We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A visit to Orsoni, a manufacturer of glass and gold mosaics in Cannaregio

Sometimes, wonderful things happen to you when you least expect them. I've learned during my last two years here in Venice to be more open to these moments, and to truly enjoy every second of them when they do happen.

Quite unexpectedly just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a woman named Joann telling me she had put a link to my blog about the Artichoke Festival on the Orsoni Smalti facebook page, and she invited me to come tour the Orsoni furnace. Not knowing what the Orsoni furnace was, I checked them out on Facebook and Google. I discovered Orsoni is where glass and gold mosaics are made, at a 19th century furnace using methods handed down over the centuries. Don't you just love the internet? It turns out, this chance occurrance opened a new door for me that day.

Gorgeous mosaics are common in Venice. Just take a walk down to the Basilica of San Marco. I hadn't ever considered what it took to MAKE the mosaics before, and now I had someone offering me a chance to go look and learn. I couldn't wait, and contacted Joann to go ahead and set up a meeting.

The following week I got on the 41 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma, disembarked at Guglie in Cannaregio, and with their address written on a piece of paper clutched in my hand, I set off to find the Orsoni furnace. After making a turn at Sotoportego dei Vedei, and then onto Calle de Vedei, I soon located the place.

The door is marked with a gold mosaic name plaque- Orsoni. This must be it. My heart is skipping a beat as I prepare to ring the bell, but wait... .this isn't it. My paper says 1045A, and this is 1045. The sign above the bell says Domus Orsoni. Not what I am looking for. I continue down the street, thinking 1045A must be here somewhere.

Ahhh.. here it is...and my heart drops just alittle bit, only because that fabulous gold mosaic sign was so inviting. 1045A is a very different door than the one just up the street. This one is one you would easily walk right by. Hmm...., typical of Venice, actually. I knew that often behind very unassuming doors there is something incredible to see. And, I was not disappointed. I rang the doorbell of 1045A, and was invited in by a man wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt, clearly his work outfit. He pointed the way to another doorway on the other side of building when I told him I had an appointment to meet Mirta.

I could see the factory was on the right side of the entry way, and I was itching to see what went on there, but he directed me to the left, down the garden path, so off I went. I had to pass through a lovely little garden as I found my way to the doorway he was pointing to.

The garden is a little oasis of tranquility, and surprises. On the wall I spotted gold mosaics in frames, a column covered in glass tile pieces which turned it into a piece of art, and even the flower planter sported colorful pieces of glass. Every where I looked I could sense a bit of magic in the air. I could only imagine even more magic as I awaited Mirta.

I was introduced to Mirta, and off we went through the factory. Unfortunately, the day I was there, the furnaces were shut down for repairs. She explained that one week out of every 5 or 6, the furnace had to be closed, and it took a few days for the temperatures to get back up for production work. In my mind I was thinking already I have an excuse to return!

Crucibles used to hold the liquid glass in the furnace line the entry way. To me, they are like art in themselves.

The following week I returned to Orsoni, when the furnaces were working. They were in the process of making gold mosaics this week. This is even more unbelievable than making the glass tiles! First, huge glass bubbles are blown (see photo above), in the color glass to be used for the mosaic. On this day, it was purple. These bubbles are incredibly thin glass. The bubbles are broken into small squares, about 3 x 3 inches. Then, a square of gold leaf is affixed to each square of purple glass. I was in awe watching the woman who does the laying on of the gold leaf this task, as this is delicate, meticulous work. After, more glass is poured around each purple square. After cooling, these are broken into mosaic tiles. The majority of this work, including all the breaking into small square tiles is all done by hand. It's mind-boggling, and fascinating! Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos in the furnace area, or where the women were cutting tiles. I wish I could have videotaped the entire thing, as my words and photos just don't do this justice.

Next we toured the color library, a large room with rows and rows of cubby holes filled with glass tiles of every color and gradation of shades you can imagine. Thousands of them. The tiles are stored by color, shade, and batch number. I learned about how the large tiles are made, how they are cut down into squares, and then into smalti (smaller tile pieces), how people can buy both large uncut tiles and also smaller pre-cut ones, and also how matching of color pieces are done if an artist needs more tiles of a particular color. I had a very difficult time leaving the color library room.

Back in the office building, I had time in the gallery room, where there is a mini-exhibition of fabulous mosaic work, and this portrait of the founder, Angelo Orsoni.

The photo above is part of the sample board Angelo Orsoni took with him to the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
Our last stop is upstairs in the classroom. Fortunately for me, during both visits to Orsoni, there was a class going on. The first time, students were learning how to make Filati, long thin strands of glass, which are then broken into tiny pieces for use in mosaic art pieces. The work these students were doing was unbelievable!!! This week the students were creating with smalti, the smaller tiles. Again, what I watched them do was breathtaking.

They were all gracious enough to share what they were working on, and allow me to take photos.

Special thanks to each and everyone of the Orsoni family- Joann, Mirta, Lianna, Antonella, all the staff , and students. This is such a magical place!
Orsoni holds a series of classes from beginner to master level, see their website for more details - http://www.orsoni.com/.
Also, recently opened is Domus Orsoni, a fabulous little bed and breakfast in Cannaregio, located right at the foundry. It's quiet, peaceful, idyllic surroundings. It's like finding a bit of heaven in Venice, if that were possible!! For more information see their website http://www.domusorsoni.it/.

As I write this, I am already planning to attend a class over the winter, and have some ideas for a first mosaic project in mind!


LindyLouMac said...

Thankyou for sharing your visit with us, it was fascinating to read about. I would also love to have a walled garden, just like that one.

JoAnn Locktov said...

Ciao Karen: We're so pleased that you were able to come by and visit and you now know of yet another magical place in your adopted city. Thank you for sharing your discovery!

Dianne said...

Ciao Karen: What a wonderful experience. I love mosaics. We have a backsplash of little glass pieces in our Chicago apartment. Not so esoteric as the works the students were doing but it glimmers with various shades of light green, light blue, and clear that is almost marbleized.

marybeth said...

ciao Karen,
Thanks for sharing...I loved this post! If only I'd known sooner, I would have signed up for one of the workshops in October, but they are already full!...this is definitely something I need to plan for next year.

a presto,

Yvonne said...

Wow! My stained glass/lead lighting teacher over here was telling me about this place. You're so lucky to get to see it. Enjoy your classes, Karen.

Roel Bobis said...

do you know affordable glass supplier in the philippines

karen said...

Roel, thanks for your message. Sorry, but I can't help you with that one.