Masters of Venetian Craft

Venice

In the narrow back streets of the Floating City, a few of Venice’s treasure troves are hidden away from tourists. The secrets of these traditional crafts have been passed down from as far back as the Middle Ages and Renaissance (from the 9th to 17th Century). Families have kept shop for generations, telling the city’s story through each product. On occasion, some owners even share their tales with customers. Skip the mass-produced souvenirs and wander into some of the city’s quiet little workshops. From paper masks, wooden ships, and colorful glass beads, you can discover one-of-a-kind keepsakes and take a piece of Venice home with you.

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Updated a year ago

Ca' Macana

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Venice (also known as the “City of Masks”) is known for its city-wide masquerades called the “Carnevale di Venezia.” In Ca’ Macana, the Carnevale spirit is alive all-year round as papier-mâchè masks, crafted and painted by hand, hang all around. Let your creativity shine and paint your own mask, or bring home a pre-made design that will capture everyone’s eye. Commedia dell’Arte (Italian masked theater) inspire many of the characters molded into mischievous smirks, malicious jeers, and jovial smiles. Find pointy nose “Plague Doctors” with elegant “Colombinas,” which are classic Carnevale styles. Other shops will try to sell tourists factory-made dupes, but Ca’ Macana is the “reel” deal; they’ve made masks for film, like Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

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Libreria Acqua Alta

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Come hell or high water, Libreria Acqua Alta offers refuge to bibliophiles. In a waterlogged city plagued by floods, the bookshop keeps pages dry by gondola, a wooden ship, and a ceramic bathtub. All these are stacked with precious cargo: hundreds of books. Everything is arranged almost haphazardly—like the tide has swept in new books, old tomes, and rare volumes all at the same time. Piles of encyclopedias form a staircase leading outdoors, while random knick-knacks collected by owner, Mr. Luigi Frizzo, are strewn about. The chaos is all part of Libreria Acqua Alta’s charm. Peruse their overwhelming collection and pluck from precarious piles and from under sleeping cats. Your next treasured read is just waiting to be uncovered.

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Venetian Dreams

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

In the little backroom of Venetian Dreams, Marisa Convento turns glass beads into coral branches. She is what you would call a modern-day “Impiraressa,” a Venetian Bead-Stringer. Gift yourself a unique jewelry set crafted by a magic touch and patient devotion. Marisa uses fine Murano glass, made specially for the shop. Stringing seems second-nature to her, whether it’s when she’s gathering baubles on a thread or relaying the history of the city to customers. The original Impiraressas were women in the Arsenale era (1104-1797) who strung beads to be shipped out. What Marisa does is pay heed to these women and elevate it to an art form.

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Merletto Lace School

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

An Impiraressa’s patience is rivaled only by a lacemaker’s, and Il Merletto brings the finest Burano lace to the shores of Venice. Learn about the world-class delicate fabric made just a short boat-ride away from the city, and purchase a few coveted pieces as well. Il Merletto maintains direct ties to La Scuola dei Merletti di Burano, a school that has been teaching the craft since 1872. Herein lies one of the last places to find true Burano lace made-by-hand. Brides-to-be and purveyors of finery trust Il Merletto for the real thing. In truth, you should, too!

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Paolo Olbi

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Try your hand at writing your own literary classic in journals bound by a master craftsman. Every day, Paolo Olbi sets his practiced hands to work: arranging paper into signatures, sewing text blocks, and gluing hardcovers together. His shop has endured changing times, from when it first opened in 1962. Since then, he’s been keeping the book-binding tradition alive. Antique machines, like a typographical press, aide him from time to time. He uses the printing press to stamp book covers, postcards, and bookmarks. Crack open a tome to creamy Venetian paper pressed between the vegetable-tanned Tuscan calfskin. Olbi’s gondola-, flower-, and gryphon-patterned products have remained a steadfast specialty. The passion is contagious—next thing you know, you’ve emptied your pockets for one of each product and enrolled as an apprentice in one of his workshops!

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Il Grifone

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Step into Il Grifone and be greeted by the smell of leather and the friendly face of Toni Peressin, the shop owner and master-at-work. Here, bags, belts, and wallets are made by hand using high-quality Italian leather from the Tuscan Tanning District. Il Grifone is committed to making personalized items that will withstand the test of time. No two pieces are alike, as every element is made in small batches. They also use only vegetable-tanned leather that looks even better through wear.

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Valese

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Bring home a piece of Venice—literally! The Fonderia Artistica Valese has cast metal into ornaments since 1913. In little touches of elaborate design, they’ve added to Venice’s splendor. Lamp posts and gondola decorations are just some of their masterpieces. On a smaller scale, they also make doorknobs and chandeliers for hotels. Come home every day to a Lion Door-Knocker made in Venice. The winged lion is a popular emblem inspired by the city’s patron saint, Saint Mark. The Valese Foundry is on the outskirts of the Veneto region’s capital, but its boutique is quite near to Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco).

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Giovanna Zanella

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Commission a pair of bespoke Italian shoes from Venice’s most renowned shoemaker, Giovanna Zanella. Bold and asymmetrical designs call to the daring sartorialists from the shop window. Inside, the ready-made pairs on Giovanna’s shelves give a peek into her creative mind. Pleats and patterns are tastefully added, while bright colors like red, pink, purple, and orange are available to give any outfit a stunning pop of color.

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Emilio Ceccato

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

The straw hats of Emilio Ceccato pay homage to the Gondoliers that helm Venice’s most iconic transport. Striped shirts are also on-sale here, so nab next Halloween’s costume or buy the attire out of admiration. You’ll make it work; these straw hats are chic enough to pair with any outfit! Emilio Ceccato is the official supplier to the Associazone Gondolieri di Venezia (Venice Gondoliers Association), so you’ll be in good company whenever you don these threads. However, expect some tourists to come up to you if you decide to wear it in Venice.

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Gilberto Penzo

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Venice, Italy • Recommendation • 

Pair your authentic Gondolier attire with a handmade ship model from Venetian boat expert Gilberto Penzo. Buy one assembled by the master himself (though you may have difficulty shipping it home) or just do-it-yourself! The shop offers kits to build your 50-centimeter gondola. You’ll also find vaporetti (waterbus), ceremonial boats, and grand ships. Sadly, these other models don’t come in a kit, but it’s still worth a visit to the shop to see them in their miniature glory. Who knows, bringing them home might just need a little creative McGyver-ing!

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About Italy

It’s all in the details in Italy—from fine art to fine dining, not a thing is left unembellished

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