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Gianni Toso, Master Flameworker

Gianni Toso, creator of one of our most popular glass items in our collection (a very witty chess set) comes from a family with a seven-century—that's not a misprint—tradition in Murano glass blowing. He was accepted into the local fine arts academy for glassblowers at age 14, and in 1967, at the age of 24, he opened a studio in Venice. He's been at it ever since, and is considered one of the world's great artists working in lampworked glass.

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Toso burst into the spotlight after his work was promoted by Salvador Dali, but he had a fine line to walk in the early '70s. The Glass Studio Movement was taking off, bringing a fresh sharing of ideas, but his family secrets of the great Italian glassmaking traditions had literally been held under penalty of death for centuries, and Toso had to be careful about what he could and could not share.

Here's what made the difference as the secrecy broke down over time—this is glass as art, not a proprietary product. For that shift in thinking, glass art fans will be forever grateful. His August 2013 visit was one of our most well-attended sessions ever.