Born in Mirano, Italy, Emilio Santini comes from a family with centuries of tradition in glass. With skills in the areas of lampworking, glassblowing, casting and diamond point engraving, he has taught primarily torchworking at many of the major glass schools in the US including Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, Washington, Penland School of Craft, Bakersville, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh Glass Center, as well as at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. Currently residing in Blacksburg, Virginia, Santini is dedicating more time to his first love – writing poetry and fiction, with a particular focus on the glass world, past and present.
The product of over 500 years of glassblowing tradition, Santini’s father was his first teacher. At the age of 11, Emilio was sent to work in Cenedese glass factory during the three-month summer break from school. His uncle, Giacinto Cadamuro, was his teacher during that year. For the next five years, the young Santini went back to work for three months in the same glass factory but with different masters, including “Petà” and “Mamaracio”. At 17, Emilio’s father started teaching him lampworking, an activity that became the primary focus of his career as a glass educator.
Santini spent nearly 10 years refining his skills before — after four summers of persistent courtship during her studies in Venice — he married Theresa Johansson and moved to her family home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Without the close family and workshop connections that helped him so much in Murano, Santini struggled to sell his work. He failed to grasp the much more demanding and decentralized nature of the sprawling American art glass market, and the couple returned to Murano.
In 1988, Santini moved with his wife to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he established a small lampworking studio. He made his third and final attempt to immigrate to the US when his wife was hired at William and Mary. During this period, the artist received a call from Peninsula Glass Guild co-founder Ali Rogan, who tracked him down after stumbling across one of his impressive works in a small York County craft shop. With her encouragement, Santini entered the Guild’s annual juried show, where he not only won top prize, but so impressed the juror — a nationally prominent Washington, D.C.-area gallery owner — that she bought his piece and gave him a solo show.
Also during this time, Santini received his first invitation to conduct a demonstration before an audience of collectors, gallery owners and other glass artists at Penland School of Craft. That’s when he knocked on the door of internationally known Studio Glass pioneer, Harvey Littleton, who was so impressed with his unexpected guest from Murano that he invited him in for an eye-opening 3-hour conversation.
Santini says: “Up until then, I really had no idea of what to do with glass beside production and fine design. I didn’t know about making art objects.”
Over the past few years, Santini has concentrated primarily on sculpture and creating pieces that incorporate cast, blown and lampworked elements, along with metal and stone. These represent a major shift in his work, though many of these pieces had their genesis as sketches or models made throughout his creative life. Most recently, the artist has turned his focus to the written word, both prose and poetry, to which he dedicates considerable time and energy.
Since venturing out on his own 34 years ago, Santini has combined his production and fine design work with one-of-kind art objects and sculpture to become widely recognized as one of the top lampworkers in the country. His work can be found in numerous private collections and museums such as the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York; The Ca’ Pesaro Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Venice, Italy; the Sheffield Museum, England; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; and many others. He’s blended his superlative technical expertise with his humor, imagination and friendliness to become a nationally known teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University as well as the workshop circuit.
What has been the secret to Santini’s success? He knows Venetian techniques so well, but instead of being secretive about them, he’s generously shared his talents with students, collectors and glass lovers around the globe.