I had been wanting to meet Pino Signoretto for a long time, the
master glassmaker about whom everyone says: Signoretto? Well, he's
a true artist! - In the end, a friend lets me have his telephone
number and on a foggy afternoon I catch the ferry to Murano.
Getting off at Colonna I go left into Fondamenta Serenella and a
few steps later I cross the gates to the furnace. I find Pino just
there, near the very fire he never quite manages to part from as
if he didn't want to sever the umbilical cord that ties him firmly
to the place he so lovingly equipped himself in order to produce
his amazing statues. In fact, we are not talking decorative
objects here, albeit at high level, but of the work of a true,
great, powerful artist who is able to blow into glass all his
ability as a sculptor. There appear to be truly no limits to Pino
Signoretto's ability to depict and interpret any subject into his
favourite material : glass. At 4 p.m. he stops working and we may
begin to talk.
Maestro where were you born?
In Favaro Veneto, my father came from Alessandria where he was a
whitewasher, my mother was from Calabria. My parents had seven
children and since the only business which paid well was working
glass, they moved to Murano where there were lots of furnaces, so
then some of my brothers and myself became apprentices. To begin
with, working glass was just another job, but I soon got to love
it deeply. I also fell in love with a lady from Burano, so I
married her, had 4 children and three of them work in the
business. Now I also have four nephews, and one of them who is
only 15, is obviously very gifted in drawing and design which
bodes well for his future as a master glassmaker. Drawing and
glassmaking are very closely connected in fact.
Everyone says you are a great artist with a somewhat difficult
character. Could you tell me about your life and journey
researching the world of glass sculpture?
The worlds of master glassmakers and the furnaces of Murano, have
always been closed and difficult. I was fortunate enough to become
an apprentice and assist three great maestros: Alfredo Barbin who
is now 93 years of age, Ermanno Nason who was also an excellent
painter and Livio Seguso all still with us.
What is in your opinion the relationship between the sea and
the art of glassmaking?
A tie certainly exists. In fact, I work here in Murano the
'kingdom' of glass, and I am therefore surrounded by the waters of
the Laguna. Furthermore, glass itself has something to do with the
sea, in effect, to make the magic happen you need four
ingredients: sand, water, air and fire, to which I would add a
fifth element which is the physical energy which the artist needs
to use to shape glass. It is a wonder that mankind performs since
the beginnings of civilisation; almost a shaman's rite which makes
the master glassmaker akin to the vestal virgin in the sense that
he always fears leaving his furnace wishing to keep the fire ever-burning.
How would you define your style?
I have put together everything I learned from my masters before
arriving at a technique of my own expressing art through glass. I
have worked for the greatest artists, from Dalì to
Pomodoro, from Brindisi to Minguzzi and to Manzù, just to
name a few.
How does a cooperation between artists and master glassmaker
come about, after all he's the only one to know the marvellous
composite truly well?
I practically need to be an interpreter twice over: once to
appreciate the character and the idea that he's represented in the
drawing, and then to convince him of the end result that can be
attained producing his work in glass.
What were your tutors like?
The figure of a master glass maker is deeply tied to Murano. After
going through the whole routine as an apprentice he is only
considered a Maestro through the unanimous consensus of the
islanders and not through a given institution. It is just the
ability and skill to determine a Maestro's success and fame, comes
from admiring his work simply and directly. There is no diploma
awarded to become master glassmaker. I for one went through all
the various phases of apprenticeship: junior delivery boy,
delivery boy, junior assistant, assistant (this last role enables
you to share the Maestro's work ) and finally Maestro. Sometimes,
it was the Maestro who was about to retire, and other times the
owner of the furnace who would choose among the more promising
youths, who would become the new Maestro. Naturally this was often
cause for jealousy as you can imagine.
What is the situation with the Maestros today?
I must say that there is a vacuum of sorts, something is missing
in today's Maestros compared to the great characters of the past.
I don't know if this is due to lack of schooling or lack of
passion. The fact remains that I only got up to the forth year in
school and then went to the "university of life", but I learned.
Unfortunately the young are not available today and furnaces close
down. It may well be that master glassmakers have been unable to
offer good prospects to the younger generations.
When did you first start producing on your own?
