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Art

Glass maestro Lino Tagliapietra to spend a week at Toledo museum

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Glass maestro Lino Tagliapietra stretches hot glass.

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Leaving his Italian homeland for the United States in 1979, Lino Tagliapietra brought closely held recipes for battuto, zanfirico, reticello, pulegoso, martelé. For the next several decades in workshops around the country, he taught those glass-making techniques to Americans hungry for new skills.

In turn, his own creative appetite was nourished by the freedom he found among Americans making art. Along with his style, his career flourished.

One of the world’s most respected glass artists, 80-year-old Lino Tagliapietra (pronounced LEE-no Tah-lee-ah-pee-A-trah), will spend a week making glass at the Toledo Museum of Art beginning Saturday. Blowing, stretching, and wielding molten glass in the hot shops, he’ll craft both small and large pieces, keeping an eye open for opportunities to innovate.

Watching him and his team’s choreography as they fabricate beauty will be hundreds of artists and art lovers.

“I will experiment with different kinds of [glass] canes; some new forms with old material and old forms with new material,” says Tagliapietra, speaking with The Blade by phone from his home on the island of Murano near Venice.

“Lino’s work is complex. People are just blown away,” says Tom Hawk, owner of Hawk Gallery in Columbus where single pieces of the Italian’s work sell in the $30,000 to $70,000 range. (Note, galleries typically receive half the selling price.)

If you go:

Lino Tagliapietra will blow glass beginning Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. Seating is limited.

● Free demos: 10 a.m. to noon or 1 to 3 p.m. May 5 and 6. Seating is first-come, first served.

● Ticketed demos: 10 a.m. to noon or 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday and May 3, 8, 9, and 10. Limited tickets remain. Tickets are $30, and $25 for students. Purchase at toledomuseum.org, 419-255-8000 ext. 7448, and at museum information desks.

● Book signing: He’ll sign books and posters 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. May 9 in Libbey Court at the main museum. The Museum Store has Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Italian Glass and two others ($50 each), a DVD, and a poster.

It will be a rare chance to watch a maestro who’s worked with glass for 70 years, notes Bill Hamilton of Sylvania Township. Hamilton so appreciates glass that he voluntarily produces a weekly newsletter about glass events and maintains the Facebook page for the museum’s Glass Studio.

“He’s learned all the Italian techniques. He’s very smooth, he knows what he’s going to do,” says Hamilton. “His pieces are beautiful, very creative, very inventive. And it’s not the same thing over and over again.”

Described as having impeccable craftsmanship, a strong work ethic, and a penchant for ingenuity, Tagliapietra was in Toledo in May, 2006 to inaugurate the hot-shop studio in the museum’s Glass Pavilion. At a fund-raiser before the glass-walled building had even opened, he made a piece that sold for the bargain price of $26,000.

It’s been an astonishing journey for someone who was born and married into the business on the seven-island cluster known as Murano, a locus of glass-making since 1291 when crafters were forced to leave Venice because of fire risk: Should a glass factory burn on Murano, Venice would be spared.

Tagliapietra’s father pulled fish from the Adriatic Sea before hiring into a plant where he assembled and cleaned glass.

Born in 1934, Tagliapietra went to work at 11; like other kids, he opened and closed molds containing glass tumblers and tableware.

“I grew up quite fast. Very few people went to school after primary school,” he says. Perhaps that’s why he brought his wife, Lina, three children, and five grandchildren to Columbus in 2011 when he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Ohio State University.

In his youth, Murano’s factories were busy

“After the second World War, people needed everything,” he says. “I worked with old men, they taught me about Venetian murals in public places,” such as how to make mural glass and small flowers and leaves. At 21 he began training to become a maestro. He designed bowls and vessels, and some of his lines became popular.

The years 1958 to 1970, when the Communist party was strong in northern Italy, were difficult, he recalls. Many people left Murano, people stopped working at one point, and there wasn’t enough money to pay skilled maestros. “I had a family. I stayed until I retired.” he says.

In 1962, a cup he made for a Murano contest took the grand prize. Also that year, a handful of ceramic artists gathered in a garage at the Toledo museum to figure out how to build a small furnace that could generate enough heat to melt glass. Over a couple of weekends they succeeded, and gradually, artists were able to form glass in their own studios, vastly expanding glass as an art medium.

In the next decade, Americans traveled to Europe searching for traditional glass-making methods. A skilled Murano glassmaker, Checco Ongaro, was invited to teach Venetian techniques at the Pilchuck Glass School north of Seattle, and he wowed students and staff. When he couldn’t return the following year, he recommended his sister Lina’s husband, Lino, and Lino took his place at Pilchuck in 1979. Lino loved it, returning again and again, broadening his students’ skills, but experiencing the ire of his Murano peers for divulging the Venetian methods.

Nevertheless, by 1989, with 44 years of factory-glass work under his belt, he resolved to tap his creative reservoir and make his own designs. “Then I became a free man.”

He worked collaboratively with Dale Chihuly and many others, and in a few years had successful shows in New York and Venice. “I tried to be myself with my evolution.”

Accompanied by Lina and using Seattle as a base, he often spent six months teaching and traveling the United States; when their visas expired, they returned to Italy where they have a home and small studio. It’s quiet there. He reads (from Jack London and John Steinbeck to Tolstoy, Freud, and Jung), listens to music (the blues, country music, Chopin, Bach), takes walks, and does some glass work in his studio. None of their children or grandchildren is interested in glass, he says.

Museums that own his work include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Columbus Museum of Art, which owns Endeavor, an armada of 35 glass “boats” — long, graceful pieces, suspended from the ceiling. While in Ohio, the Columbus museum has asked him to visit and lend ideas about moving Endeavor — estimated at about $2 million — to a higher-profile location.

Jack Schmidt, a Toledo glass maestro, says the newest generation of glass artists are quite taken with Tagliapietra. They’ve embraced Italian techniques and the practice of working in teams to manipulate larger, heavier pieces.

“He’s an icon among young people because of that incredible skill and the ability to work large amounts of glass very skillfully,” says Schmidt, noting that his 27-year-old son, Ian Schmidt, is among the fans.

Schmidt will be among those on the Glass Pavilion’s metal bleachers in the hot shop next week, watching the Italian maestro shape glass.

Contact Tahree Lane at tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.

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