Fanning the Flames

"When the doctor said I couldn't play volleyball anymore, I had to decide what I was going to do with my life," explains Tiziana Zanelli of Fort Lauderdale. The Italian native played professional volleyball for three years before bad knees forced her to quit.

So, at age 21, she turned to her life's passion: art. It had taken a back seat to sports but wasn't forgotten. She had an interior-design degree -- equivalent to an Associate in Arts degree in the United States -- and often went to see the glass blowers in Venice. She was fascinated by the interplay of glass, color, and light.

Looking through the phone book one day, she found Kristal Leda Studios in Bergamo, near her hometown of Montello. After a studio tour, she observed master artisan and owner Aldo Lanzini at work. Using a fiberglass mold, he mixed bits of colored glass with chemicals and colored dust, then put the mold into the oven. The result: an ashtray Lanzini called "fiamma" (flame), which featured flamelike strips of garnet red and sapphire blue.

As Zanelli recalls, "I saw this man and thought, 'What is he doing?'" Lanzini's glass-fusion process was far different than the glass blowing she'd previously seen. For the next two and a half years, she served as Lanzini's apprentice and was entrusted with his carefully guarded techniques.

"He experimented a lot," she says. "Once we went to the drugstore, where he looked around and bought a bottle of aspirin. He crushed the tablets at the studio and used the powder on the glass to see what chemical reaction it would have." The outcome, of course, is a secret.

Lanzini may have liked to experiment, but he also had to keep his customers happy. His studios' biggest sellers were the bomboniere, or gifts given to guests at Italian weddings. While working for Lanzini, Zanelli made thousands of little blue ships and teal elephants. But she preferred making the more functional pieces such as clocks and ashtrays, which were ordered less often.

When colleagues told Zanelli about the glass-fusion market in New York City, she set out for the States. She planned on starting out in Florida because she had a contact here. After searching the Internet, she realized that New York was overflowing with glass-fusion studios. So Zanelli, age 24, began to see Florida as a better market for her wares.

She's showing some of her work at Elements gallery in Fort Lauderdale and plans to open her own studio within the next six months. Meanwhile she's working on more progressive designs than those she created in Italy.

"You look, and you know that is a clock," she says, referring to the Lanzini pieces she worked on in Italy. "I want someone to take a few minutes to understand that this is [also] a clock."

By way of explanation, Zanelli quickly sketches a clock featuring pieces of glass shaped like flames. She likes to make clocks, ashtrays, plates, and trays, she says, because they're items people use every day.

"A painting can give you a good feeling, but that is all," she adds.

-- Eileen F. Jager

Tiziana Zanelli's glasswork is on display at Elements, 1034 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday till midnight, and Sunday till 9 p.m. Call 954-525-5754.