Shards of Fire and Ice

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.

Down a cobbled street we stroll, past a doorway. Inside a muscular man wearing a sweat-stained shirt pulls open the lever on a small furnace. We pause in the darkened entrance to watch.

“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…?”

“Shh, look.”

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.

The photos in this post are work from the preeminent artists Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra.

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:

About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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19 Responses to Shards of Fire and Ice

  1. “I like to think that my work does take people to a different place.”


    This post is gorgeous in every way, Heidi. I LOVED the metaphor, your words as authentically crafted as the glass; organic and lovely. Full of longing. Transparent but rich.

    That’s your writing. So it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn of your admiration of and inspiration from glass blowing.

    You’re an artist of the most original kind. Do not forget this in moments of frustration and disappointment.

    That’s when you’re in the fire. Shaping and growing and changing. Becoming what you’re meant to be.

    Okay. Now I’m getting corny. But I hope you get where I’m coming from.

    Sisters in fire.

    • You’re not being corny, you’re being awesome. I hope you know how much I love you for it. I’m so glad you enjoyed. As you can tell this kind of artwork really means a lot to me. Thanks for coming along on the ride, my friend. xoxo

  2. peterwilkin says:

    A riveting post that oozes molten creativity ~*

    fireball of honey ~ bubbling and seething ~ beneath our surface ~ jagged shards ~ of memories

    ideas ~ become crystalline ~ fiery inspiration

    You have often written to me that you are ‘no poet’ ~ but the richness of your language makes my soul melt, Heidi.

    And I thought Julie’s response was beautiful, too ~ I echo all of her words (including ‘sisters in fire’) …

    No platitudes, no advice, no pouring of soothing oils … just the plain, simple truth: I believe in you SO much ~*

    Blazing red bubble ~ alchemical fusion ~ curves of becoming

    • Aw geez, everybody’s gonna make me cry… 🙂 I did think of you when I wrote those last two sentences. I thought of your beautiful poetry. So it does my heart good to know you liked it. I’m honored and moved that you believe in me so much. I will carry your kind thoughts someplace safe and try to remember them when my own doubt overwhelms. Thanks as always for being such a lovely friend. It means so much to me.

  3. Graham Pugh says:

    Nice work Heidi. (And I’m sure your dog food and coffee work shines too)! Peter is so right about the poetic nature of your writing. A joy to read. You hardly notice you’ve slipped right through to the end, it’s so easy (like George Orwell’s ‘pane of glass’
    I saw Chihuly’s exhibition at Kew Gardens and it was beautiful – thanks for reminding me of that.
    This is inspiring because it reminds me that inspiration can come from anywhere. A long time ago, the late Paul Arden gave a talk to the creatives at Team Saatchi, where I was working. He told us that to be original we should start somewhere different. “Romeo’s left leg” was his starting point. Don’t ask why, he said, just work back from it.

    • Thanks so much Graham for your lovely message. I loved reading Orwell’s essay and seeing the photos from the exhibition at Kew as well. What great links. On a good day I know with certainty that taking inspiration from all sorts of avenues is extremely important to the creative process. I suppose sometimes I have trouble getting out of my own way long enough to focus on “Romeo’s left leg”. (Well that will surely be the oddest sentence I write today.) I’m glad the post inspired you. And your kind and enthusiastic words are truly appreciated. 🙂

  4. Steve David says:

    That’s a beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring post, Heidi.

  5. Laura W. says:

    Interestingly enough, I also got to visit a Venice glass-blowing place when I was 8. I’ve been to German ones as well, and there’s also a glass-blowing workshop/store called Sunspots in my college town of Staunton. So I could totally relate to this 🙂

    I hope you get the kinks worked out of your book. Sometimes you just have to take a break, you know? Do something else, stimulate a different area of your brain. Best of luck!

    • Well that’s a funny thing for us to have in common. Perhaps a travel company ought to create a glass blowing tour of Europe? I’d be mighty tempted to go. 🙂

      Thanks Laura for the encouragement. I really appreciate it.

  6. So relate to where you’re at. Love the ceiling in the lobby at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which looks like the top picture, above. Being unable to not make things about me, I’m all ready to take glass blowing. There used to be somebody here who gave lessons, but they are gone. I sold out to the man just this morning. Very interesting times. I had to return to daily meditation and reading things I found inspiring when I was in my twenties to sort of start over (Wayne Dyer, Real Magic). Sold out to the man, but will be able to buy new underwear. I’m sure I’m not the only person writing a book in need of new underwear. Thoughts are with you.

    • Janice whenever you leave me messages I always feel like I’m hearing part of a much longer conversation that’s going on in your head. 🙂

      That is indeed the ceiling at the Bellagio. A shot my friend sent me when she visited. I use it for my twitter background as well. Love all the colors.

      I am officially a writer desperately in need of new underwear. But please don’t mention it to my mother. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by with some kind & thoughtful words. Er..and also for sparing me some metaphor involving quails. Lousy quails…who needs em, I say?

  7. I’m sparing you the metaphor of dreams whirring away like startled quail in some autumn twilight golden forest. But, want credit for sparing you.

  8. We slipped into the Chihuly exhibit in Boston at the MFA not knowing what a treat it’d be. I can only imagine having an imagination like that. He’s a genius. How cool you got to experience it in Venice at such a young age and on that note, I think you should go for the glass blowing, I can only imagine what you’d come up with!

    • Hey Julie! Thanks for stopping by. How lucky you were to get a look at the exhibit. The promo for it looked wonderful. I also like what a collaborative art it is. You really need a lot of hands when creating pieces as large as Chihuly’s. As for me taking a class, someday, someday… 🙂

  9. Pingback: The Poison of Muses « Dawne Webber

  10. I ended up turning down the job opportunity. So, never mind on the underwear.

  11. Lori says:

    Dearest Heidi Sue,

    Don’t feel as blue Murano. The glass you wish to blow and shape is just a breath away. Your life is like this production of design. It is lovely,delicate and is painstaking at times. Yet it is powerful and strong enough to hold its creation in whilst pouring out drops at a time of creative ingenuity.

  12. Ilana says:

    I’m sorry that I just read this. And I’m sorry you are feeling creatively uninspired. It’s the business of it that’s doing it to you though— remember that.

    I tried glassblowing a couple of times at art camp. I was horrible at it. I think for the same reason I was terrible at the flute. Not enough air to make a sound. Or a vase.

    Weird that I can sing though.

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