Meet the Artist: Lino Tagliapietra

Corning Museum of Glass, May 15, 2007

Hello, I’m Tina Oldknow, the Corning Museum’s Curator of Modern Glass. I welcome you to the second of our series of conversations with artists who have made a significant impact on contemporary glass in America and abroad.

TINA: Lino, thank you so much for joining me in this conversation today.  It’s a pleasure to have you.

LINO: Thank you.  Thank you, Tina.

TINA: Lino, you’ve worked with glass nearly every day since you were 11 years old.  That’s, you know, like 60 years at the furnace!  What keeps you wanting to work with glass?  What is it about it that fascinates you so much?

LINO: I think that the answer is… sometimes it is too easy if you want to give one reason, it’s quite difficult to answer.  Because I think, I feel . . . it’s the only thing I know to do.  It’s the only thing I like to do.  That’s all. 

TINA: So…

LINO: I think, I think in glass.  I think about the material, the fire, the technique, the movement.  To choose to do something, I think, is very important.  For me, [it is] the only way that I know. It is a difficulty for me to think of something else.

TINA: So, is there something special that you like about the material particularly?  Do you like its ability to hold color or its transparency?  Or is it just that, really, glass is pretty much all you’ve ever known and wanted to know?

LINO: I think it is the material, glass.  I think it is the fire, the material.  I think the color is one component, but even the clear glass, it’s possible… it gives me something… a fascinating thing.  It’s very important.  For me, see, change the shape and then do something.  When you do it, you’re able to do it.  I think that for me, it’s unbelievable.  You know, when I am kids, I remember — probably at the age of 15, 16 — we make some beautiful work with Archimede Seguso, with my master there, and then I realize how for us to be able to do — very simple people like we are — to make so beautiful work, and then I am very amazed.  I think I’m feeling the same thing right now.  I have incredible respect for the material, for what we are doing, what come out.  You know, to blow glass is like a work in progress.  When you start one piece, you know what is going on.  If you think [in] a little bit more serious way, [in a] different way, or somebody also sees the glass a different way. We have many — many special — many technique, many way to do it.  Otherwise, we are a little bit boring.  But I think the glass is never boring, because it changes all the time.  You know?

TINA: You mentioned Archimede Seguso, when you were just talking, who was one of your teachers.  And I want to ask you, who have been some of your favorite historic Venetian glass designers?  I know that you very much admire the work of Seguso…

LINO: Mm hmm.

TINA: …and some of the other designers who have influenced you? Can you think of people that you especially admired?

LINO: When I work, it’s visual.  I worked at the Archimede Seguso factory, I saw Archimede Seguso work.  I know him, and then everything I saw there, I saw from Archimede Seguso and the other masters that work there.  When I was kids, I admire one master, in particular. . . Enrico Moretti, he is the guy that helped Archimede Seguso to do wonderful things.  And then he do a lot of experimental work, and this one… this person nobody knows, but for me represent something very, very, very important.  You know… things… the way… how you go to research, sometimes in a scientific way.  I don’t want to say scientific, but you must get one method to work, to going on, you must have one program.  Apparently [seemingly] everything is casual – it is not casual – because, normally with a glass blower, or the artist in glass, they never do exactly the drawing before [them].  I sat much closer to the design to… I am feeling. . . because we have a totally different approach with the material. Sometimes it’s very. . . more important to catch the spirit, the whole, the design. I don’t know, it’s very difficult to explain.

TINA: Mm hmm.  I understand kind of what you’re saying, because generally what happens in Murano, as opposed to what happens today with artists in the United States, is that the people who might be designing the glass, are usually not the people who are actually making it.  Archimede Seguso was an exception to this; he was a designer and a maker.  But certainly some of the more famous Venetian designers we know, such as Carlo Scarpa and others, Paolo Venini, Fulvio Bianconi, these men never actually made the glass themselves.  So it’s interesting for me to hear you talk about Enrico Moretti, who was Archimede Seguso’s assistant, as being someone who was very influential to you, you coming from that very strong “making” background, as opposed to designing and drawing.  I mean, I’ve watched you work, and I’ve never seen you draw.  I think you do all your thinking in glass.

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: Now, Lino, when you first came to the United States to teach, the culture of glass in America was much different than the culture of glass in Murano that you were used to.  And, what surprised you most about the American artists when you first came to the States?

LINO: I think what surprised me?  The energy.  The energy…and the bad quality of the glass.  (laughter)

TINA: They were working with terrible stuff?

LINO: They work with terrible stained-glass window… stained-glass things, and the glass [was] very stiff… the benches, they were terrible.

