I never fully realized the profound impact that Maestro Elio Quarisa had on my glassblowing career until I found myself sitting next to my teacher the day before he passed away. When I heard that Elio was not doing well in December 2010, I visited him at the hospital. Despite his weak condition, Elio still greeted me with the same light and smile, and we just sat there together as I held both of his hands. It was in that last moment I had with him that I truly understood what I learned from him: love for glass, dedication to teaching, lightness of heart, perseverance, and respect. Perhaps that moment was the passing of the torch, and seeing Elio off has served as an impetus to reassess my own purpose with glass.
I met Elio during a tough period in my life, the summer of 2005 at the CMOG workshop, shortly after my grandmother had passed away from lung cancer; I only share this as it was ironically the same path for him. Elio’s zealous energy, love, and playfulness with glass revitalized me quickly, and offered what my soul had been longing for—a passion to work with a magical molten material. It was then that I knew that I wanted to learn more from him firsthand in Murano, as he had learned as a boy in the glass factories.
Elio’s love for glass transcended all facets of life as he dedicated his time to impart all his glassblowing knowledge to willing learners. I remember how he took the time to explain and write out all of the Venetian terms for the tools on a large piece of paper. Glass was still so fresh to me, and it was there that my love for Venetian goblet making blossomed and offered me solace. Elio was like a grandfather to us all, being present to mentor everyone in the class. During his demonstrations, it did not matter if the piece was crooked or broken, because he always found a way to fix it. He was never afraid of making a mistake, nor did he ever get upset when something went wrong. He would just shrug it off and would say, “It’s okay.”
Elio made a lasting impression on my passion for Venetian glassblowing. In 2006, my determination and hard work granted me the opportunity to work with Elio again as his assistant in Murano, while he was working at the Scuola di Vetro Abate Zanetti. I was always amazed at how he could effortlessly put on an avolio and connect the goblet and stem together, and be willing to accept bits and blown feet from me, an assistant who was still learning. His overwhelming wealth of knowledge was so awe inspiring, it made it seem like anyone could learn how to make fish, dragons, swans, mezzastampo, and reticello goblets with ease. Whenever I make swans or reticello bowls, I recall the lessons, the lightheartedness, and the passion that Elio imparted in me. Elio was a creator and had a unique dialogue with glass. I appreciated his relaxed demeanor in making and in repairing things, and how comfortable he made me feel around glass.
The path of a glass maker requires years of dedication, hard work, and practice. Through my continued experiences as an unpaid apprentice in Murano, I have learned that working with glass is more than a reflection of technique; it is an acute awareness of the material and the time that is invested to understand and to perfect the skills. Elio instilled in all of his students that same love for glass, with hopes that we would each create our own stories. I intend to carry on the tradition of Venetian glassmaking in the same caliber of workmanship, with the mutual respect, exchange of ideas, and spontaneity that Elio shared with us all.
The set of tools kindly given by Roberto Doná, proprietor of Carlo Doná, on behalf of his friend Elio, will certainly facilitate me in continuing the traditions of Venetian glassblowing. Throughout the years, my focus has largely been put towards building my skills and acquiring new techniques. Now it is time to begin to carve out my own artistic path by investing in the proper tools that will take me to the next level. I still believe that it is not the tools that make the creator, but what the creator can do with the materials at hand. Yet I know that quality tools are essential and will provide me with the long-sought opportunity to initiate the next phase of my own creative research in Venetian glassmaking. I trust that this set of tools will help me to carry on the practice of Venetian glass in hopes of inspiring others, just as Elio has done for me.