Glass Artist Victor Chiarizia is Up From the Ashes
Victor Chiarizia's original glassmaking studio was near Hartford, Connecticut, but it burned to the ground in a 2004 fire, prompting a move south, where he started all over again.
Victor Chiarizia is a kind of Renaissance man of the fine-craft world. Though it’s an overused characterization, it’s entirely appropriate in Chiarizia’s case: He’s a first-generation Italian-American, and proud of it.
Renowned for his art glass and his mastery of the traditional Venetian technique of incalmo, which melds variously colored glass into a unified whole, Chiarizia also turns his eyes to myriad other interests, from motorcycles to cheese-making — even, at one point, hand-crafted telescopes. (Grazie, Galileo.)
“My parents came here from south-central Italy, and brought all that wonderful Italian ingenuity with them,” says the 53-year-old artist. “My father wove his own baskets and made his own cheese. There’s nothing like Italian design, crafts, creativity. It’s part of daily life.”
There’s resilience, too. Chiarizia’s original glassmaking studio was near Hartford, Connecticut, where his family lived, but it burned to the ground in a 2004 fire, prompting a move south to Fairview in June 2005, where he started all over again by building a new home and studio: Fruit of the Fire Glass. Pointedly, the former studio had seen the birth of what Victor calls his “Volcanic” series of art glass.
“They’re about the idea that beauty can emerge from conflagration,” says Chiarizia. The collection of funnel-shaped forms is derived from geology, all distinguished by the surface crackling that occurs when the molten glass is plunged into cold water. Each piece is then fused with a base formed from colored glass powders. These have been melted and combined at high temperatures, forming a bold visual with a contained energy that seems about to burst into further growth.
Fortunately, much of Victor’s other work produced between 1975 and the 2004 fire is safely displayed, like the “Volcanics,” in museums and collections throughout the U.S. and abroad; the pieces are valued for their combination of complex glassmaking techniques with a sculptural beauty and brilliant palette. Drawn both from natural shapes and more abstract origins, the forms are often combined with silver chasing in flameworked glass that’s treated with multiple applications of enamels. Under the lustrous sheen, there’s a mysterious luminosity, a suggestive inner light.
After art school, Chiarizia refined his craft at The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State and at the Haystack School in Maine, followed by private study with the Venetian master of incalmo, Lino Tagliapietra. He has since created designs for iconic jewelers Tiffany and Bulgari and for glass bottler Heublein, and has crafted reproductions of period lighting as part of the multi-million-dollar restoration of St. Thomas Church, New York City’s Fifth Avenue landmark built in 1914 in the French Gothic style. “I made wall sconces, chandeliers, hundreds of pieces of glass for them,” says Chiarizia. “That was a fantastic job. They really spared no expense.” His work adorns the Herald-Examiner Building in Los Angeles, the Palace Hotel in Beijing, and Royal Caribbean cruise ships all over the world.
The incalmo process, best represented in his “Serpenti” and “Gondola” series, was developed by Venetian masters more than five centuries ago. “It’s traditionally been used to create horizontal bands of color in blown glass,” he explains. “It involves making cups of colored glass which are then fused together. It’s physically demanding and technically complex.” But the result is a piece that glows with color and texture and that can be shaped into graceful, organic forms. The “Serpenti” pieces echo their name with gently curved and slender necks, while the fan-shaped works in the “Gondola” series are marked by fiery reds and cool blues grounded by incalmo’s undulating striations.
More recently, though, Chiarizia has been creating an art-glass collection titled “Legends and Icons.” The sculptural series features Art Nouveau-inspired objects with a spiritual side. Vines, branches and roots enclose figurative symbols drawn from myth and parable. The Buddha peers from a crown of lapis-tinted growths spiraling upward above him; tiny skulls are gently cradled by a tangle of subterranean roots.
With the Fairview studio now in full operation, and his new house nearing completion, the artist is hoping to expand his output even more, perhaps even returning to the telescopes he’d been producing back in Connecticut. “Some of the old telescopes were really exquisite works of art, like the garden telescopes that Russell Porter made back in the 1920s.” (Porter designed the 200-inch Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California.)
“One of my favorites that I made had an open truss casing with a gimbal mounting on top of a round base that looked like the moon,” says Chiarizia. “But I’ve got enough going on right now, including finishing my house, that I need to concentrate on. I’m just happy to be able to fill that need to create, whatever form it comes in.”
Chiarizia’s work is represented locally by Silver Fox Gallery in Hendersonville and Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville. Visit victorchiarizia.com for more information.