Murano, Italy, is famous for its gifted glass masters. These artists craft glittering, exquisite, colored vessels, panes, ornaments, sculptures, and more as they toil over super-heated furnaces. But a global surge in the cost of methane gas may cool creativity—and the potential for sales—for these fine artists.
Glassblowers know that their furnaces must burn at a very high temperature. In order to create beautiful glass art, furnaces must maintain heat around the clock. If a furnace cools, its costly ceramic crucible will break. That crucible holds the molten material that artists transform into breathtaking objects. But rapidly rising methane gas prices make powering the furnaces extraordinarily expensive.
Italian law mandates that artists use methane gas to heat their furnaces. Methane is a gas that burns at temperatures high enough to create crystal-clear glass. In 2021, the price of methane in Italy jumped five times higher than normal. Shipping delays, more demand for energy, and cuts in supplies are causing the sky-high leap. Glassblowers have no choice but to pay the shocking price tag out of pocket. In many cases, the artists can’t raise prices on their art high enough to cover the exorbitant cost of gas without losing customers.
“People are desperate,” says Gianni De Checchi. He is president of a Venice, Italy, association of artisans. “If it continues like this, and we don’t find solutions to the sudden and abnormal gas prices, the entire Murano glass sector will be in serious danger.”
Italy’s glassblowing tradition has been passed down through generations for 1,200 years. Today, the best glassblowers in the world live in Murano, Italy. They settled there in 1291 after authorities forced them out of Venice. Some people say that the move came out of a fear of furnaces starting fires. But many people say that by sending all glassblowers to Murano, the Italian government preserved the art’s closely guarded secrets.
Generation after generation, the glassblowing tradition survives. Family members of glassblowers watched carefully and learned the secrets of creating the delicate glass art.
John Almaguer is a glassblower who studied under the masters in Murano. They taught him how to pull a red-hot puddle of “lava” (what the artists call the glowing liquid glass) out of the fiery furnace and transform it into a beautiful piece of art by twisting it, stretching it, reheating it, and carefully blowing air into it—all before the glob cools. Today, Almaguer creates glass art in his North Carolina studio. He named one of his favorite pieces Divine Covenant. Through his art, Almaguer gives glory to God, the Master Artist.
Why? Supply chain problems cause rising prices, which have many outcomes including increased costs for consumers and even the potential suppression of the creative works of God’s image-bearers.