Saturday, July 18, 2009

Murano, The Glass Island

In the oppressive heat, it was hard to imagine a job more undesirable than laboring in front of a forge all day, blowing glass. But on the island of Murano just a short boat ride from Venice (if you take the right vaporetto), glass-blowing is the industry. Rick Steeves claims you can walk into just about any of the shops and they will give you a free demo. Of course, it will be followed by a hard-sell sales pitch to buy, buy, buy. But, says Rick, you are under no obligation to fork out any money.

Kate and I discovered a flaw in Rick's assessment. We went into several shops and asked for their demos. They looked at us like we were freaks. "No", "broken", or a wait of several hours were the typical response. When we finally found a glimpse of a 'fornace' from outside, we were hopeful. We patiently waited in line until eventually we worked our way up to the front. At that point, however, the glass-blowers turned off the music, turned out the lights and yes, went to lunch.

Never ones to give up, we kept wandering aimlessly, and found ourselves in a rather expensive shop, CAM. The saleslady motioned us back into the courtyard, checked the fornaces which were empty and told us to wait 5 or 10 minutes. We started hearing voices, seeing movement, and suddenly things began to happen. The best part was that we had a private glass-blowing demonstration, just Kate and her Aunt Nancy.

A team of four artisans worked together, in what appeared to be a master, an apprentice and two assistants. They worked quickly with the malleable material, measuring with simple calipers to the precise dimensions. Their tools had textured edges for forming. The master showed us a photo of the chandelier that they were 'constructing', and we watched them blow several different globes.

Sweat was pouring down our foreheads from the heat of their forges, so I can only imagine how they felt. They would occasionally dip the steel rods in water to cool them off, and steam would rise in clouds.

As a little treat for their audience, one of the artisans presented us with a glass horse, probably one that wasn't good enough to sell. We thanked them generously and checked out the cost of the chandelier they were fabricating in the shop next door---a mere 3000 Euros!


Peggy said...

What a neat opportunity! Now we have a few things to tell Rick Steves.

Anonymous said...

I love art's so shiny, translucent and colorful...and unique! Considering how hot and unpleasant it is to produce these beautiful articles I understand why they are so expensive! I just wish I could afford to indulge!