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Joe Deanda
10-19-2012, 09:46 PM
I have a friend who works for a travel agent type business. She travels with tour groups as an assistant. Well anyway, she just came back from 2 tours in Murano and says that they are having a hard time finding enough glass blowers to do demos. Sounds pretty unlikely but hey, these days anything is possible. I may have some down time in Jan and Feb and would be able to travel. Does anyone know who I may contact to find out a little more about this situation. I love Italian food ! thanks Joe

Jordan Kube
10-20-2012, 04:45 AM
Do you speak Italian?

Eben Horton
10-20-2012, 07:34 AM
This is probably the real case- the tour group lady calls the factory to arrange a tour... The factory says " we are sorry, but we can not find someone who speaks good English to give tours, so unfortunately we are not offering them at the moment".

The truth... The factory has shut everything down and laid everyone off and is too proud to say it. I believe over 50% of murano's factories are cold right now.

Barb Sanderson
10-21-2012, 06:03 PM
Exactly Eben! Isak Lystad (member here occasionally) is living in Italy and has been astounded at the number of shops completely cold the last few years. I seriously doubt that has changed at all.
Barb

David Patchen
10-21-2012, 08:34 PM
Do you speak Italian?

...and Venician. Lots of those guys speak the local dialect which is supposedly different enough that knowing Italian won't help you understand them. Now if they choose to speak Italian w/you rather than Venician you'd be ok but you wouldn't necessarily get what's going on in the rest of the shop.

I read one or two articles in the NYT about how the global recession and increased energy costs have killed business in Murano. Supposedly many shops are closed and the land is being repurposed to support tourism (hotels, restaurants, etc) because there is more opportunity.

Losing Murano as a center for glass is a tragedy in many ways but it certainly won't hurt my business. I've been shipping work to Europe for years.

Rob Williams
10-21-2012, 11:02 PM
I was in Murano last year and asked around randomly in some of the shops about getting some blow time or a private lesson- and was confronted with some less than welcoming replies. One of them blamed US glass blowers for their economic issues and said that they are tearing down furnaces to put up hotels because they can’t sell glass anymore as the US saturated the market. He then told me to get out. Another shop refused to give me directions to Carlo Donna’s shop, saying that “he won’t sell, it is imposseblia” I eventually stumbled to his shop and made Roberta very happy that day. I know I should have planned the trip better, but it was a last minute thing that got me there and only for 1 day. I know that the energy costs and other economic/marketing forces are the cause of their cold shops- but they seem to be somewhat bitter about it. I hope they figure out a way to be sustainable without losing all their history- but at least some of those islanders need to lighten up a bit.

Mark Rosenbaum
10-21-2012, 11:34 PM
Knowing the history of the glassblowers on Venice, you don't think that it was pretty ballsy to ask for blowtime or private lessons???
When I went 25 years ago, I tried to keep a low profile as a glassblower. I was lucky enough to hook up with Dino who sent me with an introduction to the Venini factory. I got a tour of the factory by one of the Venini daughters who spoke some English. It was a memorable trip!

David Patchen
10-21-2012, 11:36 PM
I got a tour of the factory by one of the Venini daughters...

A tour of the factory or a "tour of the factory"? ;)

Jordan Kube
10-22-2012, 05:16 AM
It's not even Venetian, it's Muranese. You need to make some friends first. It's hard to go anywhere in the world and just show up. Why would they want to help anyone else out? Some are very proud of their traditions.

Roots of problems and perceived roots of problems are often very far apart from each other. A lot of the glass you see in Venice and Murano is Chinese. The cheaper stuff anyway. There are things made there that no one else in the world can make. How ever we want to romanticize and put the place up on a pedestal, it's an island of factories, full of factory workers. There are some great talents and innovators, people willing to share, and there are angry people with narrow world views. Just like everywhere else.

Roberto is so happy to see anybody in his shop buying tools. The guy who told you different was the tool.

Barb Sanderson
10-25-2012, 09:13 PM
Speaking of jobs & factories closing, here's the latest from Isak Lystad in Tuscany and his current project:
http://www.indiegogo.com/ivp
I am not involved in this at all - just passing info along
Barb

Isak Lystad
10-26-2012, 01:23 PM
For those of you who don't know me, I moved to Tuscany about 5 years ago, and only committed to moving when I found out that there were a number of glass factories here.

Tuscany has had an 8 century history and tradition of glassblowing done by hand...and just for the record that predates the history of the tomato in this country.

Anyway since I've been here I have seen a lot of factories close. After losing my own factory job, and not having any prospects I fell back on my cooking skills and gradually built myself a private studio. I am now the only glassblowing artist working outside of an industrial setting in Tuscany, and when I saw the last factory in Empoli close down, (ending a 5 century history of glassblowing in that city), I wanted to help and I was surprised that the MUVE (Museo del Vetro di Empoli) which was established in 2009, had a "woe as me" approach to the problem.

I've not met anyone in any of the 3 areas of Tuscany known for industrial glassblowing who is trying a non industrial approach to keep this tradition alive, and I believe that is because traditionally in Italy for the most part people who know how to blow glass learned the trade in a factory setting, and that is actually the way almost all knowledge related to crafts has historically been passed on to a new generation here.

