This blog post comes to us from guest contributor Evan Turk, an award-winning illustrator and children’s book author. Originally from Colorado, Evan was, until recently, living in the Hudson Valley of New York, only a short drive away from the Museum.
Research into the world of glass and its storied history for his new book, A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020), led Evan on a journey from Corning to Murano and back again as he rediscovered fantastic stories and storytellers, incredible characters, and all the bold colors of glass.
Pick up Evan’s book and get swept away in the empowering tale of Marietta and fall in love with the majesty of glass all over again.
From the first time I saw millefiori glass on a family trip to Murano as a child, it captivated me. The vivid colors, the complex patterns, the intricacy; it is an artist’s dream!
While researching before a trip to Venice with my husband for our honeymoon (romantic, I know), I stumbled upon Marietta Barovier, and I knew I had to learn more about her. She was the daughter of one of the most famous glassmakers in history, Angelo Barovier. She was the first documented woman allowed to open her own glassblowing workshop, during a time when women were not allowed in the field. She is credited with rediscovering the techniques for millefiori to create the rosetta bead. This bead, using techniques that had been lost for 400 years, became one of the most valuable currencies of the Renaissance, and was traded across the globe. That felt like a story worth telling.
My journey began with a visit to The Corning Museum of Glass Rakow Library where Regan Brumagen, manager of public services, graciously helped me find more resources on Marietta and her family. She also put me in touch with The Studio’s Resident Advisor, William Gudenrath, a Renaissance glass historian and master, who could not have been more enthusiastic about helping me with my research. I was able to go back to Corning to watch and draw Mr. Gudenrath as he performed magical Renaissance glass techniques. His confident gestures and movements inspired many of the poses for the characters in the book. He also put me in contact with two people that would lead me back to Murano.
The first was a direct relative of Marietta herself: Glass historian Rosa Barovier Mentasti, a member of the famed Barovier glass family. The Baroviers have been making glass in Murano for over six hundred years. When I met her in Murano, she walked me around the island, illuminating her family’s history and the role Marietta and Angelo Barovier, Marietta’s father, played in Murano’s history. Angelo is credited with many incredible innovations including milk glass (lattimo), chalcedony (a glass that mimics precious stones), and the most famous: crystal or cristallo, which was the first colorless glass.
The second person I met in Murano was Davide Salvadore, maestro of millefiori and murrini. I was lucky enough to be able to talk with him and his assistant Yoshiko Tanimura, visit his studio and see his miraculous work. His work includes large vessels and sculptures that feature intricately patterned and boldly colored murrini. He spoke of his mother, who made jewelry and beads with flameworking, and how that influenced his use of murrini and beads in his own work. And although she didn’t live to see what his work would become, he said she is present in each one of his pieces. He said she taught him about color.
Beadwork was one of the only professions that was open to women in glasswork, so Marietta’s invention of the Rosetta bead was both part of a long tradition of women in glass, and also a groundbreaking achievement.
As I walked around Murano after my interviews with both Mrs. Mentasti and Mr. Salvadore, I began to feel the presence and history of glass everywhere on the tiny island. Mr. Salvadore spoke of the circular nature of life, and how things always change and transform into something new. I couldn’t help but see the reflection of that in the concentric, circular patterns of murrini. I began to imagine the entire island as if it were made up of glittering pieces of glass. Tiny, colorful stories embedded within the buildings and canals, like jewels and flowers waiting to be uncovered.
Upon my return to New York, I knew I wanted to experience making glass firsthand, so my husband and I headed back up to Corning for a weekend of glassblowing. Even having visited glassmaking studios before, I was unprepared for the intensity of the heat of actually working with it. It was primal, intense, and electrifying. To have patience, dexterity, and clarity in that environment is truly amazing. I gained a newfound appreciation for the masters I had been able to see working, and for Marietta. The fire and the heat of the furnace are like a challenge to the glass artist, demanding to know how much they really want to create.
This book became a love letter to Venice, to Murano, and its miraculous glass. But most of all, it is a love letter to artists everywhere who take their sparks of inspiration and bring light and color for the rest of the world to see.
*All sketches and images provided by Evan Turk