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Florence Italy: The Lost Art of Glass-Blowing in Tuscany

Updated on October 24, 2017
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C. De Melo is the author of Amazon's bestselling historical fiction novel, SABINA and its sequel, ALLEGRA. She lives in Florence, Italy.

The Art of Creating Glass

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Traditional Tuscan Green Glass Fiasco for Olive Oil and Wine

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Gambassi Terme

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World Famous Glass Artist Dale Chihuly (in 1974 Pilchuck School)

Murano Glass Blowing (AMAZING)

An Old Tuscan Tradition

Glass-blowing in Tuscany has a long history. The first record of this art as a trade hails from Gambassi Terme in the 12th century. The glass artisans were called "Bicchierai" and their fame was wide-spread throughout Italy. The glass business boomed in this small medieval town until the inhabitants fled because of the devastating Black Plague.

Alhough glass was still considered a luxury item for many families, the Tuscan town of Montaione began creating functional glass. As years passed, the advancement of science created the need for glass paraphernalia to be utilized in medical research.

In Florence, for example, the Medici had their own glass blowing studios in the Boboli gardens as well as at the Casino Mediceo di San Marco (a palazzo designed specifically as a laboratory for scientific and artistic experimentation).

From the 16th century onward there was a transition in the glass trade as the demand for functional glass increased. The industrialization of the glass industry in Tuscany lured glass artisans to three wealthy cities: Arezzo (known for their colored glass) Colle di Val d'Elsa (known for their crystal) and Empoli (famous for their green glass). The latter provided the big green demijohn bottle for the olive oil and wine industries.

After WWII there were over one hundred factories in Tuscany creating glass by hand. Today, there are only six:

  • Arezzo: IVV and Cristalia Etrusca (both produce utilitarian and decorative glass).
  • Empolit: Mylight (massive lighting structures for hotels) and Nuovacev (decorative, high end crystal)
  • Cole di Val d'Eesa: ColleVilca (wine glasses, pressed glass, sculpture) and Duccia di Segna (sculpture)

Sculpture by Isak Lystad (based on design by Ugo Nespolo)

Straight Fiasco by Isak Lystad

Ice Pocket Decanter by Isak Lystad

Meet local artisan, Isak Lystad

Isak Lystad is a 37 year old trained chef, who is currently the culinary mastermind behind the wine & dine dinner tour offered by Walkabout Florence. He learned how to blow glass in his birth city, Seattle, WA.

World famous glass artist Dale Chihuly founded the Pilchuck school in Seattle back in 1971 and invited Venetian masters from Murano to teach his students the traditional Italian methods of glassblowing. Once they learned these techniques, students could create whatever wild designs their imaginations could conjure. More importantly, they could go on to teach others.

From 2001 - 2003 Isak studied Italian cuisine in Italy and then returned to Seattle where he became captivated by the art of glassblowing. After mastering the skill at the Pratt Fine Arts Center, his passion for the craft compelled him to work with many artisans in order to soak up as much information as possible before moving to Tuscany in 2008.

Isak worked at the Colle Vilca crystal factory until it hit economic hardship in 2009, and hen began learning Tuscan cuisine in restaurants whilst building his own glass studio from the ground up. He now works on commissions for a number of artists including renowned artist and designer Ugo Nespolo.

Isak also collaborates with two Italian glass masters (maestros) who, unfortunately, were forced to seek work elsewhere due to the state of the industry. The apprentice system is the only way to learn the art of glass blowing in Tuscany, and the factory must pay an apprentice the same salary as a full time employee (an operaio). Needless to say, not many companies are taking in apprentices these days, which is why glass-blowing is quickly becoming a lost art.

The classic green glass fiasco, which has been created in Tuscany since the 16th century, will soon be a thing of the past. To avoid this tragedy, Isak is currently making replicas of traditional Tuscan forms with recycled wine bottles. This environmentally sustainable process sparked inspiration.

Isak would like to create a future for the craft in Tuscany by offering a bridge back to artisan and artistic glass, essentially by teaching people glassblowing in a non industrial environment.

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