TINA: They were working it [the glass] cold?

LINO: Very cold… very odd… very big things.  I think it’s very … the glory hole was terrible.  I tried to do one reticello the first time, and then I think. . . the first time, yes… I tried to do the reticello, but the pastorale [metal plate to hold the canes] doesn’t heat.  (laughter)  Then they came. . .they are very impossible to do anyway. . .but we would do something.  Then I organized the garage, I organize the garage, you know… like to put the pieces…

TINA: [The garage] is a little furnace that you put pieces in to keep them hot.

LINO: Yeah, exactly that.  And then I remember when we called [it the] garage at that time, and then they asked me how we call in Murano this kind of… tool.  And then I say, uh… ara.  What it means, ara?  You know, the ara … it is possible to… it means the part, the ancient way, when they do the sacrifice…

TINA: Oh, like the altar?

LINO: Yes… yes… (laughter) …yes.  And then, when they put the glass, the way they fix it, they do it… they are very symbolic names.

TINA: Uh huh…

LINO: Yeah, we call it ara.  And then they say. . . at the time to translate ara for the people was almost impossible.  I  remember I talked to Benny [Benjamin Moore], okay we say parking, and then okay, we call [it] “garage.”

TINA: (laughter) That’s a great story.  I love that.  So we call it the garage in English, but it’s called the ara, which is Latin for altar, in Italian.  (laughter)  A little bit different.  You were talking about the energy of the artists, and what did you mean by the energy of them?

LINO: Oh, they have an incredible focus of what they are doing.  Their techniques, they are very poor. I remember, at the time, we have one artist, I think his name is William Testaro or something…I think he’s still around.  And then he make one idea — a vessel — not too bad, but you have a very difficulty to [transfer to] the punty.  And then they do the punty in a very bad way, and they are not able to blow the glass in correct way. And then he make some work. . . he make some work, and then he finish.  I saw, maybe six months later, that they have the pieces in the museum.  I think, my God, I am very impressed about this because I am feeling, they are very, a little bit funky, but…

TINA: Mm hmm…

LINO: …they have the idea… they have some naïve ideas.  Quite strong, and they make a very… in part… not for the technique, but for the energy.  I saw the potential in these kind of people… the movement.  Even though they’re naïve, they are this… they have incredible energy.  Also they amaze me. The people came to pay to watch me work. For me, I pay, for example, if I have a chance, I pay the ticket for a chance to see, for example, but I miss, and then I try to have the opportunity many times.  I ask many times, I have a chance to see Alfredo Barbini [work].  I never have the opportunity to see him work.  And then I ask the daughter a couple times: “Oh, no, impossible.  You know, my father don’t show anyone…”

TINA: Right.

LINO: …and then they say it’s fine.  But, I saw in the video about… for make some simple things, some more important things.  But I never saw him directly to work.  Then I like it because I think it’s a very… for me it’s fascinating, all the time to see somebody blow glass… for me it’s very spectacular.  Anyone that blows glass, for me it’s fascinating… even better if one is a great master, you know?

TINA: Of course.  Well you bring up something which is interesting when you’re talking about that you never had the opportunity to see Alfredo Barbini, who certainly was one of the greatest sculptors in glass, and…

LINO: Absolutely, absolutely.

TINA: …and…

LINO: It is a very honest.  I think I miss… because I ask several times, because I like him very much.  I think him and Archimede Seguso … they represent not what history… all the century… then the Murano glass.  We have a great master at that time.  I saw many people, many masters work, and then I [was] very impressed.  

TINA: Lino, when you first began teaching in the United States, I know that you experienced a lot of negative feelings, to say the least, in Murano about that.  Do you feel that people in Murano are still as secretive about glass blowing as they were, even ten years ago?

LINO: You know, I… I…

TINA: Do you think they’re opening up?

LINO: Yeah, I think it is more personal, because if we go a little bit… we watching the past, for example.  In the past, how many people came out from Murano and go to work outside Murano?

TINA: Right.

LINO: How many they are.

TINA: Ever since the 16th century, people have been leaving Italy.

LINO: But also before, in 1950’s.

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO: 1970 and 1980’s.

TINA: Oh, yes.  True.  That’s true, in the 50’s, the 60’s…that’s right.

LINO: Yeah, the people go to work.  For example, we have a very famous glass blower in the States that came from Murano… is Moretti.

TINA: Right.  Roberto Moretti.

LINO: Roberto Moretti… exactly.  The brothers, Enrico Moretti, he work at Archimede Seguso. . .

