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Metal and Glass

Celebrating nature with a stunning combo of two ancient arts.

The art of minting coins dates back centuries. So does making glass, and one of the most famous places in the world is Murano, Italy. Its artisans are unmatched for creating glass with pure vibrant colours that seem almost liquid — a captivating feature that shines even more when the glass is set against one of the Mint’s pure silver coins.

The result is stunning. Unique.

“It’s really remarkable when you consider that every little sculpture was made by hand, yet still meets very stringent technical specifications,” says Alicia Cook Sapene, the Jr. Product Manager responsible for the latest Murano glass coin, “We even sent special gauges to Italy so the glassmakers could ensure the length, width and height of each piece fell within our min/max requirements.”

The Mint’s Murano glass coins have featured a snail and various insects, an autumn maple leaf, an angel, plus other festive and nature themes, “When it comes to Canadian fauna and flora, we sometimes consult with experts to ensure the subject is indeed found in Canada, and is not considered an invasive species.”

The 2018 Murano glass coin features a caterpillar, “Not just any caterpillar, but a monarch,” says Alicia, her voice hinting this was no easy feat, “with coloured stripes of different sizes running across its body, and delicate tentacles at both ends.”

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, so it was decided the coin’s engraved design would feature a swamp milkweed, selectively coloured to pull all the elements together.

Alicia consulted an entomologist to verify her research, and to ensure the monarch caterpillar fit with the two previous coins in the Little Creatures Series (a snail and beetle). And while she recognizes that crafting any object in glass affords some artistic license, Alicia also turned to the experts to ensure the proportions of the glass caterpillar were right, and its distinguishing features were accurately represented, “People expect a certain amount of realism when it’s a nature theme. The subject has to be immediately recognizable.”

Photographic references of caterpillars and swamp milkweeds were sent to the glassmakers and the artist at the same time, “Both emailed us several ideas and we had to bring them together as a single design that would fit on a coin. We had to make sure the sense of scale between the caterpillar and the milkweed leaf looked right. Once we nailed that down, we sent them the specs so they could refine their designs.

“But photographs and sketches are one-dimensional,” says Alicia, “A design can look very different when one of the elements suddenly becomes three-dimensional. We chose the first caterpillar sample based on photographs, but when we placed the actual 3D prototype on the design, it was huge!”

Back to the drawing board…

When the next round of glass prototypes arrived, the size was perfect but the caterpillar just lay there, “It was flat. We realized we needed to add legs to give the impression the caterpillar is crawling along the leaf. You have to think of every detail. If not, the entire design can look off.”

And then, there were the caterpillar’s tentacles, and its distinctive yellow, black and white stripes, “The tentacles and lines had to be very thin and neat, and the glassmakers did an amazing job. They twisted different colours of glass together to create the stripes, and we actually produced a video showing how the Vio brothers worked their magic.”

After three months of emails, phone calls, photographs, sketches and courriers, the Mint finally had a Murano monarch caterpillar for its silver coin!

Now 5,000 more had to be produced and shipped overseas from Italy. The two Vio brothers worked another 4 or 5 months to craft each one by hand, and carefully package it for its voyage across the Atlantic.

Seven months later still, the metamorphosis is complete. Glass has been formed into a vibrant monarch caterpillar, silver has been struck into a milkweed, and two ancient art forms have merged into one stunning celebration of nature.


Venetian or Murano glass — what’s the difference?

Italy’s renowned glassmakers were originally located in Venice, but the constant threat of fire that could destroy the city’s wooden buildings prompted officials to relocate them to Murano 1.5 km away in 1291. Most of the glass referred to as “Venetian glass” originates from Murano.

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