Lino Tagliapietra's glass art a hit in the Berkshires

STOCKBRIDGE — On a recent Friday, two maestros shared their work with crowds in Berkshire County. The first was Andris Nelsons, the well-known Boston Symphony Orchestra music director who conducted the group's Tanglewood season opener that night in Lenox. The second was more of a cult figure, a critically acclaimed master of his craft whose frequent visits to the Berkshires have earned him enough notoriety to fill a gallery tucked behind a Stockbridge bank on a weekday afternoon. His name is Lino Tagliapietra.

Tagliapietra is undoubtedly among a short list of the world's most esteemed glass blowers, and many of his peers consider him the best, a status earned through a life dedicated to expanding the scope of a form once beholden to mass production factories in Murano, Italy. The small Venetian island has served as Europe's glass blowing capital since the 13th century and is where Tagliapietra was born in 1934. But at 82, Tagliapietra hasn't slowed down much, if at all, since he churned out works for factories like Vetreria Galliano Ferro and Venini & Co. during his youth. In his fifth presentation of work at the Schantz Galleries since Jim Schantz and his wife, Kim Saul, took full ownership of the Stockbridge space in 2009, Tagliapietra has eight pieces on display that he finished this year and four that he completed in 2016 — more than half of the 22 total works that will be exhibited through July 30.

"Working in the [United] States, I feel it is much more free than working [at] the factory in Murano," Tagliapietra said between conversations with giddy gallery visitors at the public reception on Friday, July 7. In Murano, production was of the utmost importance, he said, limiting creativity. But when he came to the U.S. in 1979, Tagliapietra saw an opportunity to further promote and shape the identity of glass blowing, which is "the art or process of shaping molten glass into various forms by blowing air into a mass of it at the end of a tube," according to Webster's New World College Dictionary. It was still in its infancy in the U.S. when Tagliapietra arrived, according to Schantz.

"They had developed a way of making a small-scale kiln, but it was very basic," Schantz said.

Shortly after entering the country, Tagliapietra began teaching at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., passing on centuries-old techniques from Murano. At the same time, the artist was trying to distinguish his work from Venetian pieces.

"It takes a long process to be independent from Murano," Tagliapietra said.

While his art has been shown in U.S. museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Tagliapietra has continued to teach for more than 30 years, helping Pilchuck become an internationally renowned center for glass art and sharing his expertise at places like the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Glass Lab.

"Two generations at least have been influenced by him in terms of [the] development of their careers," Schantz said.

Tagliapietra's generosity was apparent at the showing on that Friday afternoon, as he chatted with visitors who had traveled from as far as Ohio to come see his work. The collection featured a panel of brightly colored pieces that resembled elaborate vases and, in a couple of cases, tears, with long necks stretching several feet from global bases. Guy Brudahl, who came from Philadelphia, ruminated on the art of glass blowing as he admired Tagliapietra's vibrant vessels.

"In the production, it's performance art," said Brudahl, who practices the form himself, of glass blowing's physical rigor.

Schantz, who has been involved in the gallery for more than 30 years and has helped it develop a reputation for hosting coveted contemporary glass art, said glass blowing combines multiple art forms.

"I think what's interesting about glass is it brings together sculpture and painting. It's really a medium that bridges the two," he said, noting that light's diffusion through the vessels themselves creates another dimension to consider in glass art.

Contemplation was undoubtedly as far as many could afford to get at the public reception for Tagliapietra's exhibit. The works are priced upwards of $60,000. Still, the reward for many was just an opportunity to speak with the affable artist.

"It just made sense when I saw he was going to be here in person to just come and try to meet the guy," said Blaise D jardin, who was mere hours away from performing Mahler's "Resurrection" with the rest of the Boston Symphony Orchestra that night. D jardin, a cellist, first saw glass art at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., several years ago. He was hooked from then on, following Tagliapietra's work closely and visiting Tagliapietra's exhibits at the Schantz Galleries during past summers, as this Tanglewood season will be D jardin's ninth. This time, he decided to bring along his fellow cellist Loewi Lin, giving his friend an opportunity to meet one maestro before being directed by another.

Schantz had already planned to attend the orchestra's performance with Tagliapietra that night, capping an important day in the Berkshires arts scene.

"[What] we're experiencing today is we have world-class musicians, world-class performers in theater and dance," Schantz said, "and we have brought a world-class artist here, which is of that same level of achievement and recognition."


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