Glassblowers have been working in Murano, Italy, for over 1,000 years. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

Glassblowers have been working in Murano, Italy, for over 1,000 years. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassworker heats a creation in a methane-powered oven. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassworker heats a creation in a methane-powered oven. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassworker finishes a piece. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassworker finishes a piece. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

Glassblowers work together. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

Glassblowers work together. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassblower passes methane-powered ovens in a factory. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

A glassblower passes methane-powered ovens in a factory. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

Gas Prices Hurt Italy’s Glassblowers

Posted: January 1, 2022

Don’t turn off the furnace! Italian glassblowers use high-temperature furnaces to create beautiful glass art. Those furnaces must burn around the clock. Keeping the heat on is harder to do these days. Surging prices of methane gas make powering the glassblowers’ equipment extraordinarily expensive.

Italy’s glassblowing tradition is 1,200 years old. The art has been passed down through families for generations. “No machine can do what we do,” says master glassblower Davide Cimarosti. He has been creating glass art for 42 years. He lives and works in Murano, an island community in the lagoon of Venice, Italy. Glassblowers like Mr. Cimarosti can transform a red-hot blob of molten glass (called “lava” by the artists) into a beautiful vessel or piece of art.

A glassblower twists and turns a hot puddle of lava on the end of a hollow wand. Heat, spin. Reheat, bend. Heat, swivel. Reheat, blow. The artist gently blows into the wand. His breath creates a space inside the hot liquid glass. As he blows and turns, elegant shapes emerge. The bauble’s shape can be changed only when the material is about as hot as the liquid in a volcano. If it cools, the glass hardens. That’s one reason why a glassblower’s oven must stay hot. Additionally, if the furnace cools, the ceramic container inside could break. If that crucible cracks, it is very expensive to replace.

Methane powers the ovens. That gas burns at temperatures high enough to create crystal-clear glass. In fact, an Italian law says that glassblowers must use methane. But the price of methane is skyrocketing. It is five times higher than normal! Glassblowers have no choice but to pay those high gas prices to keep their furnaces burning.

“People are desperate,” says Gianni De Checchi. He is president of an artisans’ association. “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.”

The higher-than-normal prices are hitting Italy hard. The country imports most of its gas. Shipping delays, more demand for energy, and shortages are causing the price leap. Glassblowers hope that methane gas prices cool down soon.

Why? As we learn about economies, we also learn when soaring prices harm others and their work. Christians can pray and when possible, support those people with purchases as well.