When I first met Elio Quarisa, I was quite green or naïve in my glass experience. In the summers between semesters at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky I would take classes at the Studio in Corning to expand what I knew, how I thought and what I made. I am deeply enamored and enchanted with Venetian glass. However, I am an American, a melting pot of travelers who came here to the United States starting in the 1600s. The work I make is set up and approached from what would be a Venetian perspective. I believe in making things new and learning from the past. Elio was someone who showed glass enthusiasts, and makers the past, specifically the golden age of Venetian glass. Dragons and Seahorses – Guggenheim’s and Veronese’s were all part of the dialog that swirls in the Venetian Lagoon.
A few years later I took another class with Elio, he had been to Pilchuck and his lore had spread. He was one of the maestro’s at Elite, the legendary goblet firm now defunct on Murano. I remember while taking the class and watching a demo that Beagles, a friend in the class, said to the rest of the class and Eric Meek the teaching assistant “ It wouldn’t surprise me if he took a piece of sheet glass on the marver and bent it”! That stuck with me – regardless of the challenge Elio never gave up. A piece would fall on the floor and he would put it in the garage, a piece would break in annealing and he would be pick it up again and fix it. He never stopped pushing the boundaries or limitations of self and material. What one knows is just the simple beginning. These moments along with others from many other glassmakers have influenced me as a maker and a thinker of glass.
I remember the last time I saw Elio, it was on Murano. In February of 2006 Chihuly sent a crew to Finland to work and I was a part of the crew. After the trip a friend and I traveled to Murano to work for a week. On the Island it was my goal to see Elio, as well. We were walking and stopped in one of the many places for a juice down from Venini. As I walked out there was Elio, tall and smiling. We shook hands, had a hug and talked. These are the fading memories I now have of a man who helped so many create beauty with glass.
I have now finished my Masters at RISD and am traveling around the country searching for work much as I did a decade ago when I met Elio at the Studio in Corning. In my thesis I came to the conclusion that it is not necessarily about what one can make, but what one can expose, and Elio exposed all of us to a lot.