Early in the morning of Monday, March 14th, 2022, I left an Airbnb apartment near Piazza San Marco in Venice and walked through the quiet alleys to catch the Vaporetto (public transit boat) that would take me to the island of Murano. The sun was just beginning to rise over the Venetian lagoon on what would turn out to be a gorgeous, sunny day as the boat made the 18-minute trip. I would soon be reunited with old friends for a full day of filming on a project very near and dear to my heart—the history of flameworking on Murano.
As the Properties of Glass and Flameworking Supervisor for The Corning Museum of Glass, I know I have unique opportunities to research and share information about the art and craft of flameworked (or lampworked) glass that few other people have. For this reason, I have felt inspired and also obligated to dig into and share as much of this information as possible through the years and into the future. Being a part of this exciting new documentary would allow me to do that like never before.
In 2018, Cesare Toffolo and Sandro Zecchin published a three-volume set of books entitled “Il Vetro a Lume,” or “Lampworking.” It is the most comprehensive publication on the history of lampworking to date, and much of the research was done through resources from The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.
Cesare has been my most important mentor in glass. His elder son Emanuel is a talented filmmaker in addition to being a highly-skilled glassmaker, and he put together the cultural heritage foundation InMurano with Caterina Toso, the manager of the Fratelli Toso glass company. InMurano has produced several films that celebrate great glassmakers and important aspects of the history of Murano’s glass culture. Emanuel decided in 2019 that the next films InMurano would produce should focus on telling the story of the books Zecchin and his father had published. He asked me to be involved as I am knowledgeable about the subject matter—I have produced some blog posts and filmed interviews on similar topics as part of my Glass Pilgrim series. He also knows me well enough to know how much I would enjoy and thrive on such a project.
We began discussing the project during the summer of 2019 with the hope to get filming started in May 2020. Of course, world events had different plans for 2020, and we finally had the opportunity to get me involved in the filming in Italy in March 2022.
Emanuel and his production team had already done as much work as they could before I arrived. Meanwhile, I developed text for narration with Emanuel throughout the course of 2021. I also worked with CMoG’s Curator of Ancient Glass, Kate Larson, and the Museum’s video team to shoot some scenes here in Corning before I headed to Italy. The footage we shot here at the Museum with Kate allowed us to set the stage for what ancient forms of lampworking had accomplished and prepared the plot line of my search for more information on the history of the craft.
In addition to my deep interest in the subject matter, I also have a great appreciation for Emanuel’s vision as a director. I had seen a few of the other films he produced for InMurano, and I love his eye and the way he builds dramatic shots and storylines. He had some very specific shots in mind for me on that first day on Murano. Emanuel and I began with some footage around the lighthouse at the Faro Vaporetto stop with the light of sunrise.
Once the rest of Emanuel’s team arrived from Venice, we dove into more elaborate shots around the island and through the canals. It was important to Emanuel to set the proper feel for Murano by having me tour the canals that meander through the land masses. Part of this shooting would involve me driving a boat through the canals, which checked off a very exciting item on my bucket list.
After shooting around the canals and a few of the alleyways of Murano, we headed to the studio of Lucio Bubacco to record footage of his incredible figurative work, and to conduct an interview as Lucio shared his background and inspirations.
As we were finishing Lucio’s interview, the drone operator Fabio Pappalettera arrived. The drone footage provided some of the most dramatic shots in the film, and they give us views of Murano that could never be seen any other way. We continued shooting right up until sunset and then I caught the Vaporetto back to Venice for a quick dinner and a thorough night’s sleep.
Thankfully, we began the next day’s shooting at a more reasonable hour. The morning involved capturing more shots around the canals and alleyways. After lunch, we would head over to the home of Verilda de Polo to interview her about her work with Guglielmo Brussa. He was one of the most important pioneers of Muranese lampworking in modern times. We finished the day shooting footage of me working on the torch in Cesare’s studio.
Wednesday, March 16th, we began shooting mid-morning as I interviewed Cesare about his life and work as well as the work of his father, Florino. Cesare learned many important lessons on the torch from his father, who had begun his career in glass as a young maestro in furnace glassmaking but adapted that knowledge to flameworking when he was forced to do so by his Nazi captors during World War II.
The plan for Thursday, March 17th, was to record all the necessary voiceovers to fill in important bits of narration. We did this work at the studio of Emanuel’s sound engineer Enrico Lenarduzzi in Padova, which is about a 20-minute train ride from Venice. I was a bit surprised that for much of what we recorded, I was asked to speak uncomfortably slowly. Recording in this way would allow Enrico and Emanuel to adjust the speed of the narration to best fit the video footage to which it is matched.
Friday, March 18th, we spent the majority of the day shooting in and around Cesare’s studio and gallery spaces capturing important detail shots to give Emanuel good material to fill in any gaps. We finished our action-packed filming week that afternoon, and I said my goodbyes to my wonderful friends on Murano, knowing that we had done some great work and anxious to see how Emanuel would put it all together into a final finished package.
Seeing the final product now, I could not be more proud and also thankful for the opportunity. I very much look forward to continuing this work as we will produce two more films over the next two years to cover the rest of the material in the books by Toffolo and Zecchin.
The finished documentary, The Flame: The Art and History of Lampworking, will premiere during the Museum’s 60th Annual Seminar on Glass on October 7, 2022. This year, Seminar welcomes presenters and registrants from around the world to explore the theme “Expanding the Stories of Glass” in honor of the United Nations International Year of Glass. The histories, voices, and skills of the lampworkers on Murano are inexorably connected to the worldwide story of glass, and I can’t think of a more fitting tribute.
Stay tuned for more details about the release of The Flame.