Richmond glassblowers get the chance to learn from an international master: ‘It means everything’

Posted at 11:44 PM, Jan 10, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Artists at the Glass Spot glassblowing studio see their practice as a dance.

“Oh, it’s the best.” “For me it’s the finest of arts,” says owner Chris Skibbe. “Its choreographed movements. If you know what you’re doing then you don’t have to talk to each other.”

Its a place where partners truly glow. Owner Chris Skibbe has been honing his passion for glassblowing since graduating from VCU in 2005.

“In my sleep. When I get up. When I go to bed. It never stops. Never stops,” Skibbe said.

The artist conducts classes to share his knowledge. But on this day the teacher becomes the student.

Because just a few furnaces away, royalty is holding court. In this case, royalty is Davide Fuin, a glassblower hailing from Murano, Italy.

“It means everything to me,” Skibbe said. “Its definitely the most incredible experience in my life. He is a talent. A worldwide talent.”

“(Murano) is the most important place for glass blowing," he explained.

Davide learned the trade from his father when he was just 16. And 41 years later, he's considered Italy's brightest and best glassblower.

“You must have the passion and practice every day,” Fuin said. “I am the last to make this kind of work in a traditional way.”

Davide's exquisite wine glasses and goblets can sell for hundreds of dollars.

“For some people they consider me a young master,” says a laughing Fuin.

The Italian maestro is conducting a searing symphony in Richmond.

“I love to teach. It is my passion,” says Davide.

For five days his apprentices stateside are soaking up Davide's every move. Nanda Soderberg has been obsessed with glassblowing for 25 years. The VCU grad works with high school students in New Hampshire.

“Memorizing the steps on the fly is challenging,” Soderberg said. “Anything he wants to do to help me I’m game. 100%"

He traveled to Virginia to learn from the maestro. “It’s a dream come true. I mean he is the source,” Soderberg said.

Davide passes on his knowledge out of necessity, explaining that glassblowing in Italy is dying.

Murano has lost 80% of its artists, he said.

“For me, it is important to share my skill because I’m getting older. I want to share my art and my skill,” Fuin said.

The 57-year-old says younger generations are not attracted to spending years alone in a steamy studio.

“This is a specific kind of work. To the Americans, Venetian glass means traditional glass,” Fuin said.

But this group of Americans is bucking the trend and filling the void.

“That is why we look to Davide because he makes things perfectly,” says owner Chris Skibbe.

“Now the USA have a lot of skilled glassblower,” Fuin said.

Students raising a glass to teacher while carrying on the delicate dance that has lasted centuries.

“I feel honored that Davide trusts us to learn this tradition to us,” says Nanda. “There is no stopping in learning in glassblowing. There is no end to it.”

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