained. When asked if he could pick his most complex work, Tagliapietra chose the Spirale. The Spirale is an oblong glass piece with a seemingly impossible helix design at its core. He proceeded to emphasize its complexity even more, explaining that he could not make a single mistake during the creative process. For instance, when blowing out the design, he could not afford to blow too much or too little; the result would have been disastrously out of proportion. Exactness, precision, and patience are key ingredients for any piece of his work.

Legacy

Our time with Lino Tagliapietra has come to an end. We learned much about both the artist and glassblowing itself through his profound words. But we still had one final question to ask: “What would you say to young people today who are interested in glass blowing but fear they won’t be successful?” Perhaps this was the best question to draw our time with the artist to a close.

“We have a lot of people, young people that want to blow glass, and they want to be successful as well. If you want to blow glass, you must love the material, and you must be very dedicated. Normally, that means you don’t do anything else; you must be open, and work every single day. The important thing is to love what you are doing and to have patience. Find very good teachers and good luck. You know, the material is so fantastic, but I’m probably lucky because the only thing I ever did was blow glass. There is a certain joy when you’re working with a material you love.”

Tagliapietra often reiterates how important art is to his life. Whether in naming a work of art after the places he loves, or taking inspiration from the world around him, he continuously lives, thinks, and breathes the love he has for his craft. He stands firmly in his conviction that art is not just something you do, but it is what you live. It requires dedication, patience, and hard work, but if you have a passion, pursue it to the fullest, and do not stop until it is yours. It is easy to see that he lives by those words prophetically.