Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Trip to Murano - February 2012

After having the great Venetian Lampworker Lucio Bubacco over to the UK last year I found myself organising a trip over to Murano to see how they do glass over in Venice. To flameworkers, Murano is basically a Holy Land.Of course, having never been there before and not even knowing whether or not Venice was an island even, I was ideally placed to be team leader and workshop organiser. Not. Good job our little group included a fluent Italian speaker and an excellent organiser (not me on both counts).

We were booked into a five day workshop with Lucio Bubacco, and in case you have never seen his work you can see some breathtaking examples here:

The Workshop

We were so excited to be seeing where Lucio creates his wonders. Murano is a strange place - there are not many signs and you really need to know where the treasures lie. Lucio's studio is situated down a long alley which is gated off from the main roads. You had to look hard to find him:

Blink and you could miss it

Inside the studio is an Aladdin's cave of glass delights. The main workshop is a maze of torches and extraction pipes, and one of the largest CD collections I've ever seen,  and there is a room at the back which is stuffed with Lucio's creations, all precariously perched on rickety looking shelves. A long table where people meet, and eat basks under the most amazing glass chandelier - all completely made from soft Murano glass.

He didn't get this at Ikea

Presiding over proceedings is Lucio's cat, he's definitely the boss around the studio.

Judas rules the roost

Lucio makes glass sculpture using traditional flameworking techniques. Because he uses soda glass and a large burner running on natural gas and oxygen he is able to create the most fluid and animated sculpture. It is an absolute joy to see him bring life to glass.

The Devil is in the Detail

Is it wrong to have torch envy?? :)
Yes, just look at that torch - it's a work of art in itself. And I even got to have a go at making figures on Lucio's very own torch. Lucio says it the same as all the others in the studio.....well, I'm not so sure about that, my work definitely improved. Maybe a glimmer of the Maestro's magic rubbed off on me? ;)

So in a five day workshop you get to see Lucio make figure after figure. And he makes it look so easy. But when you put your learning into action, what happens? Well, you just end up making a load of total rubbish, of course. Mind you - I wouldn't mind swapping my pile of rubbishy figures for a forage in Lucio's bin. Why, there's even richer picking in there than in Di East's bin!!

A quick shufty in Lucio's bin reveals a slightly disturbing scenario....

Something that is well worth seeing, if you ever get a chance, is to have the privilege of seeing an artist at home and in his own surroundings. It's a marvelous insight into what makes an artist "tick". For example - Lucio's recent work:- it's tempting to think that it was all conjured up out of thin air but as much planning goes into the design as it does into the execution:

A beautiful water colour rendered by Lucio...

....And the Realisation as a Glass Masterpiece

So then, what else did we get up to, when we weren't at Lucio's? Well, thanks to the military planning of my colleague Omur - quite a lot, actually.

GlassMaking Visits

For a start - there was a visit to the great glass sculptor and Maestro Pino Signoretti at his furnace and studio in Fond Serenella. It was wonderful to step into the inferno of heat and noise after braving the biting cold wind coming off the Laguna. What a world to step into:

Pino (left) awaits the work
Adding even more glass....
This sculpture weighs around 20kg - don't drop it!

We were also lucky enough to visit Davide Salvadore's Studio and Furnace. Again - stepping into the hellish heat of the hotshop was welcoming on such a cold day, but one can only imagine the heat of high summer.
We were treated to observe the process involved in making one of the stunningly beautiful Chitamarra that Davide makes. The atmosphere in this hotshop was a little more "relaxed". I'm noticing a pattern with these Venetian Glass masters - they like their music... And since I was standing next to an enormous speaker, I nearly had my eardrums blasted out by an extremely loud version of Talking Heads "Blind".

Again, Davide works with a team, but he is very much in command - quite a showman, actually. I was secretly impressed that he chainsmoked his way through the making of the Chitamarra and managed to light up from the pilot light of the portable burner, without skipping a beat!

Davide Salvadore (in cap) tweaks the top of the sculpture to perfection

S. Carver: "yea - a photo with one of the greats of Venetian Glass Making!"
D. Salvadore: "Who is this woman?"

Davide is also a great friend of Lucio - so we had a party over at Lucio's in the evening. There were a few slightly foggy looking people in the morning. Not me though, I'm clean living........ ;) Wonder what Lucio will do with all those empty bottles?


So, it wasn't all Furnaces and Lampworking Studios. The main reason for going to Murano in February was to see the famous Carnevale di Venezia. And to freeze to death in St Marks Square. They had a Wine Fountain there - I'm surprised they didn't have to put anti-freeze in the wine. In fact - they warmed it up and sold it passers by. I had only one though - for, as you know, I am very clean living.....

Obligatory Tourist Shot - not a bad view, is it?

There were hundreds and hundreds of Mask shops and Glass shops. I was mesmerised, but the Carnevale Figures were spectacular. They'd stroll around and pose for photos. I guess there's a new batch every year as this lot were sure to have died from hypothermia:

Carnevale Lady

Carnevale Lady

"Do you think we are too understated?"
There were also shops of course - lots of shops, selling beautiful and unusual things:

This riot of colour was tucked away in a dark side street

Business Cards? Bit nicer than Vistaprint!

