It is a place called Venice, and I am eight. Waterways crammed between ancient buildings, a man wearing a hat rows a funny-looking boat downstream with a long oar. He deposits us at our destination and floats off beneath a bridge. So many bridges, and not one made of steel and girders like back home.
“But why mommy?”
“Shh, just watch”
He pokes a long metal pipe into the fiery inferno and pulls something out. A thick molten bubble clings to one end. The craftsman presses his lips to the other end and begins to blow.
“What is he…?”
The blazing red bubble expands. Heavy metal tongs are used to stretch and bend it into an elaborate shaped cup.
That day a glass seed was planted in my fertile child-mind. You mean someone makes glasses? They don’t just grow on glass trees or get plucked out of glass fields? I still recall my shock at this discovery. (What can I say? I lived in the suburbs and didn’t get out much.) And these were not just ordinary, every day, drink-Nestlé’s-Quik-out-of-them-glasses, either. No, the substance in that furnace broiling at an unimaginable temperature could be turned into stunning things; vases, glasses, jewelry, chandeliers, bowls, fountains, in every color, shape, and size.
I have a secret wish one day to take a class in glass blowing. I can’t imagine I’d be very good at it. I am certainly afraid of fire, and as for my upper arm strength, I can handle only two bags of groceries, three if there aren’t melons involved. Still, the idea of using fire, the most basic element that defines us as human, to capture color and light in this incredible art form has always filled me with excitement.
You may be asking yourself, so Madame P. what’s with the lofty discussion of glass? Well, to be honest I’m struggling at the moment, creatively, professionally, personally. I have difficult decisions to make with my book, and I’m not sure how to make them. Work has rented out so much space in my brain that lately there seems no room for anything other than selling dog food and coffee. I’m out of sorts, and out of balance, and having trouble maintaining my faith in much of anything. So I believe I could use a little creative boost.
Chihuly is one of the leaders in the field in developing glass as a fine art and often works on a very large scale. He is well known for creating abstract chandeliers, a kind of homage to the tradition of Murano glass in Italy. In recent years he’s done a number of glass exhibits in gardens throughout the world. This fusion of air, water and fire seems the perfect kind of alchemy. I was lucky enough to see his exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens.
Tagliapietra started studying glass making in Murano at the age of eleven and achieved the rank of Maestro by age twenty-one. I love that a master craftsman in glass is considered a Maestro, don’t you? The new renaissance in studio glass making that has swept through the world is largely attributed to him.
Here are links to some videos about this subject that really captivated me. I think it must be difficult to shoot the process well when you are working with fire and the temperature in the studio can sometimes be as high as 100 degrees.
The first link features Liam Carey a glass artist in the UK. He calls his business Merlin Glass, amusingly enough. The video was beautifully shot, and really captured the magic of glass blowing.
The second link is about the Chihuly exhibit “Through The Looking Glass”, currently at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. It’s open till August 8th. If anyone lives in that area and gets to see it this week I would love to hear about it.
The third link is from an award winning documentary that features the “Maestro” Tagliapietra working the glass and speaking about it. Although his Italian accent is thick, try to catch the wonderful things he had to say about glass, about mistakes being the way we invent new things, and that his life is a work in progress.
I hope you will enjoy the videos as much as I did.
Glasswork, while an art form in and of itself, is also a beautiful metaphor for raw creation in all its glory. Perhaps the creative process is just this—a strange fireball of honey bubbling and seething beneath our surface—jagged shards of memories, dreams and fantasies are added in colorful layers until an idea becomes crystalline. And that my friends, is one hell of a fiery inspiration.
For more information on the history of glass: http://www.glassblowing.com/hotglass/history.php