I started working with Alfredo Barbini at the age of 12 learning
the job. Then I went on to CIVAM which no longer exists as a
furnace and where the owner set me a very high production rate of
some 6-7 pieces per hour. I used to make seagulls, birds, dogs but
also candelabras, clowns and Venetian figures. I was given the
chance to express myself even though I wasn't considered a Maestro
but I discovered I had a very quick hand. When my first boss
Romano Mazzega retired, he called me to
put me through a test: my brother Gianni and I had to make a
buffalo. The judge was Derai who was a great designer and decorator.
How did it go?
The test took place on a Sunday so as not to make the other
hopefuls jealous; I was nervous because I was going for a big
opportunity both from a career and an earnings point of view, the
buffalo didn't seem to be coming out as I wanted it to, I was
perspiring, panicking but in the end, much to my surprise, I was
chosen for the job and became Maestro. They didn't regret it.
When did you start your more important work?
One day I was working at a boxing trophy with two heads and two
gloves, but it just wasn't working because it was difficult to
keep the two figures together. Suddenly, while I was on the ferry
I imagined that if the whole figure was somehow elongated, the
shape of two people entwined in an embrace would have
materialised. I remember sketching it on the ticket of the ferry
and having returned to the furnace I discovered my hunch was
right: "the lovers" was thus born, a work that became famous and
was copied by all.
Other inventions? New shapes?
When I became a partner to Maestro Angelo Seguso, who belonged to
a famous dynasty of master glassmakers, I happened to find some
very old drawings for glasswork. Amongst others, I made a forest
gnome 100cm high that was truly beautiful and so realistic to seem
real. It was shown in a gallery off Ponte Lungo at Murano, and I
remember there was a queue outside to see it, especially at lunch
time when master glassmakers would pass by on their way home. I
then made hibiscus' 130 cm high. We were in the incredible 60s and
a gallery belonging to Sandro Zoppis e Gianni Livio which
exhibited glass work called "La Fontanina" was very much in
fashion. It was in Campo S. Moisé. It was full of my pieces
and in particular my fountains which were absolutely fantastic.
They were made of glass with animal and vegetable motifs, and as
well as a light, they had a water propelled disc that would offer
a coloured rain effect which was truly beautiful ! Those were
great days! While I was with Seguso, everyone kept asking me for
bigger and bigger works. We got to making a huge sculpture of a
horse three metres by four. It came to 1500 Kgs of blown glass.
Have you also worked abroad?
Only when I could leave the furnace, mainly during the month of
August. I go to the States every summer to hold a seminar at the
Pilckuch Glass School of Seattle. I have also been to Japan to a
place called Aomori to appear in theatre shows in front of large
audiences. I've been back to Japan various times and I have even
been a host of the Imperial family who bought a number of my
works. I worked glass in their presence.
Did you take any gifts to Court?
Yes, Parmisan cheese and Grappa. They were much appreciated.
What about lately?
Cenedese and I have produced a major work called "Le ali di
Venezia" (Venice's wings) , which sport a span of 15 metres. The
two wings are made of "feathers" which vary in length between70cm
and 4 metres. They were installed at the Punta della Salute.
Have you ever made anything for yachts?
Of course. I can remember an order for gondolian figures to go to
a sailing boat amongst others. This was a statue of a dame and a
gentleman one metre high made out of intricate glass sticks. The
problem was how to make it stand. We decided to anchor it with a
hinge fitted into a shelf of the furniture piece upon which the
statue was due to go, it managed to keep it steady and buffered
lateral movements. I have also made a number of glass
reproductions of boats amongst which I can mention the Moro di
Any other nautical and non nautical objects?
Quite a few. A compass, complete with an air bubble that looked
almost real. Then a number of anchors. Many fish tanks. Marine
animals of all kinds, such as octopuses, squids, jelly fish. I
made some famous jelly fish shaped chandeliers (designed by Maria
Grazia Rosin) that won a "best chandelier of the year award" in
the States in Chicago. Furthermore I've made a number of trophies
amongst which the Offshore Endurance race trophy Venice
Montecarlo-Montecarlo Porto Cervo - Montecarlo. Imagine I even
made glass shoes for Diadora. Anything can be turned into glass in
Plans for the future?
A gondola complete with glass bowsprit and oars to push it along
the Canal Grande. For those who don't know, the bowsprit
represents the Sestieri of Venice.
I leave the furnace thinking that it is a place which releases an
incredible energy where one cannot imagine not returning to. An
energy which again makes me think of the sea.