Ace of Vase: Hugh Findletar’s Florid Obsession with a Dying Craft

hugh_color_TBHUGH FINDLETAR is in love with glassware. “You must realize that glass is forever,” says the Milan-based photographer. “Metal will corrode. Rocks re-form. But glass will always remain. If you show love when making glass sculptures, that love will never die.” And most lovable of all are the face-shaped vases of Oscar Zanetti, the finest glass master of Murano, the Venetian island known for its glass-making history.

“I wanted to create my own compositions, and do everything myself,” Findletar recently told us. His “Flower Heads” series took seven years to produce (getting to Zanetti was no small feat). The finished body of work presents a curious assortment of bulbous noses and puckered lips, meta-surrealist portraits festooned with Disney Technicolor plant life. The effect is as unsettling as it is comical. “When you walk into the room and feel the presence of the vases,” says Findletar of the 70–90 lb containers, “they just take over.”

The “Flower Heads” photographs, printed at 43.3 x43.3cm on opaque paper, monumentalize an idiosyncratic craft that “nobody in the world” is doing right now. Original Murano glassware is scarce, combining crushed rubies and 24-karat gold and silver to articulate the features – Byzantine renditions of Groucho Marx caricatures. Oxidized glass lends a matte quality to the surface in some areas; the smoky effect is vibrant and unsettling.

If it’s haunting, it’s in no small part due to the depths of the talent involved: last year Oscar Zanetti was voted as the best glassblower in the world; his six-person team works four to five hours at a time in front of a furnace that reaches over 800 degrees Celsius, with little or no protective gear. As Zanetti – or “Master Oz,” as Hugh calls him – sits locked in silence at the center of his craft, his team moves around him intuitively, as a hand moves to feed the mouth.

As dying breed of craftsmen immersed in the raw materials of the earth, Zanetti’s mythos is the perfect object for Findletar’s fixation on nature and romance.

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