Tagliapietra breaks the glass-artist mold | AspenTimes.com

Tagliapietra breaks the glass-artist mold

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When, at the age of 9 or so, Lino Tagliapietra first became aware of the glass-blowing industry in his native Murano, an island off of Venice in northern Italy, he was instantly thrilled. At the age of 11, Tagliapietra, like so many young men of his town, began working in the famed glass factories of Murano.

“We start very early going to the factory,” he said in heavily accented English. “There are a lot of young people working there.”

This was hardly a case of forced child labor. The tradition of glass blowing in Murano extends back more than a thousand years to 985, according to Tagliapietra, and remains a fascination, a source of pride, and a means of earning a living for many residents. “The main reason,” says Tagliapietra for his beginning work in the factory so young, “is I loved it, very, very much, right away.”

After mastering the long-standing glass-blowing techniques, however, Murano became less thrilled. While his love of glass was intact, and in fact grew, he became disillusioned with the state of the art in his hometown. Rather than explore, his fellow glass artists were content to carry on within the confines of their ancestors.

“Many, many [glass blowers] are in Murano,” said the 69-year-old Tagliapietra, who still lives there. “But they never grow. They don’t find the right space, or they don’t have enough curiosity for what goes on after. They work, and they don’t grow so much outside. They continue to do exactly the same work that has been done in Murano for many years. One famous guy, Moretti, did the same work for over 30 years.”

Tagliapietra likens the Murano glass blowers to winners of the lottery: They have hit the jackpot not because of skill or ambition, but simply because they were lucky enough to be born into such a strong culture.

Tagliapietra, however, was not about to rest on those 1,000-year laurels. In his mid-20s, he began to see the potential for advancing the art. “I was feeling it’s possible to grow beyond what had been done,” he said. Building on the traditions he learned in Murano, Tagliapietra began to incorporate ideas from Japan, the United States, the Netherlands and more. He experimented with shape, color and texture, altering the foundation of the art he had been taught.

“All of my technique came from Murano,” said Tagliapietra, who currently has his first major Aspen exhibit at Pismo Gallery, opening with a reception for the artist Saturday, Feb. 14, from 6-9 p.m. “But I have a curiosity for what’s going on all around the world. I’ve moved in all different ways with what I’m doing. If I work in France or in the States or Japan, it’s a completely different thing. They gave me a curiosity, an energy, a feeling to grow.”

While Tagliapietra is highly praised for the way his work has absorbed outside influences, his legacy might even be larger than his glass output. Just as the Murano glass community has not allowed itself to be affected by other traditions, it has also kept its own methods from escaping into the world. Tagliapietra, however, has been a dedicated teacher, not only willing but determined over the last two decades to share the Murano techniques with glass artists wherever they may be.

In “An Appreciation,” a foreword to the 1998 book “Tagliapietra: A Venetian Glass Maestro” (Vitrum), Thomas S. Buechner, an artist in the American glass capital of Corning, N.Y., wrote, “Almost single-handedly, [Tagliapietra] brought the Old World to the New; he shared that treasury of Venetian technique once so jealously guarded, just as Venice herself has become a treasure shared by all the world.”

That spirit of generosity has made Tagliapietra a revered figure among glass artists. But it has also created ill will in his own hometown.

“For some reason, they are very angry in Murano,” he said. “Even though I’m not the only one to go on to teach, they accuse me more than anybody. It’s probably jealousy.”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com