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21 Ideas to Rethink a Furnace in Murano

How can a traditional Murano furnace evolve over time? To conclude the first phase of our project Architecture in Murano — carried out together with IUAV University’s Professor Sara Marini and her architecture students — we have received all 21 designs developed during the workshop, suggesting practical and conceptual approaches.

The projects speculate on possible future scenarios for the Pitau Furnace: some conceive it transformed into an “encampment”, a free, flexible and creative space, or imagine the Murano landscape turning into ashes; others have conceived the furnace — and the entire island— overrun by uncontrolled, wild vegetation.

The result of the student’s work will be showcased inside a publication — to be released next year — that will include all the ideas produced.

3500 Years Ago, Egyptians Were Blowing Glass

One of the first Europeans to introduce the visual language of Egypt to the Western world was a writer, diplomat and former erotic illustrator named Vivant Dedon. A gallant, wordly man, friend of Voltaire and Madame Pompadour, in 1793 he published his Oeuvre Priapique, a collection of phallic drawings and artworks. In May 1798, he joined Napoleon’s Campaign of Egypt, transforming from a parlor man to an explorer: he marched through High Egypt, enduring harsh climate conditions, hunger and fatigue. But he never separated from his sketchbook, where he recorded literally everything he saw, including pyramids and hieroglyphics.

The campaign had led Napoleon to establish the Institut d'Egypte with the aim to research the Egyptian world. The huge amount of drawings and sketches that Denon delivered to the Institut, as well as the research that followed the findings, led to the birth of Egyptology.

Also part of the same institution was the French archaeologist Edme Francois Jomard, who discovered — one year before the Rosetta Stone was found – the remains of the Beni-Hassan hypogeus necropolis complex. There, archaeologists found proof that Egyptians had mastered glassmaking more than 3,500 years ago.

Not only were the Egyptians skilled counterfeiters — having perfected the ability to reproduce expensive gems like amethyst and emerald with the help of glass. They were also expert glass-blowers, as the paintings found in Beni-Hassan testify. Among the every-day-life scenes depicted on the walls, one shows an artisan blowing glass using the distinctive glass pipe over a fire source. Another scene shows what resembles a modern furnace, with the glass master working in front of it.

For months, an illustrated poster from the 1800s has been hanging from the door of our office. It belonged to our founder Marie and describes the history of glass making, explaining that Thebes was an important center of glass production and even exported work abroad.

We were so inspired by this poster (and by Egyptians glassblowers) that we’ve printed an extract on our new t-shirts, designed by our creative partner Tommaso Cazzaro. They’re not for sale, but if you want to cop the tee, write us.

African Bead Museum Shows the Importance of Passing Down Culture Through Objects

At the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Vinewood Street, in Detroit’s West side, a building stands out for its eclectic appearance and dimensions: it’s Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum, occupying an entire city block. Inside the museum — a colorful piece of art in and of itself, with external walls covered in murals and a sculpture garden with 18 outdoor installations — artist and founder Olayami Dabls exhibits and sells his collection of tens of thousands beads gathered from across Africa, some of which are more than 300 years old.

Beads were the first decorative objects ever made by man: archaeologists have recently found 75,000-year-old beads made out of pierced shells along the South African coastline. In Egypt and Mesopotamia, glass beads were produced more than 3,500 years ago. In Southern Africa, they were imported centuries before the arrival of Europeans, transported across the Indian Ocean by Arab and Swahili traders, and used in traditional artifacts and as currency. When, in the 15th century, Venetian glass beads became world-popular and started traveling the globe, they took part in the history of colonialism. From Murano, tons of pearls were sent to the Netherlands, Britain and Portugal and, from there, to African colonies, were they became accomplishes of the first slave-tradings, as the major part of the currency that Europeans exchanged for people and products.

Beads participated in the African American experience too, being among the few things from the native culture to survive throughout slavery. In 1985, archaeologists Larry McKee and Sam Smith excavated an area near Nashville, Tennessee where hundreds of people were enslaved before the emancipation. In the dwellings at The Hermitage – as the plantation was called — African glass beads have emerged as the most frequent finding, proving that beads’ importance persisted, alongside other connected ritual and symbolic aspects.

According to museum founder Olayami Dabls, 70, glass pearls are a powerful key to understanding African-American heritage. Once, an African art dealer refused to sell him his necklace, because glass beads, the dealer explained, had personal, cultural, and religious significance, and weren’t simply accessories. “In African culture beads are like textbooks, conveying specific messages and information about the wearer,” Dabls said.

Since its opening in 1994, the museum has attracted thousands of visitors every year. Dabls, who started collecting beads in 1985, is on a mission to help the community reconnect with its historical identity. “The city is primarily of African descent, but there’s nothing in the city that’s actually related to African people,” he told the magazine HOUR Detroit in 2011.

As the Museum proves, even the smallest object has the power to tell stories, passing culture down to future generations to inspire them. What if the artifacts we produce today could last forever — or at least for centuries? Objects are a powerful link to our future if we can make them live long enough.

Alba's Glass Dreams

Designer Alba Maria Faggionato says she grew up surrounded by what she calls “Marie’s glasses.” As our founder’s first creations colored Alba’s childhood, her aspirations to work with glass increased accordingly. Two years ago — when she was about to finish her degree at Parsons School of Design, in New York — she joined us in Venice for a 3-month internship at our company.

Here, she started using beadwork as an entry point to glass, designing hand-woven clothing pieces with the antique glass pearls she had found in Murano.

Even as a child, Alba was enthusiastic about our company. Today, we are happy to announce our first collaboration with the designer, who created a full tableware glass collection, including plenty of colorful naif-looking tumblers, plates, bowls and a jug whose decorations look like paint squeezed from the tube.

The pieces were displayed during the last edition of Fuorisalone as part of a performance and culinary experience set up by the creative studio OSMO.

Send Alba an e-mail to purchase the collection.