Wander the back streets of Murano and you can hear the roar of furnaces behind blind factory walls. The air trembles and there’s a perpetual orange...
Lino Tagliapietra answered the phone from his apartment, in Venice at 8PM, local time and immediately begins the conversation by describing the colors of the sunset over the Laguna from his apartment window. “There is another place in the world that has a sunset just as beautiful” he continues, “That place is Seattle”.
Maestro Lino Tagliapietra, considered by many to be the world's greatest living glass blower, sets the tone of our dialogue: an exquisite chat with a world renowned artist, craftsman and innovator who never lost the sense of simplicity and kindness. Tagliapietra, a prodigy from the age of twelve, under the guidance of Master Archimede Seguso, achieved the title of Maestro Vetraio at the age of twenty-one. Lino Tagliapietra developed his talents in a variety of factories in Murano such as Galliano Ferro, Venini, Effetre International, and La Murrina, which he founded. For over forty years, he has played a key role in the international exchange of glassblowing techniques and processes all over the world.
It is his connection with United States, and in particular with Seattle that he instantly remembers during our phone call. His experience with the Northwest goes back to 1979, when Lino was invited by Benjamin Moore to teach at Pilchuck Glass School, the international center for glass art education in Stanwood, Washington.
Tagliapietra describes Pilchuck as “magico”. A magical place where glass art was created and people created spontaneous connections in a beautiful and natural context, under the leadership of an incredible faculty. He elaborated on his experience as a teacher and the time he spent exploring glass art with the participants. I couldn’t resist asking him how he perceived the difference in the relationship between mentor and students at Pilchuck Glass School compared to Italy. “When I was apprenticing at young age in Italy, no words were spoken between the mentor and the student; I had to observe carefully and through observation I had to guess the time lapse and the quantity of glass material to use in the creation of a piece. This was forcing the students to be constantly aware of the moment, active in their intellectual and physical abilities”.
“When the Maestro spoke to you”, he continues, “It was usually for scolding you”. Lino summarizes this Italian attitude with a Venetian expression: “roba con l’ocio”, steal with your eye. It didn’t take long for him to realize that such a disciplined work ethic was causing frustration to American students and that he had to reinvent his approach in teaching not just with gestures, but also with words.
“In this way, the relationship between me and students was transformed from guide-subalterns to a relationship that emphasized equal ground. This was something very different compared to the Italian approach”, he said with a smile in his voice.
Lino brings up his memories of Seattle from a few decades ago, when he followed, with great enthusiasm, the Super Sonics winning the NBA championship in 1979 and when he ate for the first time sushi and sashimi prepared by Shiro Kashiba, “a king behind the sushi bar”, at his old restaurant Nikko, on South King Street. I excitedly told him that Shiro opened a new restaurant and he sadly already knew that the Sonics moved.
He admitted to me that while in Seattle he never drove. This allowed him to see so much more of the city from his Belltown home. He remembers that instead of going to osteria to have a Spritz after work, as he used to do in Venice, he got accustomed to have a coffee, in the city even before coffee became a main staple.
“The city has changed a lot”, he adds, “but I still go to Seattle regularly, for me it is like my second home”.
When I asked Lino, what his favorite color is, he answers in pairs: “I used to love orange and aquamarine, then there was the period of purple and yellow, now for some reason I love red and green. One color is beautiful, but the combination of two, is better. Exactly like the explosion of colors that I am seeing outside of my window right now, in this marvelous Venetian sunset; I am a very lucky man”.