I now fully realize the serendipity of events surrounding my work at Venini. Paolo Venini’s death had left the firm virtually bereft of a designer; my own naivety and eagerness to explore the medium led me into zealous experimentation; and the young Maestro ‘Checco’ Ongaro’s own efforts to prove his abilities lead him to stick out his neck by collaborating with me. The timing was just right making germane a situation of exploration and accomplishment. We each saw it as an opportunity for ourselves...and we all leapt in.

Thomas Stearns, 1989

Thomas Stearns

On November 1st, 1960, the young American artist Thomas Stearns arrived in Venice and began a tenure as guest designer at Venini, an appointment which would last until 1962. Working closely with Venini’s youngest Maestro, ‘Checco’ Ongaro, Stearns would design a number of highly refined and experimental glass vessels and objects; a group of these pieces would go on to win the coveted Gold Medal for Glass at the Venice Biennale of 1962, only to be rescinded after the judges realized that the designer was an American. Stearns’ odyssey at Venini is beautifully captured in his own essay, The Facades of Venice: Recollections of my Residence in Venice, written in 1989 and published in the catalog of Muriel Karasik’s seminal show, The Venetians, Modern Glass, 1919 – 1990.

Due to the fact that most of Stearns’ designs were produced in very limited numbers, today they are highly sought after by collectors. More importantly, these pieces exhibit an innovative sculptural integrity which perfectly expresses the spirit of the times in which they were made.

And while Stearns was not the first American to work at Venini, he was certainly the most influential. In fact, his time there changed the very dynamic between designer and craftsman, as his constant presence at the Venini furnace challenged age-old Muranese traditions and class distinctions. The next generation of American artists to study at Venini, including Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky, Richard Marquis and others, owe a debt of gratitude to the patient and intrepid Thomas Stearns.

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Auction Results Thomas Stearns