“There are two kinds of Venetians,” she said, “those who are born in Venice, and those who become Venetian in their hearts.”
Marisa Convento is sort of both kinds. She was born in Mestre but married a Venetian and moved to the city when she was 19. “But I was slow to really appreciate Venice for its history and culture,” she said. “My love for the city has grown and deepened over the years.”
Marisa is a jewelry maker and expert on Venetian bead arts–an impiraressa. Her shop, Venetian Dreams, sits on Calle della Mandola between Campo Sant’Angelo and Campo Manin. My friend Vonda Wells, a Venetian of the latter type, introduced me to Marisa two weeks ago, and we spent a lovely hour chatting. Marisa generously shared her knowledge with me, particularly about the women who used to string glass beads: the impiraperli. She demonstrated how the women would shove a bundle of wires into a box of tiny seed beads, over and over, so the beads would be impaled on the wires.
“But how did they transfer the beads to the strings?” I asked.
“These wires are actually long needles,” she said, showing me the minuscule eyes where thread would be pulled through. “I keep this magnifying glass here for when I do this kind of work.” Marisa also held up bundles of strung beads, white and red, and explained that this customary way of stringing produced a reliable and uniform measuring system for selling and transporting the beads.
She also showed me old images of Venetian women sitting in the campo, a curved box or sessola on their laps, as they pushed the wires into the pile of beads. “This work was like their Facebook,” she said, smiling. “The women could work at home, not in a big warehouse somewhere, and they used the time to talk and gossip and work out their problems.”
Handmade glass beads are an ancient Venetian art. While most of the glassmaking was men’s work, I knew that women had very important roles. Marisa magnified for me their roles in stringing beads. There’s even a children’s book available now, in Italian and English, about these women, titled L’Impiraperle. My research had led me to Hermonia Vivarini, who designed the navicella glass pitcher, and Marietta Barovier, who invented the rosetta bead and painted the incomparable Barovier wedding cup, on display at the Museo del Vetro on Murano.
“Barovier also ran her own glass business,” Marisa explained.
“I read that she applied for a license for her own furnace,” I said, probably looking a bit puzzled.
“Yes, but this means that she had a separate business from her brother. She is the first woman to do this.” My admiration for Barovier grew even more.
Marisa told me that the first annual Glass Week will be held in Venice this coming September. I hope to get in contact with the organizers to see if my research or writings about Venetian women glassmakers might be a useful part of their program. Marisa has said she’ll put me in touch with the right people.
As we talked, two of her friends arrived, an American couple who are living in Venice most of the time now and are becoming Venetian–people who have fallen for the city and are Venetian at heart. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember their names. (If you read this, please drop me a message!)
Marisa introduced us and told them I am the author of A Beautiful Woman in Venice. “I know you are great readers,” she said to them. “Have you heard of this book?”
“In fact, it’s the book we leave on the nightstand for our guests,” the woman said. “It’s so easy for people to pick up at any point and read a chapter or two.” I blushed with great pleasure–this is a supreme flattery for me! The woman also added comments of admiration for the book, saying the exact kinds of things I had hoped to achieve with this writing.
Marisa also told me about the glass bead makers who supply her with beads. “They are masters at this art,” she said. One is the perfect technician. “If I tell her what I need, she can make it perfectly.” The other is gifted with a special understanding. Marisa explained, “I can tell her my idea for a necklace, and she will produce something that is exactly right. She understands at this deeper level.”
Marisa walked around her shop, moving displays and repositioning necklaces on their stands. One had a small glass perfume bottle shaped like a Roman amphora, while another featured reddish orange seed beads creating a coral design. The beads are handmade in Venice, by both lamp work and cane techniques, clearly the highest quality available.
As I thanked Marisa and turned to go, I noticed that she also displayed Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice Architecture, books by JoAnn Locktov, who I had connected with a couple years ago. JoAnn’s books show off Venice’s magical charms. (In fact, her next book is in the works!) “So it looks like you know JoAnn Locktov,” I said to Marisa.
“Yes, she is another true Venetian,” she said, smiling. There are many of us out here. I was so happy to meet a traditional Venetian craftsperson who appreciates our love for this city. In fact, as I left her shop, I noticed her sign by the door, imploring visitors to respect the work of craftspeople. As many people worry about the impact of the increasing tourist crowds on Venice, I think of all those who are trying to maintain her unique identity.
Here’s the link to Marisa’s website: Marisa Convento
And for further reading, Dianne Hales posted a piece by JoAnn Loctov about Marisa on her site, including explanations of some of the specific vocabulary: About Marisa
And a link to the Venice Glass Week program: Venice Glass Week
And finally, a link to an article about the bead stringers, recommended by Marisa, written by Irene Ninni: L’Impiraressa