The Art of Glass Making in Murano
Giancarlo Signoretto: a life with glass
That is the first thing you notice as you enter the Murano glass furnace where the world famous Glass Master Giancarlo Signoretto creates his amazing works of art.
The intense blaring exhausting heat, but also the choreographic movements of Giancarlo and his team; a perfect synchronised dance, as they rotate and move, in and out of the oven, the long metal sticks with the melting glass hanging at the end, ready to be moulded into some incredible creation.
Over one thousand years of Murano Glass history play in the hands of this highly talented and eclectic Glass Master, brother and undisputed heir of Pino Signoretto, who was one of the most famous and widely hailed glass masters in the world and who sadly passed away in 2017.
Giancarlo Signoretto: Glass Master in Venice
Giancarlo, born in 1962, is the son of a painter and one of eight children; he lost his parents at a young age and he started working as a young boy, only 14, as an apprentice in the famous Murano Glass Factory Seguso Albarelli, where many of his brothers worked too.
By the age of 27 he opened his own furnace in Murano because he wanted to be able to express his own artistic ideas. He then spent some time in France where he got to collaborate with some of the most famous artists of the 90s. In 2002 he came back to Murano where he got to work also with his brother Pino.
Giancarlo welcomed me, together with my dear friend and Lamp Work Bead maker Alessia Fuga on a warm sunny October day, in the furnace where he works now.
You can read about Alessia on my post about Murano.
The view from the large windows of the furnace is simply breath taking: you are directly on the water, overlooking the extent of the Northern lagoon of Venice. How can you not create marvellous art, when all you get to see is the beauty of nature outside?
Giancarlo got back immediately to business, by getting a mass of glowing molten glass straight out of the oven and beginning to work on it. Time is literally money in a place where running a furnace, day and night, costs thousands of Euros.
Glass is made of silica and soda, which become liquid at high temperatures. Before glass changes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval in which it becomes soft and malleable, before hardening completely, allowing the artisan to shape the material into whichever form he wants.
In addition to silica and soda, other raw materials, called fluxes, are added, and they soften at lower temperatures.
The more sodium oxide is present in the glass, the more it slowly solidifies. This is an important factor for manual glass processing, because it gives the glassmaker more time to shape the material.
The various raw materials that a glass master can add to a glass mixture are sodium, to make the surface of opaque glass, nitrate and arsenic, to eliminate bubbles, and dyes or opacifying substances.
Colours, techniques and materials vary depending on the result the glassmaker is trying to achieve.
The oven is a closed chamber, with walls in refractory material, provided with openings, from which the glass is extracted, at temperatures of 1000 degrees centigrade.
Inside the oven there is the so-called Crogiolo “crucible”, a container made of refractory material, which contains the raw materials mixed together.
Within minutes Giancarlo was already shaping the glowing molten glass with a serious of different tools, with a clear idea in his mind of what that mass of melted silica would look like later on!
Giancarlo creates his own glasswork, but also works in collaboration with many famous worldwide artists.
Watching him and his team, moving elegantly and seemingly effortlessly, is totally mesmerising!
I was also very impressed by Agnese, a 25-year-old Venetian girl, who, 5 years ago, began working alongside Giancarlo, as his apprentice. Agnese is the only Venetian woman working in a Murano glass furnace.
And hopefully she will become the first Maestra Vetraia in Murano, thanks to Giancarlo’s teachings.
After about 40 minutes of incredible and fascinating moulding, shaping and cutting, Giancarlo took a break and showed us around the exhibition rooms, where most of his glass artwork is on display.
41 years of art glass pieces, 41 years of sweat and love for glass, 41 years as a Glass Master: an incredible baggage of experience and sacrifices.
WATCH A VIDEO OF GIANCARLO SIGNORETTO AT WORK!
Here is the video of the day I spent watching Giancarlo Signoretto at work!
Q &A to Giancarlo Signoretto, Murano Glass Master
Giancarlo, whose Motto is “You live glass day by day”, very kindly took some more time off his busy schedule to answer some questions I asked.
How long does it take to become a Glass Master in Murano?
“You can become a master in 3 days, like you can become a master in 100 hundred years – it all depends on each individual, the talent and skills, but above all by the passion. To be a master you need to have skills and you build the skills with passion and the will to get there.”
To become a master of glass, a craftsman has to commit to a long constant and hard path, in order to acquire all the knowledge that is necessary to be able to understand how glass melts, how it solidifies, how it turns at various temperatures, what to do in particular circumstances. But, above all, he needs to learn how to coordinate a team who will support him during his creations.
Who decides who gets the title of Glass Master?
“The title of master is given by your own master, who judges at one point if you are ready to take over his place or build and lead your own team – to be a Glass Master is not only about learning the techniques, it is about leading a team.”
What is the biggest problem at the moment in the Glass making industry in Murano?
“It has become harder and harder to bring forward the Glass making art, due to the extremely high costs and the lack of young people willing to take this hard road.
There is a big problem with generational change with local young people…I think in the future, after me, people will have to try to get young people from outside Murano…”
Why is it so difficult to get young people involved in glass making?
“ We need to change how we present the work in a furnace to young people. In the past it was presented as a punishment: you either go to school or you go and work in a furnace…we cannot afford to do that anymore…if someone nowadays wants to work in a furnace, it must be because he has ambitions and wants to go somewhere in life, he must have the right attitude…it cannot be only considered a job which puts food on your table…”
How do you think the problem could be solved?
“ What really is missing in Murano is a real proper Glass Making school….not just a place where to keep young people in…but a real school lead by high profile talented people based on “apprentisage”, as they say in France, learning. You take a young kid and place him in front of a furnace: he will learn all about the glass and chemistry by trying it and breathing it. Like it used to be for every crafts…
The cost of producing glass is much higher than it used to be: the cost of the raw materials, of transport, of fuel to run the furnace, the cost of staff. That is why a Glass making school could help, as a support”.
My thoughts after talking to Giancarlo were: is Glass making art in Murano destined to slowly disappear like many other crafts in Venice? Let’s hope not – let’s hope some more people will understand the need of training and education like Giancarlo Signoretto does. Let’s hope more people will understand that getting women involved in the furnaces could be a solution.
Let’s hope Murano will wake up soon and understand that things need to change, soon!
A big thank you to Giancarlo Signoretto and all his team for dedicating me so much of their precious time and for giving me such a wonderful insight into one of the oldest arts in Venice!