TINA: Oh… so he worked at Pilgrim Glass Works, I believe.

LINO: Yeah, I think work in Fenton, in…

TINA: In Fenton…

LINO: Yeah, I [don’t] know exactly, which factory.  I know he work in West Virginia.

TINA: Right.

LINO: Then at the Archimede Seguso, we have two brothers, [Enrico and] Roberto Moretti; they work out in West Virginia.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: And then we have the people that go to work in Sweden.  We have several people who work in Sweden. Many people go to work in Canada.

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO: Many people go to work in Brazil.  Many people go to work in Venezuela.

TINA: Yeah… yes.  And so these people mostly went to work in factory situations, unlike you, who came into a school situation.

LINO: Yes.  But they have a chance to produce the other things…

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: … they work in Peru, they have a big master. 

TINA: Oh.

LINO: Like Scattomar, they have a great master.  He bring all the things, he bring all the family, and build a factory there.  He stay, oh, he stay maybe ten years.

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO: And then he make some money and coming back.  He came back to work in Murano.  Nobody talk [or] think in terrible way.

TINA: Uh huh, that’s right, there were quite a few people going back and forth.

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: Yeah. And even your brother-in-law, Checco Ongaro.  I mean, when Benjamin Moore and Dale Chihuly first invited you to come teach at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington in 1979, Checco had been there the year before teaching.

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: And he decided he did not want to stay, and he recommended you.  He said, “I have a brother-in-law; you might like him, his name is Lino Tagliapietra.”

LINO: Yeah, uh…

TINA: And what…

LINO: Benny [Moore], at the time he want to, he want Caramea to teach…

TINA: Oh.  Mm hmm.  What is Caramea’s  name? 

LINO: Tosi

TINA: Mm hmm.  And so Benny wanted Caramea to come, but Caramea was not going to come.

LINO: No… no, exactly.  He asked Checco, and Checco say, “I don’t ask Caramea.  Why don’t I ask my brother-in-law?” And then he asked me.

TINA: Uh huh.  Now, what did Checco tell you before you went?  Did he encourage you to go, or is there something that he told you that made you think, “Oh, I think I’m going to try going to the States and see what it is like.”  Why did you go, I guess is what I want to ask.

LINO: You know, I love it. The very… even young kids… I have a very American side to the family, you know?  I like United States, and then I like what the United States represent for the young kids in Murano at the time. Mostly, in our my family, in the factory, the people against the United States.  They have… I’m probably only guy who like United States… (laughter)  …for some reason.  I like it.

TINA: When did you decide that you felt you could stop working for the factories in Murano, and become independent?

LINO: I don’t remember exactly the year.  Probably ‘87, ‘88, or something like this.  I think after, you know… I… At the time I had retired because I have 35 years, 39 years working in Italy in the factory at the time, and then I go for 40, and then I decided that I take my pension and retired, and then I became independent in Murano.  I have the contract there.  But the factory became very uncomfortable because I am … my idea to blow glass all day long.. . [making] lamps… or make the production line all day long, all of my life… I no like so much, I think became very heavy [hard] to do it. 

TINA: Well, I think that you also, when you were in your 50’s, decided to completely rethink your work and start making unique pieces, no longer production.

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: And, you know, I can understand why you would tire of making production pieces when you really had the opportunity now. . . and you’re so funny because you talk about retirement, but, you know, when you were in your 50’s and even in your 60’s, you were probably working just as hard as you’ve ever worked.

LINO: Exactly.  Yeah.

TINA: Yeah.

LINO: Exactly.  You know, it’s just a philosophic way, you know… it’s a very difficulty sometimes.  If I want to do something [at the factory], what I like to do, I must wait [until after] four o’clock in the afternoon.  And then I got tired of this kind of things [production].  Also, when I make something nice, then the factory sold [it] for nothing, probably.

TINA: Right, right.

LINO: And I don’t feel anymore comfortable.  And then I discover the opportunity, maybe to… have a change, maybe to become a little independent.  And then I try… I take big steps, you know?

TINA: One of the things I wanted to ask you… I’m kind of interested… If you have students, which you do all the time — you do a lot of teaching — what do you think is the most important thing for them to know about glass as a material to work with?

LINO: I think the love...  (laughter)  …the love [of] the material.

TINA: To love the material?

LINO: Yeah.  I think if you love the material, you do it.  And if you have a little attitude, you got it; I think you do it.  But if you don’t love the material, you don’t do nothing.

TINA: The last question I want to ask you is about the big piece the Museum recently acquired, which is called Endeavor. . .

