and Guido Balsamo Stella
The story of Anna Akerdahl, her husband Guido Balsamo Stella, and their involvement with Murano glass, is the story of individuals finding their own creative identity at a moment when age-old traditions were being challenged.
Guido Balsamo Stella was a gifted young artist from Turin who traveled widely in Europe during the first decade of the 20th century. In Munich, he studied and exhibited with members of the Secessionist movement. While in Sweden, Stella met Edward Hald and Simon Gate and became interested in their work with etched and carved glass at Orrefors. While in Sweden he also met painter and textile designer Anna Akerdahl. They married in 1908, and the couple spent the First World War in Sweden. During the war years, the two worked as designers at Orrefors, with Stella focusing on the art of glass engraving. In 1919, they moved back to Italy where both found work as designers at the newly reorganized Artistica Barovier. From this point forward, we know that both became more involved in glassmaking, but the details of who made what and for whom become tangled and are still somewhat unclear. Some have even suggested that much of Balsamo Stella’s work in glass was actually designed by Anna, but during the height of Fascism in Italy, it was safer to assign authorship to her husband.
We do know that Anna designed a groundbreaking series of murrine vessels for S.A.I.A.R. Ferro Toso in 1920, a company for which her husband also worked. Some glass historians point to these vessels as the first truly modern works of glass made by a Murano company in the 20th century. They were presented at the Italian Exhibition of Decorative and Popular Art in Stockholm, and were widely praised by Swedish art critics. These rare and prescient vessels demonstrate an interesting blend of Murano technique and Scandinavian form, which makes sense since Anna, and her work, were a product of both cultures.
Likewise, Guido’s work at the S.A.L.I.R. firm was also a multi-cultural blend. Here he specialized in Soffiato vessels drawn in the reduced, neoclassical manner of Zecchin. But in Stella’s designs we see the application of extremely fine carving, often executed by the master engraver Franz Pelzel, who had been trained in the Bohemian tradition of glass cutting and carving. Their work at S.A.L.I.R. was, to say the least, unusual for Murano glass of the 1920s and 30s as carving was not part of the Muranese tradition. Still, these vessels, with scenes drawn in the Neoclassical and Art Deco styles, were highly regarded for their elegant design and refined execution. Stella’s sculptural work in glass for S.A.I.A.R Ferro Toso was also highly regarded. Several of his stylized figures of animals were exhibited at the Milan Triennale of 1930, with his Ermellino (ermine) sculpture chosen as the official symbol of the exhibition.