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Glass Studio Visiting Artists: Emilio Santini

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Emilio Santini

By Diane Wright
Barry Curator of Glass

The Chrysler Museum Glass Studio launched this year's Visiting Artist Series with an internationally acclaimed guest who hails from both an hour away and worlds away.

Emilio Santini
Feb. 26–March 1

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SHOWN ABOVE: At the Glass Studio, every seat is a good seat and the TV monitors provide close-ups of the action. Click the image to enlarge.

SHOWN BELOW: From the Chrysler Collection, Emilio Santini, Urna, blown lampworked glass, sandblast-frosted with oil pastel, 1997. Click image to enlarge.

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Emilio Santini lives in nearby Williamsburg, but was born on the island of Murano, Italy—a place well-known and greatly admired for its history of glassmaking. Like many families from this tiny part of Venice, the lineage of glassmakers in his family goes back hundreds of years, so his career path was nearly inevitable.

As a young boy of 11, he worked with a master chandelier maker and later focused on goblet making—the form all glassmakers seek to master first. He took a break from glass to pursue studies in Italian literature and writing, but after college turned to flameworking (sometimes called lampworking). It was his father who helped him refine his skills at the lamp, teaching him to balance and adjust the molten glass until it was shaped exactly the way he desired.

His story might have easily continued in the Italian glassmaking world had he not met Theresa Johansson. After the couple married they relocated to her hometown, Winston-Salem, N.C., where he found challenges rather than success. His career in production glassmaking was not easily translated to North Carolina and twice he returned to Italy. It was during his third stay in the United States that he finally made inroads into the American glass scene—meeting Glass Studio Movement pioneer Harvey Littleton, connecting with the Peninsula Glass Guild, and, critically, landing a solo exhibition of his work.

Emilio's story, not unlike that of master glassblower Lino Tagliapietra, evolved into one about his transformation into an artist. Incredible skill and technique defines Venetian glassmakers, but it is often venturing out on their own that pushes the craftsman to work more creatively with the material.

His ready sense of humor is apparent in Urna, a glass sculpture in the Chrysler's collection. This perfectly balanced and elegantly symmetrically urn is elongated to the point that is no longer a useful object. Look closer and you'll see a series of black and white monkeys with interlocking arms, flipping and falling every which way. Perhaps this is Emilio's way of showing off his incredible skill while letting us know he is thinking about playfulness and connectivity—and how mixing humor with serious talent can ultimately lead to success.