Lino Tagliapietra visits Glass Lab
08 November 2012
|Tagliapietra at MIT Glass Lab|
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Nov. 08, 2012
Renowned Italian glassmaker Lino Tagliapietra spent the week of October 22, 2012, creating his artistic pieces at the MIT Glass Lab, experimenting with folding techniques to enhance color and design effects. “It is interesting for me to develop this kind of project,” Tagliapietra said during a break from his work.
Tagliapietra uses murrini, which resemble colorful glass tokens, and cane, which looks like glass straws, to create the intricate patterns on his glass sculptures that range in size from a few inches to almost two feet across. The hot glass is rolled or pressed onto the murrini or cane, then it is repeatedly fired, folded, blown and shaped until the final look is achieved. At the MIT Glass Lab, “Pretty much every piece he’s made during this visit has incorporated folding in some way into glassblowing,” Erik D. Demaine, professor of computer science, said. “We really like glass folding because it encourages you to think outside the box,” he said. “It’s very different from the way glass is normally blown.” “As he’s making these pieces, he’s basically inspiring us to go do more glass folding,” Demaine said.
Wide ranging inspirations
Tagliapietra's inspirations are reflected in the diversity of his creations. They include Native American-inspired pieces (Hopi), outer space (Space Needle), the prehistoric era (Dinosaur), and nature (Seagulls and Butterflies).
Lino began his work in glassmaking at the age of 11 in his native Murano, Italy, where he was born in 1934. Their forms include vases, goblets, plates and more abstract shapes.
In an essay on Tagliapietra's life and work, Rosa Barovier Mentasti wrote, "He was taught and has taught himself the glass art in light of the particular Venetian sensibility to glass, aimed at appreciating its characteristics as an absolutely unique material that can be melted, blown and molded when hot.
"In his work, it is also difficult, if not impossible, to separate the design stage from the technical-experimental, in that he thinks in glass; that is, he conceives the work not only in terms of its aesthetic qualities but simultaneously in the methods of its production," Mentasti wrote in the essay published in the retrospective book, "Lino Tagliapietra, from Murano to Studio Glass | Works 1954-2011."
A traveling exhibit, "Lino Tagliapietra, In Retrospect, A Modern Renaissance in Glass," opened in Seattle in 2008 and traveled to Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Va., Palm Springs, Calif., and Flint, Minn., over a two-year period.
Tagliapietra has been working for several years with an MIT team to improve the Virtual Glass software program. At MIT, Martin L. Demaine, visiting researcher and glass instructor, and Erik D. Demaine, professor of computer science, who are father and son, and Peter Houk, Director of the Glass Lab, created Virtual Glass to bring computer-aided design to making glass cane. “We like working together, and he’s taught me the art side of things and I’ve taught him the math side of things,” Erik Demaine said of his work with his father. “We write math papers together and we do sculpture together.” Both father and son are affiliated with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The Demaines’ curved-crease folded paper sculptures are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Marty Demaine, who teaches glassblowing to MIT students, said, “One of the goals for Erik and me is to make a strong connection between science and art whenever possible. We’ve discovered that art helps us understand science and science helps us understand art.” The Glass Lab is part of MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
“One of the techniques used in glass is where you add some colors and you stretch it out into what’s called a glass cane. Sometimes they’re chopped up into small pieces and they’re called murrini,” Marty Demaine said. “It takes a lot of skill to make these and time in the glass shop is precious and so you want to make sure you do something that works well.”
Glassblowing is a traditional art form and most of the tools in use are the same as those used 100 years ago, said Erik Demaine, who has co-written a book about geometric folding algorithms for arts such as origami and teaches a class in the subject at MIT. “We just want to experiment with more modern technology and thinking. One of our goals is to let people think outside the box and be more creative, in particular, because glassblowing is very expensive to do. Usually to rent shop time costs a lot.
If you’re a professional glassblower, you’re really focused on making that money back. We wanted to embrace that more and allow people to essentially experiment with designs without shop time, see what things might look like, find really cool designs that are new and exciting and haven’t been tried before, and then go out and blow them and see if they look like they do in simulation.” he said.
Glassblowing is a complicated process. “There’s a lot of interesting geometry and physics going on. We tried to extract the most geometric part, which is this process called cane pulling.”
Cane can be built up in layers of various colors and pulled to lengths up to 100 feet. It also can be twisted as it’s pulled out. The long, thin cane is cut into pieces, which can be added to the glass. “If you’ve ever seen glass with very complicated, wiggly patterns, those wiggly patterns are made with cane,” Demaine said.
There are about a dozen or more traditional ways to pull cane. “That’s what most people do, but there’s really a lot more than that. The nice thing about cane pulling is it’s very geometric,” Demaine said. Because it is geometric, it can be easily modeled on a computer. That is what Virtual Glass does. The software allows glassblowers to experiment with different colors and patterns virtually. “When you find a really satisfying design, you can go and make it. Pulling cane is challenging … if you're an intermediate glassblower, you might have to do it many times before you get it perfect, but it's satisfying to know that the final result will be good looking,” he said. “Ultimately it will be great to model more and more glassblowing. Seeing Lino fold glass here is exciting as something we might try to incorporate.”
“We want to design our own cane and glasswork and we want to enable other people to do it,” he said.
A glass vase Tagliapietra completed at MIT Glass Lab.
Viscosity of honey
Peter Houk, Director of the Glass Lab, said the furnace runs at about 2,149 degrees Fahrenheit, and is left running continuously during the academic year. “When you need more glass, you go to the furnace. Inside that furnace is a crucible that looks like a ceramic bathtub filled with molten glass. And so when you wind glass at this temperature onto one of these pre-heated pipes, it is a lot like the viscosity of honey. It’s got the same kind of resistance. Because of surface tension it wants to be a ball.”
To each side of the furnace is a “glory hole,” that can get as hot as 2,250 degrees Fahrenheit. Building up and shaping the glass requires multiple trips back and forth to the furnace to add molten glass and glory holes to reheat the work piece with Tagliapietra assisted by Nancy Callan, David Walters and Darin Denison. As Tagliapietra works each piece, torches are used to localize heat as the glass sculptures are reshaped.
Cecelia Chung, director of Lino Tagliapietra Inc. in Seattle, described the process used by the master. “They are blown, they are not fused,” she said. One piece started with a glass bubble to which Tagliapietra added cane.
One egg-shaped piece, about six inches tall, was unusual for Tagliapietra because it was solid, not blown, Chung said. Another, torpedo-shaped piece that Tagliapietra completed during his Glass Lab visit, had a small teardrop-shaped air bubble at the top that mimicked the shape of the overall piece. Asked about his original, one-of-a-kind designs, Tagliapietra said during his visit to the Glass Lab, “I use my fantasy, my brain.”
Tagliapietra said although the Glass Lab is small, its spirit is good. He has visited the lab for three consecutive years. He hopes to see the space doubled with a viewing area for students and the public to observe the difficult work of making glass. “MIT deserves a much better space,” he said. “I think it is very important for MIT”, he said.
Houk said plans are underway to renovate and enlarge the Glass Lab. The space change has been approved by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a price tag of $1.9 million to renovate both glass and forge programs. The project is now in the fundraising phase.