arrow-right chevron-down chevron-left chevron-left chevron-right chevron-right close facebook instagram pinterest play search shallow-chevron-down shallow-chevron-up soundcloud twitter
Art Articles

Kilns of Fury: glassblowing with Italian master craftsmen

Dec 18, 2018

Kilns of Fury: glassblowing with Italian master craftsmen


Blow, Spin, Remove, Reheat, Repeat.

So many of today’s “artisan” household products are mass produced which is truly unfortunate when you consider how inspiring and demanding of attention an object may be when it has been created by hand, embodying history and process in each perfectly, imperfect intricacy. Historians have traced the origins of glassblowing to as early as 982 A.D in Italy when Dominicus Phiolarius first started producing bottles. It wasn’t until 1291 when the fire fearing Venetian Republic ordered glassmakers to move their foundries from Venice to Murano, that’s when the art of glassmaking became what we know it to be today.

The master craftsman 65 years behind the oven
Glass needs to be constantly kept above 1000 ⁰F

At its inception, glassblowers in Murano were showered with the highest praise for their skills and craftsmanship- daughters of glass masters were allowed to marry into Venetian Nobility. Glass masters were permitted to carry swords and were even immune from prosecution. This was all a strategy enacted by the Venetian government that coerced the glassmakers to keep trade secrets by ways of passing down techniques through generations. Essentially, the glassmakers became something like prisoners on Murano where the penalty for divulging glassblowing secrets was considered a crime, punishable by death.

The candy-like glass from Murano uses quartz to melt at a lower temperature
Each fornace is strategically hidden from tourists away from the main strip of boutiques
Solid glass remains from trial and error

Through the series of islands linked by small pedestrian bridges and vibrantly winding canals of Murano, we witnessed the charm and mastery of each small factory and boutique’s generational master craft. To be considered a master, the craftsman needs to dedicate a minimum of 50 years into the trade- a literal lifelong commitment to their craft. For many hundred years and still today, some of these historical glass factories and masters work among some the most influential glass brands in the world.

Hidden away from from the main strip of boutiques, we arrive at a quaint workshop that focuses primarily on homeware production- this operation has continued over four generations. Here the master greets us and leads us into their fornace. Immediately you feel the heat from the 10 different kilns, all set at different temperatures. The array of kilns are set up as a production line next to furniture that feels out of proportion and odd tools. Designed for maximum efficiency the master removes himself from the production line, only to serve as the executor.


The master rests the pipe on the steel arms of the bench while turning it with one hand
Once the production run is complete, the wooden moulds end up in an archival graveyard
The heat from the kiln turns glass into a lava-like bubble

Starting at station one, the apprentice, who is appointed by generational rule, starts by fusing glass onto the edge of the blowpipe maneuvering and rotating it inside the furnace over and over again. The process continues at each station until it reaches the master, who finalizes the piece using techniques he’s learned throughout his 50 plus years of experience. Each piece gets heated one last time before it gets introduced to a wooden mould where it’s blown into its final form. A torch then heats the excess material, which is cut off as the piece heads to its final station for polishing, detailing, surfacing and packaging.

A series of chandelier arm prototypes from the 60s
The kilns are covered by tombstone like enclosures, maintaining a constant temperature
Textured, completed works

This craft in the city of Murano is a sliver of history and if the generational knowledge of our master craftsman is compromised, we might lose some of the world’s most important trades, just like how the recipe for concrete was lost during the Roman era. There might not be a way to completely preserve Murano in the centuries to come but as long as it’s here, glass makers will continue to stand as coveted wizards with wands of fiery fury.