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The Resurgence of Murano Glass

What happened in Murano, stayed in Murano.

So was the rigidly guarded way of life on the tiny island in the Venetian Lagoon, about a mile north of Venice, where, in the late 1200s, the Venetian government mandated that the furnaces used by local glassmakers, and the glassmakers themselves, be relocated from the city center.

Intended as a measure to protect central Venice from the fire hazard posed by the furnaces, the law also protected the secrets of the Murano glassblowers’ revered craft, which involves melting mineral sands at temperatures between 1,700 and 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit and adding in elements like cobalt and gold leaf to create vivid colors and glimmering finishes.

The Murano name encompasses various styles and techniques, including millefiori, which is characterized by psychedelically dense floral patterns, and filigrana, a technique developed in the 16th century, in which white or colored glass threads are embedded into clear glass canes that are used to create finished pieces with a pattern of delicate stripes.

More than seven centuries later, true Murano glass remains rarefied, at least in name. Similar to how a sparkling white wine can be considered Champagne only if it’s made in that region of France, a piece of glass can be referred to as Murano only if it’s manufactured on the island.

But with the right materials, the Murano-glass-making process can, theoretically, be recreated in any studio. And lately, Murano glass, or at least its spirit, has become an aesthetic inspiration for many designers and artists.

“Murano has become a kind of funny adjective because it’s used so broadly to describe so many things, and for many people it would refer to very colorful glass,” said Sara Blumberg, 56, a private dealer and consultant in the field of Italian glass in Manhattan. “Maybe this is changing, but I think very often it’s associated with the glass ashtrays and clowns you might see in a shop at the train station in Venice.”

For designers like Brett Heyman, 41, the founder of the accessories line Edie Parker, Murano’s gift-store-glass reputation is part of the appeal.

“I think Murano is kitsch,” said Ms. Heyman, who lives in Manhattan and whose collection of antique Murano glass chandeliers decorated with glass fruits inspired her to create glass pipes shaped like bananas, oranges and grapes for her line of smoking accessories, Flower by Edie Parker. “It has this gravitas of being something that is so Italian and so important, but then, like Venice in general, there’s something a little kitsch about it, like the best version of Disneyland.”

Susan Korn, 35, the designer of the accessories line Susan Alexandra, also makes Murano-inspired pieces that fall somewhere between rarefied and rudimentary. She recently started selling colorful drinking glasses and plates decorated with wiggly blown-glass flowers and winking faces, all made of glass.

“Murano was something very fancy that my grandmother collected. It was like behind glass in her fine china cabinet,” Ms. Korn said. “I wanted my pieces to be very over-the-top but in a livable way.”

Ms. Korn’s works are among a style of Murano-adjacent home wares that have a certain off-kilter art-school aesthetic, a look that could also describe the pieces made by Toshie Adachi, 46, an artist in Tokyo whose glassware features colorful vignettes and clashing grid or polka-dot patterns. The pieces are inspired in part by the Murano technique of murrine, in which patterns and images are made in a glass cane and revealed when the cane is cross-sectioned.

The essence of Murano is also evident in the work of Breanna Box, 28, and Peter Dupont, 26, the founders of the glassware line Heven. The two started the line earlier this year, while living in London, and now work out of Brooklyn Glass, a studio in the Gowanus neighborhood. Their pieces, like the glass sculptures made by Salvador Dalí, are simultaneously droopy and stately, with patterns and colors that recall those of true Murano.

Ms. Box, Mr. Dupont and Ms. Adachi don’t work with actual Murano glass, but other artists, like Gennaro Pepe, 61, have been working with the real thing for decades and are now enjoying a welcome new audience for their art. Mr. Pepe, who lives in Spain, buys Murano glass from Carlo Moretti, a company in Venice, which he uses to create lamps and some of the aqueous glass pendants, rings and earrings that are sold by Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Gimaguas (under those brands’ names).

“The world of fashion is getting used to glass again, and there is a whole new generation of people who want to learn to do the work,” said Mr. Pepe, who first learned the craft in 1993.

Cristaseya, a Parisian clothing and interiors brand, has carried Murano glassware as part of its collection since 2015. Its current offerings include drinking glasses embellished with knobs of glass that recall fungi plucked from the woods. “When held in your hand they feel very organic,” Cristina Casini, 49, the founder of Cristaseya, said of the pieces, which are handblown in Italy.

Dalya Benor, 30, a writer and jewelry maker in Los Angeles, attributes fashion’s current interest in Murano to a larger shift toward the handmade. “I think in general there’s been this return to hodgepodge-chic, handmade fashion,” she said. “The quilted, mismatched aesthetic has been big, and I think jewelry follows that.”

Ms. Benor, who began making beaded jewelry in 2020, started taking glassmaking classes in January 2021, introducing her jewelry brand, Tutti Bene, six months later. In addition to using glass elements she makes, Ms. Benor scours eBay and Instagram for Murano glass beads, as well as Czech glass beads and Swarovski crystals, to incorporate into her pieces.

She isn’t the only one searching for Murano glass online. According to Tirath Kamdar, the general manager of luxury at eBay, sales for Murano glass products in the retailer’s watches and jewelry category are up nearly 200 percent since this time last year. And at 1stdibs, sales of Murano glass pieces have increased by 35 percent over last year, said Tony Fruend, an editorial director at the online antiques retailer.

Mr. Fruend attributed the growing interest in antique Murano pieces to a desire for home décor that feels warm and handmade. Alessandra Baldereschi, 46, who designs glassware “inspired by the great masters of Murano” for Ichendorf Milano, a studio in Milan, offered another reason for the look becoming sought after at a time that has been far from simple. (A pink flask Ms. Baldereschi designed for Ichendorf recalls a Murano glass souvenir one might find in a shop lining St. Mark’s Square in Venice.) Murano, she said, “makes you feel like a child again.”

Circassia News

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