LINO: Mm

TINA: . . .and it’s, you know, a beautiful installation of multicolored boat-like forms that are beautifully cold-worked, and the blowing is, you know, they’re huge — they’re about four feet long each — and it’s just a wonderful evocation of the kind of, you know… what’s so… Those wonderful qualities of Venetian glass, the kind of lightness of being, and the gaiety, and the kind of uplifting quality of Venetian glass.  And I wanted to ask you to maybe talk a little bit about what inspired that piece.  What inspired you to make it?

LINO: Yeah. . . yeah, it started like this, probably… If we talk about roots [of the design], for example, if we talk about roots, the roots they are… I designed one lamp; we call at the time “At The Marina”.  They were lamps, they are practically one smaller boat and a little bit outsized, and at the time it looked bigger.  But, compared to what we do now, it’s completely different. 

TINA: Right, I know the scale you’re working in is much bigger.  So you made a small lamp that was in a boat shape?

LINO: Yeah.  It’s exactly. . .a curve, like the one big. . . it’s inspired by the Concord.

TINA: Oh, okay.  I see. So, but also what about the canoa of  Paolo Venini?

LINO: You know, in this one, we have many people who think of the connection with the canoa of Venini.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: You know, if Venini make something very special, and then I want to do something like this, but no like this.

TINA: Right.  Something different.

LINO: Totally different.  But, this one, for many years, it’s completely different, and the thing…

TINA: Yeah.

LINO: And then another thing we needed to know is, the canoa of Venini, they start solid, it’s never blowing.

TINA: I see.  So they’re not blown.

LINO: They are not blown.  Now they do blown pieces…

TINA: I see.  Uh huh.

LINO: In the past, we do with one piece of glass, cooling…

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: …and carving all together.  They are completely different.

TINA: Uh huh.  And, well they [Lino’s boats] look quite different.  They’re very much more animated.  They are more of an abstract line…

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: They’re not so much the canoa shape.  So… and you were also telling me that when you first kind of began to put them together, you were thinking maybe of the Festa della Sensa [Feast of the Ascension]?

LINO: Festa della Sensa, exactly.  Yeah, [the first] installation, we called it “Festa della Sensa”.

TINA: Uh huh.  And the…

LINO: It was [after] the Canaletto painting. . .

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO: We have lots of kind of things, you know…

TINA: Can you tell me a little bit about “The Festa della Sensa”?  What is it?  It’s the Feast of the Ascension?

LINO: The Ascension, yes.  It’s called Sensa in Venice, is the marriage of Venice with the sea.

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO:  And then, the Venetian people, in the past. . .still they now… now, they are more touristic, but in the past, it [was] very real.  They go with the priest; with a lot of people there, they go there.  They eat; they have the people rowing, they going in the seawater, and they put the flowers.  They pray… they do it, they keep the… they pray… The sea, they keep alive Venice.  They keep Venice quiet because we… If the sea became angry, Venice is easy to disappear.  Then we have this kind, we call it the Festa della Sensa, [it] is very colorful, very beautiful. But [it’s] the one festival the Venetian people believe in, trust very much.  A very Venetian, a very Venetian festival.

TINA: But also the Endeavor was named after a… I thought you maybe said an American… a ship, a boat that won the America’s Cup, the Endeavor…

LINO: You know, now everybody talks about the American Cup because the TV shows the American Cup all the time, and then we have… everybody talking… everybody knows the American Cup.  But for me, like I told you, I like the American [things] forever.  I am very old fashioned, I follow the American Cup all the time.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: And then when I am kids, I remember [the America’s Cup yacht] Courageous, I remember a lot of things… and then I read the day… sorry… the American Cup, then I know the Endeavor… blah, blah, blah.  I love the things and then this one I like to call Endeavor because of the fierce boats of the American Cup.

TINA: Mm hmm.  And I like the way that you combine kind of the traditional Venetian forms that you’ve grown up with, with things like the Concord and, you know, America’s Cup, the newer boats, and I love the way that you translate some of those contemporary forms…

LINO: For one glassblower, I want to become artist or [something] similar.  I think beside the love, you must have the curiosity…

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: Without curiosity and love, you don’t do nothing.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: This one is probably one… is another thing you must have.  A lot of curiosity for a lot of things and then keep track of your roots, your way, your culture.  I think it’s very important.  I think everything… I think we have, for example, great glassblowers in Seattle and also in the States, but [the] only problem I saw… they have [the] most studios, even they travel… many people came [to] work together at very important institutions like Pilchuck, Pratt, Corning.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: …because they keep track… the people… how to see somebody else work.  I think it is very important [to] show everyone the most techniques as possible because the only way to transmit their culture is to see.

