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Insights: Indulgences

Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 1)

But master status is just a beginning, no matter how talented you are. Glassblowing, unlike many other forms of modern art, demands a technical proficiency that takes decades of application. The medium is unforgiving.

When heated to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, glass is invitingly plastic -- and then suddenly set for all eternity as it rapidly cools. Artists who work with glass are enthralled by its immediate gratification (no laboring for months as with metal, wood or stone) and daunted by its no-second-chances spontaneity. Glassblowing is the ultimate performance art.

It was that very opportunity to perform that transformed Tagliapietra's art. His artistic transformation began after American glass artist Dale Chihuly, one of the founders of Seattle's famed Pilchuck Glass School, solicited Tagliapietra to teach at Pilchuck.

"Actually, it was Lino's brother-in-law, who is also a glassblower, who was asked first," recalls William Traver. "He didn't enjoy America, so he suggested that Lino go the next year. Lino came and he loved the freedom.

"For our part, we're all just amazed at his technical ability. You see, Pilchuck [artists] had ideas, but not the skills. Lino had such technical mastery, he could do anything. It was the beginning, really. Lino's first show in the U.S. was in my gallery back in 1981."

What happened at Pilchuck Glass School was a classic Old-World-meets-New-World saga. Tagliapietra was the flower of an ancient, exacting system of craftsmanship that dates to the thirteenth century. Glass from the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon (all the glass furnaces were isolated on Murano to prevent fires) was famed throughout Europe. For centuries, Venetian glassblowers were among the very few who knew how to make mirrors. They perfected a thin-walled style of glass so delicate that it looks like a soap bubble made permanent. It was -- and still is -- magical.

These trade secrets were jealously guarded. In the old days the Venetian glassblowers, although extravagantly paid, were forbidden to leave Murano. Those who escaped had their relatives imprisoned. If that persuasion failed, assassins were sent after the glassblower to kill him. Inevitably, Venice's trade secrets were leaked to competing glassmaking empires in France and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).

Vestiges of Murano's cultural insularity still remain. So when Tagliapietra arrived in Seattle in 1979, he finally had the opportunity to exercise the creative side of his glassblowing skills. All things were possible -- especially in his skilled hands.

Pilchuck's freethinking inspired Tagliapietra. He established a studio in Seattle, where he makes half his sculptures. He bought an apartment there, too, where he spends roughly half the year. Tagliapietra's technical mastery has, in turn, upgraded the skills of Pilchuk's students, many of whom now proudly put on their résumés that they studied under Lino Tagliapietra.

Back home on Murano, though, Tagliapietra was seen as something akin to a traitor. "He left Italy and took their traditions with him," explains Lockwood. "He abandoned them, in a way. A lot of it was jealousy."

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