The following is a sad story from Reuters new agency, which I read in the Report on Business Saturday morning. Essentially, it describes how badly the economic downturn is hitting the Italian artisans who make the beautiful Murano glass so well known as a symbol of Venice and the Veneto region. Some won't survive; others will be forced to produce only very expensive items for narrow, niche markets.
It really struck a chord because one of the things I love about Italy is the opportunity to see -- and sometimes acquire -- a little bit of the beautiful, hand-crafted products that are created with great love and care in parts of Italy. Markets are full of the cheap knockoffs, but it is still possible to see behind that smokescreen to the places where quality and originality still matter.
But, as Reuters notes in the following, the encroachment of mass production is steadily worsening. (Photo note: the first photo of a Forcola style vase from Murano; the second is a hand-made glass in purple and white. Both from the website of muranoglass. com.)
Venetian artisans struggle to reshape future. (Reuters)
Murano glass has long been prized for its rich colours, beauty and sophistication, but the global financial crisis is pushing the 700-year-old craft close to extinction.
Many orders are on hold, layoffs are rising and some furnaces are cold in a downturn symptomatic of the woes of manufacturers both small and large in Italy, Europe's fourth-biggest economy.
Even before the crisis bit last year, the Venetian island was slammed by a strong euro that chased away free-spending Americans and others and by competition from Chinese and other producers.
In the last five years, sales at some companies have dropped by half, and the work force has shrunk to 1,000 from about 5,000. The current downturn threatens the existence of Murano, even though two or three companies could remain, said Davide Camuccio, head of the Filcem-CGIL glass and chemical workers' union in Venice. "This could be a mortal blow."
Artisans have been making glass on Murano, an island close to Venice in its tranquil lagoon, since the 13th century. Long a key centre of European glassmaking, its prized products ranged from chandeliers through jewellery to tableware.
Perhaps the island's most famous technique is the "retortoli," where opaque or white threads form a spiral, especially valued on Venetian goblets.
Sales have fallen as much as 15 per cent in recent years, and exports were about €250-million ($400-million) to €300-million in 2007, he said. "As of the middle of 2008, it would be much, much lower."
Murano is having to shift to higher-margin, one-of-a-kind items and venture into new markets in Asia, Russia and the Middle East where the brand is less known. Next to roaring furnaces, sparks flew as master glass maker Simone Cenedese used a board to shape a fiery orange globe into a custom-made sculpture last week. "The future of Murano is definitely that of excellence, of special pieces, not mass production," he said.