The soaring methane prices in Italy have set glassblowing businesses under fire for financial losses, the Associated Press reported.
The price of methane that powers glass-blowing ovens has increased five-fold in the global market. Murano’s glassblowers, who have dozens of furnaces on Lagoon Island, must use methane to burn them round-the-clock or the costly crucible inside the oven will break.
In the past, Murano made the transition to creating well-crafted artisan pieces to compete with lower-priced products from Asia.
Simon Kennedys, who owns a medium-sized glassblowing business, consumes 12,000 cubic meters (420,000 cubic feet) of methane a month to keep his seven furnaces running 24 hours a day. The Cenadies business closes just once a year in August for annual maintenance.
“People are desperate,” said Gianni di Cecchi, president of the Confortiginato, a union of Venetian artisans. “If this continues like this, and we do not find a solution to the sudden and unusual gas prices, the entire Murano glass sector will be in grave danger.”
Cnedese is estimating the cost of methane to go from around 11,000 euros to 13,000 euros per month to 60,000 euros ($70,000) on its normal bill in October.
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The Senadians, like others on the island, are considering closing one of their furnaces to cope with the crisis. A broken crucible would cost 2,000 euros. It will also slow down production and put pending orders at risk.
His five glassblowers proceed with articulate choreographed precision to fill orders for 1,800 Christmas ornaments strewn with golden flakes bound for Switzerland.
The process begins with a red-hot molten blob at the end of a stick that it rolls onto gold leaf, applying it evenly before handing it to the master, who then gently blows it into the stick. Reheats it in an oven. To make a perfect orb. It’s still glowing red when he bites it with a stick, and another glassblower grabs it for the final flourish, a pointed end made from a dab of molten glass applied by an apprentice.
As that dance progresses, another begins, weaving and bobbing in the empty spaces. Working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., together they can make 300 ornaments in a day
“No machine can do what we do,” said maestro David Simrosti, 56, who has been working as a glassblower for 42 years.
Murano glassblowers converted decades ago from wood ovens, which produced uneven results, to methane, which burns at temperatures high enough to create the delicate crystal clarity that makes their creations so prized. And it is the only gas that glass blowers are allowed by law to use. They are caught in a global commodity catch-22.
For now, Artisans is expecting a calm in the international market by the end of the year, although some analysts believe that volatility may persist into the spring. If so, the damage to the island’s economy and individual companies could be profound.
The government of Rome has offered relief to Italian families facing high energy prices, but so far nothing significant for the Murano glassblowers, whose small scale and energy intensity make them particularly vulnerable. The artisans’ lobby is meeting next week with members of parliament to seek direct government aid, which De Chechy said is possible under new EU rules after the pandemic.
Beyond the economic loss, the islanders fear losing the tradition that has made their island synonymous with artistic excellence.
Already, the sector has retreated from an industry with thousands of workers in the 1960s and 1970s to a network of mostly small and medium-sized artisanal enterprises employing a total of 300 glassblowers. The Venetian glass-blowing tradition dates back 1,200 years, and at Murano it has been passed down from father to son for generations. But in its diminutive size and despite its creative rewards, it struggles to attract young people to work in workshops where summer temperatures can reach 60 °C (140 °F).
“The value of this tradition, this history and this culture is priceless, it goes beyond the financial value of the glass industry in Murano,” said Luciano Gambaro, co-owner of Gambaro and Taglipietra. “A culture of over 1,000 years can’t stop with the gas issue.”