A school to teach glassblowing is a foreign idea here, ...I can hear you saying ...hold on what about Abate Zanetti...As far as I know, (correct me if I'm wrong here) that school is a school for foreigners, Italian Maestros teach there, but Italians do not go there to learn. I heard recently from a Maestro friend of mine here in Tuscany that he had heard from connections in Murano that the school was teaching mostly Chinese students.

In Murano you would probably have a hard time finding a studio that was actually legally able to rent you studio time for a few hours,, this a relatively foreign concept, (illegally I'm sure you could find someone if you paid them enough...it's Italy!). Abate Zanetti I doubt would rent you studio time, I don't think they are set up that way.

One thing that is slightly reassuring to me about Murano is that even if all the factories kick the can, (which most of them if they haven't already, are headed in that direction), there are still independent glass artists to keep the tradition alive, they are also becoming few and far between, but they do exist.

There is a law here in Italy that is killing a lot of traditional crafts which states that if you take on an apprentice you must pay him/her the same wage and benefits awarded to a skilled employee.

Most glass factories in the States would close down producing the low numbers of products that the Italian factories are currently producing.
It may be a pride thing, but I think the problem is that if they shut the doors even for 6 months in hopes the economy will get better, their workers will find new jobs. Then if they decide to reopen they'll be stuck with a Maesto or two and a bunch of new guys with no training getting paid like they are trained. I think we could all agree that in that situation it would take years to develop a skilled workforce, and it would be completely unsustainable.
The choice then is quit, or go down with the ship.

Here in Tuscany, and in Italy outside of Venice, blowing glass outside of an industrial setting is practically non existent (I'm talking about furnace glass, there are quite a few lampworkers, fusers, and stained glass artists dotted around the country).

I would argue that Italy has affected most modern glassblowers and glass artists with their rich history and tradition in glass, and although most of that influence can be attributed to Murano, it is important to bring the non-industrial approach made possible by the Studio Glass Movement full circle to Italy and begin to change the perception of glass here by making it an activity which is relevant and accessible to the public. Opening a glass school in Tuscany would rejuvenate the 8 centuries of a rich cultural tradition celebrated in this region which has all but died out.

The Medici family ran 2 artistic glass studios in Florence, they brought down maestros from Murano to work in them along side the Tuscan Maestros.

As these days Florence is virtually untouched by modern glass art, I can only hope that these conditions would be ideal for a successful school situation, enabling anyone who is interested to continue this practice, and maybe, just maybe it would set the wheels in motion for a smaller scale glass renaissance similar to our own Studio Glass Movement.

That is what I want to do.

Ask yourself if you were in my situation, knowing that you have the potential solution and the skills necessary to continue an 8 century cultural heritage, and all you needed was a fairly substantial sum to get you started...what would you do?

I decided to make a start. Here is my project:
Infinity Vetro Project (http://www.indiegogo.com/IVP)

The first segment of glassblowing in the project video was filmed at Vetrerie Empolesi last May about a week before it closed its doors.

Please consider contributing to, or sharing the project, or both.
I need all the help I can get to get the ball rolling.

Thanks for reading.

David Patchen
10-26-2012, 02:10 PM
Sounds fantastic! I wonder if a traveling roadshow of the under-employed maestros around the U.S. to different glass studios to teach workshops on their specialty would help raise money and awareness for your efforts.

If those guys don't do canework, I'd love to teach in Florence sometime :)

Pete VanderLaan
10-26-2012, 07:01 PM
Isak, I think you present the situation with remarkable clarity. I recall over 25 years ago talking with an Italian friend who said at the time why it was doomed the way it was. He said that Italians were still making bride and groom sets for wedding cakes and that they were incredible but no one wanted them. When one of the younger members of the family which ran the factory talked about modernizing designs, he hit a stone wall which simply said, "Your great grandfather designed that piece and you dishonor his memory". That in a nutshell was at the leading edge of the failure.

Now the Chinese are buying up the factories and shipping it all to China which won't work either actually for sort of the same reason. The chinese only want to sell glass by the container load and they don't really do a great job of making the things they rip off of websites as photographs. I don't worry about the chinese because what I do is a real pain in the ass to do.

American glass really went through the same pains as the Italians, they just collapsed earlier. West Virginia is almost gone. Any of the larger off hand shops in the Appalachian states are all cold. They failed to make efficient equipment and they failed to make things that people Actually wanted and I still believe the latter is more important than the former.

I think that small is better in art glass. Small is more nimble and small recognizes opportunity in weird places like doggy reliquaries. Pumpkins I still don't get but it seems to work for a lot of small shops,.

I'm going to China soon to consult with a factory that has no interest in making junk for Americans. They want to make glass for the Chinese middle Class and there are 350 million of them. They define middle class differently but it is still a huge audience of people who have done well and want the trappings of success.

I think you can absolutely do what you propose in Tuscany. Often innovation is born out of failing necessity. The bailout of the auto industry here would never have worked if Detroit hadn't begun to make what it said was impossible for years- a high MPG car with some power. I think the Italian mindset is not tuned to innovation yet. You can change that perception.