Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Glass of Murano, Italy

Murano in the map by Jacopo de'Barbari.  Venice, Correr Museum.
When I was 22, I hit a very rough patch in my life.  In a fit of "why ever not", I threw all caution to the wind, sold almost all of my worldly possessions, and did what I'd only read of in books -- I ran away from home.  Where did I end up?  Venice, Italy.

While there, I marveled at the amazing Murano glass and listened to the shopkeepers explain the history of this storied island.  At the time, I hadn't caught the beading bug, but I certainly knew pretty when I saw it.  Having a love of history, though, I set out to learn more.

in the Murano Glass Museum
Murano glass is named for the small island of Murano about 2 miles from Venice.  I remember vividly sitting on the steps of a huge historic building, eating fresh bread for lunch and looking out over the water towards the island.  Many people know that the Murano glassmakers moved to the island to guard the secret of glassmaking, but they also moved there because they were an enormous fire hazard to Venice in the 13th century.   Oops.

some of my own lampwork beads
In the 1860's the Glass Museum of Murano was founded, and this helped reintroduce the old glass blowing techniques, which had fallen into a bit of a funk due to the glass centers for Tiffany, Bohemian, and Lalique.  The Murano glass industry continues to thrive and no longer shuts its island doors to the world.

photo via
Since my sojourn in Italy, I've taken a glass blowing class, and it's amazing watching that gather of glass turn into something cool (in my case, a paperweight and a shot glass that had walls so thick it would break your toe if you dropped it on your foot).  I've longingly run my hands through bowls of Venetian beads and wished I'd bought some while I lived amongst them.  As I sit at my lampwork torch, I find myself thinking about the Piazza San Marco and Murano and glass.  

And occasionally, pigeons.  There were millions of pigeons in that Piazza.  Yikes.  

But I digress.
Basilica San Marco -- amazing inside and out
You probably don't want to sell everything that doesn't fit in two suitcases to venture to Venice, but as an art bead lover, it should be on your top five list of Places to Go.  My life changed so much during that trip, and learning about the beauty of glass was one of the highlights of those months.

So call the travel agent.  Mark your calendar.  Make a concrete plan, a "yes, in 2012 I WILL go there" plan -- I promise you won't regret it.

the paperweight and shot glass I made in my first glass blowing class

Lori Anderson creates jewelry for Lori Anderson Designs.  She writes the blogs Pretty Things and An Artist's Year Off.  She lives in Maryland.


Barbara Lewis said...

Lori, You are a hellcat! Run away from home to Venice, Italy! I'd love to do that today! Was there a couple of years ago. It's a beautiful island, but I guess I didn't know where the beadmakers were ... only the really expensive shops with really expensive things ... that I could not afford! Actually, I did find a few beads, but not nearly enough!

Pretty Things said...

Ha ha! I don't know how much of a hell cat I was -- I felt like a bedraggled wet cat! I'd already lived in Korea so figured, why not some place new? It was scary at first, but worth it.

Alice said...

An amazing story! I confess that I never have the desire to travel overseas. There are so many beautiful things to see here in the USA after all. But your post makes me want to go to that little island and check out the lovely beads.

Jen on the Edge said...

I love, love, LOVE Murano glass. Whenever I finally make it to Venice, you better believe that I'll be bringing back far too much glass with me.

Stacie said...

I spent some time in Florence in college and only managed to see Venice in a day. The glass work DID blow me away!

(as did the neck ties with the "surprises" on the inside flaps...Yikes!)

TesoriTrovati said...

I have never traveled anywhere of consequence and this is a place that I dream of going to... I have a client who went there this summer with his wife and he secreted away some beads and glass pendants. He has asked for me to make them into something special for Christmas. So I have a baggie filled with some treasures. And the Corning Hot Glass demonstration will be coming next week to our UWSP campus and I can't wait to view the demon on Wednesday night! We have a new glass studio in our university art department and someday I would love to audit a class.

I believe there is a book out about Murano glassmakers of old. Can't recall the title but it sounds intriguing.

So...when are we going, Lori? Maybe you should host a tour ;-) That might make me get a passport finally!

Enjoy the day!

Marcie Abney Carroll said...

My beady place to go is Prague...can you imagine...Czech seed beads as far as the eye can see???

Createology said...

I have been fortunate enough to go to Venice and it truly is breathtaking! There was an enormous display of Dale Chilully glass art while we were there so that was quite a bonus. Thank you for sharing your story. Happy lampworking...

Michelle said...

I'm with Erin on this one Lori...what a fun trip that would be! Aahh...the light and the beads...and the food. What could be better? If you plan a trip, we'll all go!
Bead Happy!

JeannieK said...

You are very brave.

I myself have traveled to a place of consequence(to borrow from Erin), but I have never been back..yet. Not sure I can.

That paper weight reminds me of a globe of the world. How fitting for this post!

Fridman said...

Thank you for the info. My next trip to Europe I will go there. Seems like a grate place for glass art fans.