Muranology: interview to Eros Raffael
As reported in our last post, the letter G in Murano Glass – “G” as gioiello (jewel), giovane apprendista o maestro (young apprentice or master), generazione (generation), globalizzazione (globalisation) – seems to be a very inspirational letter. And G is followed by the letter “H” – H like heritage, eredità. Therefore, we have decided to interview the glass artist Eros Raffael. Eros is not only a professional master, a witness of an old tradition and one of the last artists trained in the furnace, but he is also a teacher at the Technical Institute for Design and Communication “Abate Zanetti” in Murano – founded by the abbot Vincenzo Zanetti, in 1862. Far from underestimating the importance of the furnace as the main place where the young generations learn and grow up, Vincenzo Zanetti is among those great personalities who paved a new path, in a visionary way, thus helping Murano to face the forthcoming challenges of the XIX century.
Good morning Eros, and thank you for this interview!
Eros, how long have you been a glass master?
Now, I am 51 years old. It is almost 27 years
At what age have you started? What was your motivation?
Well, I was born and raised in Murano. My father was not a glass blower, but he worked in a furnace as a “molatore” (grinder). The “molatura” (grinding) is a very important phase of the finishing process, after a glass item has come out of the cooling oven. To be honest, after the middle-school diploma, at the age of 14, I started my summer apprentice at Mazzuccato factory, mainly because I wanted to the money to buy a little motorboat!
What was the name of your first furnace?
I was at Mazzuccato. I remember that there were five “piazze” (piazza is the desk where the master works) and around thirty persons working around, but I do not have a lot to say about the first four years. I was interested and involved in the whole process, but in the meanwhile I was still very raw at the age of 14.
Looking back at those years, is there any moment in your artistic life you remember most as crucial?
Yes, of course! I was 18 years old. After a first positive experience at the Mazzuccato, I moved to Linea Valentina and I had the privilege of working as an assistant of the master Adriano Della Valentina. I really owe a lot to him. He started to assign me challenging tasks, as composing the filigrane (filigrees), murrina and plates with murrina for the jewelry. I also learnt to create (and stretch) my own murrina glass canes. After Della Valentina, I had another great encounter and experience with the master Checco Ongaro, who worked at the world-prized furnace Venini.
Have you ever had your own furnace?
Yes, I had my own one, for 16 years, from the age of 24, when I became master, until the age of 40.
Have you ever worked outside Murano?
Yes, I have been produced murrine and filigrees for several years in a furnace located in the mainland, not far from Mestre, but I missed working in Murano, though the island was already losing part of its population and its production due to another cyclical crisis.
Was the Abate Zanetti an opportunity to come back to Murano?
Exactly, I have started to teach at the Abate recently, in 2019, and what I love most is that I can really transfer my professional experiences and knowledge to the students.
I feel very lucky because I had a 360° working and artistic experience, touching all the aspects of the glass production and techniques. The subjects of my workshops in the furnace are exactly those ones I trained as a young apprentice, since the very early years: vetrofusione (glass fusing with the use of the mold for jewels), furnace (blowing), lampwork glass (e.g. beads) and moleria (grinding).
What is the difference between the students of today at the Abate Zanetti and the “old school” in the furnace?
It is hard to compare. Back in the old time, the furnace was “The School”. The kids used to start to learn at a very early age, as they proved to be physically strong enough for the heavy job in the furnace, but until 40-50 years ago, along with the big artists, there was still a mass-production of common glass for everyday use, while today there are not so many factories. Just think about the example of the Conterie, once the biggest factory in the World for the glass bead production, with around 3.000 employees: they have been definitely closed in 1993. We have survived to the many crisis and we are able to raise from the ash like a phoenix, but the future seems to be in a smaller top-quality production.
Is it the direct experience in a real furnace still very important?
It is crucial, but now it starts later, at the age of 18-19 instead of 14. What they learn in school today is a kind of entry-level experience, but not less significant. We have to consider that vetro-fusione and lampwork glass do not require a big investment in terms of money. After 5 years at the Abate Zanetti some of our guys are potentially able to open their own workshop and make beads or other jewelry with the vetrofusione technique. Abate Zanetti was born, first of all, as a school of design applied to the glass. Only a minority of the students coming out of the Abate Zanetti, after their diploma, start their apprenticeship at the furnace, but those who start, they start with a good background. They already know some basic but important things. The school Abate Zanetti makes a kind of pre-selection: some students will work as designers and/or in the field of marketing communication, others will be specialists in lampwork and fusing glass, while a smaller minority will move its first steps into a furnace, becoming assistants or, maybe one day, a master. One of my students has recently started a working experience at the furnace of Simone Cenedese. It is a joy when another master recognizes the talent of one of my young students.
What are the challenges of the globalization today?
When I was young, Murano was still a world very withdrawn into itself, despite the quality and the prestige of its products had started to spread at International level many centuries before. Today we cannot afford ourselves to stay “closed” into a protectionist mentality. We should try to stay opened to the exchange of experiences. Look at the American Glass. They have learnt a lot from us but they have also developed and improved some specific techniques, as the use of the lampwork in the furnace, applied during the process for shaping specific parts of the items. The lampwork makes possible to work deeper, almost surgically, into the very micro-details of a sculpture or a blown vase. In the US they also had the intuition of transferring the old roman technique of the casting (typical of the bronze sculpture) into the glass making. Today we have a big name in Murano like Berengo working with the casting technique. There is no need to be jealous!
What about those students who will never become glass artists or artisans?
Well, design and communication are very important today. The glass-masters and the designers (once sculptors, architects and painters) have started to collaborate long ago. The potential separation between the glass-master and the designer is not a recent fact, when we look at the history of the artistic glass. Just think about glass designers as Zecchin, Bianconi, Scarpa, and many others. It is among the many possibilities. On the other hand, communication and marketing in a globalized world are the key words. This is the reason why we have started a collaboration between our students and the furnace Laguna B, in order to create a new opportunity of team working which involves the new generation in the entire creative process, from the design and the manufacturing of the items to the web and social media marketing.
Thank you very much Eros for your time, and good luck to you and to your students! I hope we will have another chance to meet.
Thank you Venice Local Guide. Stay tuned!
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