Is This REALLY Murano Glass?

Customers often ask me “How do I know if this is real Murano Glass?” The best advice I can give is: Know your seller. Do a little research on the person who is selling the glass. Have they been in business long? Do they have a relationship with the artist? Do they spend time in Murano? Do they value working with authentic Murano glass artisans? Is the object made in Murano from Murano glass or, is it Murano Glass, but made elsewhere?

The truth is that it is difficult these days to tell the difference unless you have a trained eye. Years ago the Italian government funded Master glass blowers to go to China to train Chinese glass blowers in their art. That, in and of itself, was a noble deed, but it was short sighted. They not only sent the teachers, but they sent the raw materials as well. It seemed like a good idea at the time:  train a lower wage worker to complete the labor with the authentic raw material and the Venetians would have an advantage of offering a lower price to their customers. It did not quite work out that way.

Murano glass is a specialty item that is named after the island where the glass blowing became a world famous art form. It’s like Champagne being only from Champagne France and Napa Valley wines can only come from the Napa Valley. Having the raw Murano glass cane gave sellers the ability to call their creations “Murano Glass” even though they were made in China. The consumer is not blind though and they soon started to notice UPS and other boat delivery services (Murano can only receive goods by boat) coming in the back door with large cartons marked “MADE IN CHINA”. This began the questions that are commonplace today–”Where is this made?” “Is this really Murano Glass?” As a result, trust in the name “Murano” is being challenged.

There is a distinct quality of Murano Glass that can not be copied. There is a specificstyle and use of color, the weight is sometimes indicative. This, though, is not easily apparent to everyone. Sometimes my artists will sign their work, other times they don’t because the object is too small or they just don’t have the extra time. I work with many different artists from small studios with one or two people to large places that employ many. The best way to ensure that your object is from Murano is to know the person who is selling it. There are many tags that can be used; one in particular from Promovetro(an Italian agency for glass artisans), claims to be the quintessential label, but it costs 2 Euro a piece and not everyone can afford that. In the end it is best to know as much as possible about the seller.

I have been working with glass artists in Italy for 20+ years. I know all of them personally. I know many of their families and I’ve even known a few that passed away. I’ve watched them teach their children the art so that the next generation can carry on their legacy and I’ve seen families close because there wasn’t a family member to hand it off to. Like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a cocoon I’ve watched an indistinguishable blob of molten glass transform into a recognizable figure.In the small studios and the larger furnaces I see a determination to keep the passion alive for an art form that dates back to the 8th century when Romans used the knowledge of molded glass they gained from the Byzantine Empire to illuminated bathhouses. It was long believed that glassblowing didn’t become a trade until the 1200’s but in 1960 archaeologists discovered a furnace for glass on a Venetian island dating to the 8th century AD.The Romans hold a place of honor within the ancient world of glass blowing, but it was in the 1200’s that Venetian glass blowing became the city’s major industry with the formation of the Glassmakers Guild which set the rules and regulations for the glass craftsmen. Because of this guild, the manufacturing of Venetian glass was moved permanently to Murano (1291) and became the must have art of nobility due to its exclusivity.

I started this business in 1988 because I fell in love with Italy while living there and with their respect and passion for the arts. I began by importing leather goods from a place where I worked while a Florentine resident and five years later, a chance encounter with an old friend in Venice peeked my interest in Murano glass. The market was eager and welcoming and off we went. My items appear at The Getty Museum Store, the National Gallery of Art, Airport stores at NY La Guardia, JFK and many other fine gift retailers and museum stores. I would never claim something to be Murano if it wasn’t, that would hurt the very people I have grown to love and respect over the past 20+ years. I am proud to be in a business that helps artisans continue to do the work that upholds the traditions of Murano and Venetian glass; work that feeds my soul and hopefully inspires all to enjoy and appreciate the history of this unique form of art.
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