Glasses by designer Isabel Antonia Giampetro.

Narcisso glasses (1958) by Isabel Antonia Giampietro.

Glassware designer and sculptor Isabel Antonia Giampietro died March 30, 2010 in New York at the age of 92. Her most prolific  years were in the 1950s, a time when very few women worked in design. Her pieces were unique; The New York Times describes her glassworks as being “as graceful as they are innovative”. She developed a technique to make the stem of a drinking glass from one piece creating extremely strong glassware that was more efficient to produce. She also designed goblets, where the stem doubles as another glass.
Like many glassware designers, she is not very well known outside a small circle of collectors. I doubt I would be familiar with her work if she weren’t my great aunt. We are an artistic family; Isabel’s brother, my grandfather Alexander Giampietro, was a sculptor and art professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. My mother is a jeweler and many of my cousins are artists and designers themselves.

Isabel Antonia Giampietro with one of her sculptures. (Image by Aalt Verbaan)

Isabel  holding her sculpture, “Impressies van Stockholm,” circa 1956. (Image by Aalt Verbaan)

I first met Isabel about ten years ago when I was studying design in New York. Although over 80, she was very independent and living alone in Manhattan. Entering her tiny apartment was like walking into a well-curated and creatively cluttered gallery. Everything — from the dishes she served pastries on to the sculptures and glassware that lined her walls — had a story. She surrounded herself with her art: antique carvings and a beautiful and delicate sculptural portrait of her son as boy. I was struck by her sophisticated appearance. She wore dark lipstick and dramatic hats, managing to look elegant throughout her life.

Isabel was born in 1917  to Matilde and Giuseppe Giampietro.  They lived in the small town of Marsicovetere in the Potenza province of Southern Italy. In 1928, Isabel immigrated to Brooklyn with her mother, brother Alexander and sister Concetta. Like many other Italian immigrants, they followed the patriarch, in this case Giuseppe, who settled in New York. Keeping with the creative tradition, Giuseppe and his brothers were traveling musicians. In high school, Isabel’s innate creativity was apparent as she often dreamed about designing and sewing her own clothes Isabel received her undergraduate degree from Manhattanville College in 1940. She later returned to Italy where she pursued a master’s degree in sculpture at the University of Fine Arts, Rome.

Drawings for glassware by Isabel Antonia Giampetro in 1956.

One of Giampetro’s sketches for glassware, 1956.

During the 1950s, Isabel worked as a glassware designer in Northern Europe where she designed for such notable firms as Royal Leerdam in Holland and Gullaskufs Glassware in Sweden. She received a certificate in glass design from Konstfack, University College of Art and Design in Sweden.

Her most famous work is probably the Riflesso line of crystal glassware she designed for Royal Leerdam which won the Gran Prix at the Brussels Exposition in 1958. Riflesso is Italian for reflection. The line featured an array of drink-ware including champagne, wine, martini and liqueur glasses. Also part of the line is a unique punchbowl and decanter. Of the collection she would say, “[It was] an excuse to show the tension, fragility, transparency and strength possible of crystal.”

While she never labeled herself a modernist, her work reflects a simplicity and sophistication that were hallmarks of modern decorative arts. She plainly resisted the idea of any aesthetic dogma, instead articulating, “I was interested in the process of how crystal was made, not just the design”.

Riflesso glassware collection by Isabel Antonia Giampetro.

Drawings of Riflesso glassware collection, 1960.

Isabel’s work was certainly recognized and appreciated during her life but she also expressed frustration at being unable to fully support herself solely with her art. In 1978, she received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in design. Then in 1984, her work was on display at Alan Moss gallery in New York, by which time it was already collectible. The National Glass Museum in Holland has a large collection of her glass, and the Hanneke Fokkelman gallery, also in Holland, had a retrospective of Isabel’s work in 2007. In the United States her work is part of the permanent collection of the Corning Glass Museum.

She is survived by her son Andrew Knoll and granddaughter Dakota Brewster, as well as our large extended family. She will be remembered as a vibrant woman and an inspiring artist and designer.



The National Glass Museum’s extensive collection of Isabel’s glassware

Regina Lee Blaszczyk. Imagining Consumers: Design and Innovation from Wedgwood to Corning. 2002. The John Hopkins University Press.


  1. alma
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:14 AM | Permalink

    beautiful glassware. I wish I had that punch bowl right now.

  2. Jeremy Pine
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:21 AM | Permalink

    Great article. I want to have a shot of whiskey, then turn over the glass and have some wine. Please?

  3. Jenn
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:04 AM | Permalink

    A beautiful tribute.

  4. George
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    Fantastic article

  5. Posted April 23, 2010 at 7:50 PM | Permalink

    I had the chance to meet Isabelle last September. I had tried to visit her previously, had heard so many wonderful things about her from Fr. Anthony and my friend Millie Foye back in Houston. I showed up at her door with a couple of croissants and a sunflower. I met with her briefly but she made an impact one me. She was beautiful and half shy but eager to exchange stories. Her house was full of beautifully sculpted memories. We talked about making and preserving art, being an artist. I was especially interested in hearing about her past and how was life as a young woman artist back in the 50's. As we munched on the croissants, we both shared some of our work. I loved her son's portrait, the Stockholm landscape and so many other things…her glassware collections were shimmering out of boxes, unlikely findings in the midst of a Manhattan apartment. I was astonished at the tenderness with which she handled them.
    Aunt Isabelle insisted I had a drink in one of her most beautiful glass pieces. She was happy to see my Photography books. She congratulated me and encouraged me to continue my artistic work. Her words meant a lot. I walked out of the place feeling lucky, with a smile upon my face hoping one day I could have so many stories to tell, so much love for my work as she did. Thank you for the article.

  6. maria doti
    Posted May 9, 2010 at 7:42 AM | Permalink

    I too am a cousin of Isabel. My father was Isabel’s first cousin.
    thank you for the lovely article. I hope that a book can be made of all her art work so that this talented women will be made know to more people. I meet an art student who was inspired by Isabel. Sadly she was too ill at the time to talk to his class.

    Perhaps a memorial art show

  7. Rob Booth
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 1:20 PM | Permalink

    I worked with Isabel for a few years before I left New York to come to DC for work. For some reason I just thought of her today and I decided to "google" her. It really came as a shock that she had passed away. I really liked Isabel. I enjoyed assisting her whenever she needed me to. I knew she was an artist, I just didn't know the full extent of it. Now I'm even more pleased to have associated with her. Good bye Isabel Giampetro Knoll, may your sleep be peaceful.

  8. Andrew Knoll
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:45 AM | Permalink

    Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful words, as she created her art she was the sculptor of my early years, and for that I will never forget, for who I am today.

  9. Geraldine Castellano
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

    My dear Aunt was my mother's sister. She was one of the most talented people I have ever met . I always knew how beautiful her glassware was and I knew that she could paint as she once asked me to model for her when I was a preteen. It was only when she invited me and my sister to her apartment for lunch that I became aware of the outstanding sculptures she had created. I hope that many people know that she had the honor of being commissioned to do a bust of George Washington during the Bi-Centennial year. We no longer have the pleasure of her company but her spirit shines through in her beautiful works of art.

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