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Akeley artist learns ancient glassmaking technique

Through painstaking layering, glass artist Sandy Fynboh creates a butterfly at a December workshop. Fynboh will incorporate murrini into her open studio and gallery, Boho Junction in Akeley. Her website is (Submitted photo)

Like colorful, molten glass, bead artist Sandy Fynboh is undergoing a transformation.

The owner of Blue Sky Beads – newly renamed Boho Junction, LLC – recently returned from a six-day intensive butterfly murrini workshop in Atlanta, Georgia.

Murrini is an Italian term for “colored patterns or images” made from long glass cylinders.

It’s one of the oldest methods of embellishing glass.

The art form is regarded primarily as Venetian, but murrini have been found in Mesopotamian digs dating back more than 4,000 years.

Venetian glassmakers revived the art.

Murrini also gets its name from a group of islands, called Murano, which are linked to Venice, Italy. There, elite glassblowers developed a reputation for quality and artistic glasswork in the 14th century.

Thanks to a Region 2 Arts Council/McKnight Career Development Fellows grant, Fynboh attended the class and plans to purchase equipment necessary to create complex murrini in her home studio.

The new moniker for Fynboh’s Akeley studio and gallery reflects her dream to explore this art form.

“I still carry bead supplies, bead arts and teach classes, but it’s not the only aspect of my work,” she explained. “Blue Sky Beads was a limiting name.”

“A junction is a gathering place,” she said. “I’m looking to do more collaboration.”

The art of murrini

Murrini are designed by layering different colors of liquid glass around a core, then heating and stretching it into a rod, or “cane.”

“The repeating pattern runs through the core,” explained Fynboh.

The cane is then sliced, resulting in small, round murrini. Diameters range from coin-size to a couple millimeters.

Murrini can be made into infinite designs and beautiful pieces — pendants, brooches, vases, among them.

When the patterns are flower-like, the murrini is called millefiori, Italian for “thousands of flowers.”

It’s time-consuming, difficult work.

It took four days for Fynboh to make her butterfly cane at the Flametree Studio workshop in Atlanta.

She and seven other glass artists from across the country attended the course.

“We took a 78-hour class in 5 days,” she said.

Fynboh’s fascination with murrini began nearly 15 years ago.

Through “synchronicity,” opportunities gradually emerged for her to learn the craft.

This particular workshop was taught by American glass artist Loren Stump, who has perfected the art of creating extraordinarily detailed miniature portraits and paintings from murrini.

One of his glass brooches, “Madonna of the Rocks,” took a year to complete. The elaborate murrini, involving hundreds of component parts, produced 10 slices. Each sold for $5,000 per piece.

“He’s a genius,” said Fynboh, “and a fantastic teacher. Hands-down best teacher in the world.”

Fynboh first met Stump last summer when she attended another workshop of his at the Corning Museum of Glass, a nonprofit museum in Corning, New York dedicated to collecting, educating and preserving glassworks.

“I’ve been attempting murrini on my own with some success, but I couldn’t get the detail I learned in his class,” she said.

There are no existing instruction booklets, no textbooks.

Stump’s workshop “probably shaved 10 years off my learning curve,” she said.

Fynboh anticipates she’ll need another three years of education, apprenticing with the best teachers, to perfect the glassmaking technique.

There’s a one-year waiting list for the torch she needs.

“The torch has revolutionary technology so it can be 1,000 to 2,000 degrees but the exterior stay cool so you can work longer,” said Fynboh.

“I don’t know yet where this will lead, but it’ll be awesome,” she said. “I’ve never regretted the money I’ve invested in art.

“I show up to do my part – to invest my money, write the grant, do the hard work I don’t always want to do but I do. I trust that whatever comes up, I’ll be ready.”

Boho Junction reopens for the season on fishing opener weekend.

Fynboh hopes to show the progression of her murrini and demonstrate the technique.