Traditional Venetian Glass Art Classes in Tokyo; A ‘Thousand Flowers’ Bloom in Millefiori Artwork

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Accessories made from the various surrounding millefiori pieces

Millefiori is a traditional glass craft of Venice. It is characterized by a vividness and transparency created by the combination of colorful round glass pieces.

Millefiori is both the name of the traditional Venetian craft and the small components used in its creation.

Most of the pieces are 2 to 8 millimeters in diameter, but some are as large as 2 to 3 centimeters. The name means “thousand flowers” in Italian, and they come in a variety of colors and patterns, including floral designs. They are made by cutting a glass cane with a pattern on its cross section.

Yasuko Sakami, a Venetian glass artist, studied the techniques and history of millefiori in Venice. She currently creates millefiori at her production studio in Tokyo, ordering millefiori pieces from Venice.

To design her millefiori, Sakami, 75, picks up pieces with a tweezer and arranges them on a sheet of glass or inside a circular or heart-shaped silver frame. Heating them in an electric furnace at nearly 800 C, the surface of the glass melts and smoothly integrates into one piece.

“The charm of this process is that you can freely design and create colorful works of art, just like a flower garden,” she said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Autumn-inspired tableware decorated with various patterns

By attaching metal fittings and strings, they can be made into cute accessories such as pendants and earrings. She also makes tableware, and the various patterns of her plates will add color to a dining table.

“If you combine cloisonne and other enameling techniques, you can expand your creative horizons,” she said. One of her works titled “Omoide” (Memory) was inspired by a landscape of flowers. Millefiori pieces were used to draw fields of flowers and grass on a glass plate base, and blue glaze was applied to express a blue sky. Another work titled “Mirai” (Future), featuring butterflies, has a fantastical atmosphere with blue as its base color.

“Omoide” (Memory), a work with a flower garden motif
“Mirai” (Future), right, is a work with an impressive blue gradation. Next to it is a photo frame with red as its base color.

Sakami integrates a “thousand flowers” to create a variety of works. “From accessories to interior decorations, millefiori can enrich our lives,” she said.

Classes for beginners

To create millefiori works, one needs not only Venetian glass pieces but also an electric furnace and various tools. There are many glass studios that offer hands-on classes.

Sakami’s studio also provides hands-on classes on a regular basis. With advice from one of the several instructors, young people, families and senior citizens are all taking up the challenge of creating Millefiori there.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A participant tries creating millefiori at a hands-on class for beginners offered by Yasuko Sakami.

“Even beginners can easily try their hand at it,” Sakami said. “Obidome [a decorative clasp used to keep a kimono’s obi in place] for young people and hairpins for children are popular,” said Sakami. The cost of the two-hour class starts at ¥3,300, including materials.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yasuko Sakami

Yasuko Sakami

Sakami was born in 1948 in Kyoto. After graduating from high school, she worked for a cloisonne enamel material company in Kyoto and served as head of the Tokyo sales office. After studying at a glass art school in Venice, she established the glass art company “Studio Sakami” in Taito Ward, Tokyo, in 2008.