TINA: That’s right.  And I think that the fact that you have been so free with showing people Venetian… the Venetian glass language . . . has really resulted in its being incredibly… it’s grown incredibly.  I mean, what I see being made with Italian techniques is totally new and it’s very exciting because it’s an amazing language, you know, to work with in glass.  Very different than Swedish glassblowing, very different than Finnish or Czech.  But the Italian techniques are so adaptable and so rich that they can live in a variety of ways.

LINO: Well, you know, it’s unbelievable because. . . when I taught the first time at Pilchuck, they [were] mostly influenced [by] Czech or Swedish [glassblowing].  And then we have Bertil Vallien and we have [Wilke] Adolfsson, [he is a ] designer very famous in world I think.  Other times he work at Pilchuck.  They do the Swedish technique, [it] is wonderful, very clean; I like it very much.   They are totally the opposite to what we do.  And then we saw… somebody else, they came, another Swedish guy that make beautiful bowls, beautiful stuff. Together they… Erik… something like this… maybe you know?

TINA: Jan-Erik Ritzman.

LINO: Yes, exactly.

TINA: Yes.

LINO: But they are very chilly, and they transmit very little [few] things, and the technique is totally, completely different.  If we work, for example, it’s better… it’s fantastic [to] know everything; they have experienced everything because it’s possible to do many, many things.  But my experience… I feeling… the culture of the glass is unbelievable.  It’s possible [to] make the same things in many, many ways.

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: In many, many way.  I think we have Venetian, we have Swedish, we have… and now we have the incredible evolution of the glass from Australia…

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: …through the Bullseye [Glass] people there.  And then we have one kind of thing, they’re very important. They develop different techniques how to make the glass, how to do the murrine, how to do this, how to do that. You know, somebody wrote in one book, about Dale Chihuly or something else, and they talk about me, and I think they make me a little bit uncomfortable because they look at me like I’m the traitor from Venice…

TINA: Uh huh.

LINO: …I traded secrets… I became famous because I traded the secrets… I spread all the secrets of Venice out here… blah, blah, blah.  (laughter)  You know, I think in this case, they are not right.  I have a totally different opinion.  The most beautiful [glass] color in the States, it came from Germany.  They don’t came from…

TINA: Right.  The Kugler [color rods].  Mm hmm.

LINO: And then I think we have… and now we have the Kugler color that came . . .  fantastic… from New Zealand [Gaffer Glass], we have the color that came from Arizona, and we have the color that came from everywhere. Venice. . . The secret that came from Venice is probably the personal secret.  How we use the color, that’s all, I think.  But this one is totally personal.  I think if I did make one vessel, I don’t think I throw the Venetian economy.  If Venice is so bad, it’s not because I teach to do reticello or something else.

TINA: No, and you’re absolutely right.  I think that there is a mythology about you, Lino, that you came, at great personal risk, and shared these ideas.  When, in fact, as you explain, the Venetians have been showing the world how they make glass since the 14th century, beginning in Florence and places like that, going out and how, you know… we’ve, ever since the Second World War, have had Italian masters working in the United States, in factories here, and . . .  I’m really glad that you’ve given me some of that context, because I think there is this mythology about you that…

LINO: Exactly.

TINA: …you were the only person to, you know, somehow manage to escape Venice, and…

LINO: The people, they also miss a little bit the glass culture because if, I’m sorry, if we go in one museum, for example we go in Corning…

TINA: Mm hmm.

LINO: …or we go to the Baccarat Museum.  We go in the museum in Prague, and we bring some work there… they have fantastic work, fantastic technique.  They have some Venetian technique.  We have some… for example, even Steuben, old Steuben. They make wonderful, wonderful chandelier, wonderful cups.  They have some absolutely fantastic new technique, wonderful technique.  They… you think they need a completely, completely… they need one Venetian people who comes from the lagoon for change everything?  It’s enough they go even their own history.  If we go even [to] Fenton, they make wonderful work sometimes.  I saw some work, for example, in Baccarat, very old Baccarat.  They make some Venetian styles, façon de Venise, incredible, beautiful things…

TINA: Yes, they did.  So, you know… you’re absolutely right.  I mean, there’s so much to see, and I think that what you say… that the most important thing is to love the material and to be curious about all the different ways it can be made… is really the best advice.  So, thank you very much, Lino …

LINO: Thank you.


Special thanks to Christy Cook, and Laura Mann for help with this transcription.