February 23 – August 24, 2008
Organized by the Museum of Glass
It is not uncommon for an artist to be touted as “the greatest” or “most significant,” but in the case of Lino Tagliapietra, the pronouncements happen to be true. Tagliapietra left school at around age eleven to work full time in the glassmaking industry in the glass center of Murano, an island in the Venetian lagoon. This child, who developed into the world’s greatest living glassblower (and arguably one of the greatest in the history of glassmaking), also proved to be a superb artist and educator. In the process, the course of glass art was changed.
By 1978, American Studio Glassmaking had reached a crossroads. The excitement and experimentation of the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s were no longer sufficient to drive the field forward. Glassmakers were hungry for greater technical knowledge and one-by-one made their way to Europe seeking knowledge. Experience gained at the Glassmaking School in Orrefors, Sweden, and the Venini Glassworks in Venice was critical, but the information brought back to the U.S. by such artists as James Carpenter, Dale Chihuly, Dan Dailey, and Benjamin Moore was secondhand. What they learned was filtered through their foreign and less-experienced eyes and hands.
Moore, however, had the insight to spearhead a drive to bring the first real Muranese glassmaking maestro (master), Checco Ongaro, to the young Pilchuck Glass School north of Seattle. Ongaro spent two weeks in 1978 demonstrating classic Italian glassworking techniques, but he was uncomfortable in sharing even some of the knowledge that had been proprietary for centuries. Although invited to return to teach the next year, Ongaro refused. In his place came his brother-in-law, Lino Tagliapietra, an equally accomplished craftsman who knew that if glassmaking at its highest level was to survive, it must expand beyond the declining industry in Murano.
At age 45, Tagliapietra (who did not speak a word of English) stepped onto an airplane for the first time and made the trip to Seattle. That first stay at Pilchuck, during the summer of 1979, would have repercussions for years to come that extended far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Tagliapietra unhesitatingly shared what he knew with artists in the United States, then all over the world. Through his 28 years of teaching and his example—the passionate love of the craft, disciplined work ethic, and demand for perfection—the craft of glassmaking was dramatically elevated worldwide.
Defying criticism from the community back home, Tagliapietra never stopped sharing his knowledge. But the giving was not a one-way street: Tagliapietra benefited equally from the young Americans and other foreigners that he taught and with whom he collaborated. After years of factory production work, Tagliapietra came face-to-face with new ways of regarding the material and with individuals who considered it a medium for art. They were blowing glass for the sheer joy and challenge of it.
There has never been a retrospective look at Lino Tagliapietra’s art and career in its entirety. This exhibition represents not only pivotal and renowned series of artistic work covering a period of approximately thirty years, but also designs made for industry and private objects that have never been exhibited.
This exhibition is curated by Susanne K. Frantz, former curator of twentieth-century glass at The Corning Museum of Glass. The accompanying catalog documents the unparalleled contributions of Lino Tagliapietra and the Seattle area to the history of the visual arts and glass, as both art and superlative craft. In addition, a DVD of Lino Tagliapietra demonstrating his signature glassmaking techniques using the facilities of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma has been produced by the Museum.