These clever chaps embroider aprons while you wait

But there was one shop that we made a special effort to go and find. Tucked away in Calle del Fumo, with no sign above the door is a small, rather plain looking shop. You could have strolled right by, but maybe you may have given it quick glance. Then you would have stopped in your tracks and gone back for a good look. For this is the workshop of Vittorio Constantini. We were lucky enough to have met Vittorio and his wife Graziella as they visited Lucio's workshop a few days earlier. As we watched, Vittorio made a gorgeous little bird which was so lifelike you'd think it was real. Vittorio started off as an apprentice in a glass factory at the age of eleven. Flameworking was a hobby and over the years became a real passion. It shows in his work - he has hundreds and hundreds of little masterpieces - sea creatures, insects, butterflies, birds.......all of them are anotomically correct and very exquisite. I felt a little guilty as we made this shop our first port of call and I'm sure that Vittorio and Graziella had only just arrived, but they very kindly opened the shop for us and entertained us for at least a couple of hours. Vittorio would keep disappearing into the back room and returning with little wooden drawers full of glistening iridescent beetles, seahorses, or crabs! Much of Vittorio's work is his own private collection, but there were a few things for sale. I managed to purchase a gorgeous little hermit crab, which is about to have its new home in the shop in St Ives.

I think of all the Maestro we managed to see on this trip Vittorio and Graziella were my very favourites. He is a quiet man, with a very untidy workspace - hundreds of nature books totter precariously and are used a little like dams to keep the piles of glass from spilling over. He doesn't have the flamboyance of Lucio or the showmanship of Davide Salvadore, but is every bit as skilled an artist.

Vittorio and Graziella

Startlingly lifelike beetles go about their business in Vittorio's Workshop Window

Our intrepid travellers: Caroline Weidman, Patricia Piggott,
Nina Atkinson Severini and front Sandra Bornemann


So, after the delights of Venice I should also tell you a little more about Murano. We were actually staying on Murano and so from our apartments on Fond Venier, this is the view which met us every morning:

On the walk from our apartment to Lucio's workshop

I suppose Murano is considered one of the more "industrial" islands of the Venice region. In1271 laws were passed to prevent importation of foreign glass and also the employment of foreign glass workers. Twenty years later it was decided that Murano should become the centre for Glass making in the Venetian area. All glass factories were ordered to be relocated to the island, the apparent reason for this was to protect Venice from the fire hazards associated with the furnaces but by 1296, a law had been passed which prevented glass makers from leaving the island, so that their secrets would remain protected.  The highly skilled Glass Maestro were  deliberately raised in status, and encouraged to marry into wealthy families. This in turn escalated competition between the Murano glass factories. To be honest, you can still feel this competition today, although I heard that many furnaces have been closing down, and you do see a few naffer Chinese glass products sneaking into shops. And yet - looking at the photo above you can imagine that "visually" at least, very little has changed on the island since the early days of glass production....Until you go into the shops, which bizarrely all seem to be playing the same sort of hideous Euro-gangster-R & B pap on their stereos. This is a rude awakening back into the 21st Century. And, yes, of course - everyone is glued to Facebook. Progress, eh?

So in Murano there are these spectacular glass sculptures dotted over the island, that also light up at night. This is another thing - they'd last five minutes in any civic centre in the UK, but here they are, amazingly all intact. Here's a man doing "cullet maintenance" but putting huge chunks of glass into the structure to fill in the gaps:

Routine maintenance

Another view of Murano - along the main "shopping drag", as it were. I doubt this view has changed since the thirteen century, much.

Moorish influenced architecture unchanged for centuries

But here's one view I certainly didn't expect to see, snow:

Snow in Murano
Yep, the white stuff - they didn't tell me that it would snow in Murano - still, it was actually a good thing as things warmed up considerably after the snow and our last couple of days were actually much more comfortable.

So there were a couple of shops on Murano that only hardcore glass addicts would be looking for - Effetre and Carlo Donas. If you're not a glass maker these names probably mean nothing to you, but for glass makers these are magical names. Effetre - well, they are glass rod producers and a legendary name to folk like me. "No, they're not on the island" was what everyone said - but they are, you just have to know where to look. They just keep themselves to themselves.....

The Hallowed sign of Moretti (Effetre)
 And yes, we did get a look inside the warehouse - but weren't allowed to buy any glass. (Unless we wanted to take a 100kg shipment). But it was nice to talk to them at least.

Another shop was that of Carlo Dona. He and his son Roberto have been making high quality glass making tools since 1923, although before that Carlo's father was also an artisan blacksmith. Stepping into the tiny showroom of that shop was like a child entering the best sweet shop in the world. There wasn't a lot that I could afford - though I cherish my new tweezers. Although I can tell you some money was spent in there from the other participants of the course. Maybe they will have earned enough to buy themselves a small sign to go over the shop? Perhaps not, that doesn't seem to be the style on Murano!

Sandra discusses a stamp design with Carlo
Burano and Torchello

The last couple of days of the trip were free so we went to see the neighbouring islands of Burano and Torchello. Burano is famous for its brightly painted houses, lace making and the leaning church tower (campanile) of San Martino.

The colours of the houses follow a specific system - it's not at all randomn, if someone wishes to paint their home, they must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot:

Bright coloured houses on the tiny canals of Burano
 There were also lots of lace shops and glass shops. I thought the glass shops were slightly nicer than those on Murano; glass bons bons reigned supreme:

Delicious looking but totally calorie free


  1. Wow, how interesting! I am looking forward to see the continuation :)

  2. Thanks! I'm working on it - got lots of images and memories to wade through, but hoping to do a little bit each day. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing, Sal, very interesting.