When Venice Lives: It Looks Like This–Carteria Ai Frari

Elisabetta and I, sans masks, outside her shop, Carteria Ai Frari

Elisabetta Casaburi, owner of Carterìa Ai Frari, is an artisan who upholds Venice’s longstanding tradition of making paper. After graduating from the Venice School of Art and attending literature courses at Ca’ Foscari, she worked as an advertising and editorial graphic artist. In 2008 Elisabetta decided to put in her shop everything she has loved and learned to do in the course of her life. She is a paper craftsman, and each of her productions, from the travel notebook to the photo album, “has the intention of collecting the past as a bridge to the future,” she says.

Elisabetta was born in Venice and lives there now with her husband and daughter. I met her in August, seeking her out after I saw her video on Live in Venice Week, organized by Sofa Tours and Monica Cesarato. In the video, Elisabetta shows viewers around her shop and describes her process for making paper and fashioning it into her products: journals, cards, gift wrap, pens, plus other goods made of leather, such as keychains and bracelets. She even makes wedding invitations and other cards to order.

I spent a delightful time with her, enjoying her warmth and her obvious passion for all things paper. She shared with me the difficulties of trying to work during the pandemic, when business came to a standstill and even Venetians weren’t shopping in her store. She also lost nearly everything during the November 2019 flood; even though she lives nearby, she couldn’t reach her store quickly enough to save it. But she has persevered!

If you visit her shop, you’ll be impressed with the wide variety of arts she has conquered and offers to you. I couldn’t resist purchasing a few goodies for myself (and as gifts), and Elisabetta, generous to the core, gifted me one of her journals as well. When I return to Venice, I’ll be stopping by again!

Enjoy this interview where you can get to know Elisabetta a bit better.

I got to take home one of these gorgeous journals–of course, the one with the ferro on it!

When Venice lives most fully as itself, what does it look like?

Venice is a collection of islands, it has lived and lives on the sea. Its horizon has always moved; it has grown and then returned. Its ability to adapt has brought it here today. Venice is made of reflective lights, silences broken by bells, seagulls, steps from work and the voices of those who live there and pass by. Venice is not one, it is what it represents for each of us.

How do you or your work bring life to Venice? What gift do you bring?

I am a craftsman. The artisans built Venice, as the names of many calli say, but over time the population has decreased and the number of tourists has increased and this has changed the work. To satisfy the demand of this new audience, the work has been transformed. Before, a craftsman built useful and beautiful objects; now he pours the idea of ​​what has been into small objects that are easy to transport. Bringing home a piece of Venice is what the tourist asks for, and the resilience of many artisans remains in making all their knowledge small and light so that it can fit in a suitcase. In Venice there was the lowest rate of illiteracy thanks to the need to trade and communicate with people from all over the world. The paper I deal with was the indispensable support for recording any type of exchange. The production of paper did not take place in the city itself but in the inland territories that the Serenissima governed, where it brought distant knowledge to produce paper on its own. There was a lot of demand for paper of all kinds. Paper has changed the world if you think about it; computers or e-mails will not supplant it. The need moves the mind, and the hands satisfy it. You have to write, to remember, to bind, to keep together, to keep for the future–this is what I try to do in my small shop.  

Some of the many papers Elisabetta offers, including methods from Japan, Nepal, and African nations.

How does your work preserve Venice’s culture or history?

In my work I always try to bring a little of the past and a little of the present. The future is written by those who buy a notebook and fill it in.

What are one or two aspects of Venice’s culture that are your favorites?

Venice has always been welcoming as shown by the various Fondachi. I love the balance established in the exchange between give and take. We were Venetians first then Christians, meaning humans; it was a way of saying that did not define birth but a sense of belonging to a truly special place.

Which Venetians (living now or in the past) inspire you?

Many Venetians made this city great; good government (for those times) made it possible for many great people to settle here, making it even greater. It would be difficult to name just one, but the traveler Marco Polo made sure that the story of his life reached us; Marin Sanudo with his “Diaries;” Aldo Manuzio printer; but also great women like Elena Lucrezia Cornaro (Corner, born in 1646, theologian), the first woman to graduate in the world (in philosophy in Padua , “forced” nun); Rosalba Carriera, portrait painter and musician of extraordinary artistic talent (born in 1673, miniaturist on snuffbox); Elisabetta Caminer, shrewd journalist and columnist of her time (born in 1751, she founded the encyclopedic newspaper).

The leather notebooks make my hands ache to hold them.

What is your favorite place in Venice to be alone? To share with others? That no one should miss?

A place that I find fantastic is Punta della Dogana. You arrive and you can only stop to admire the meeting of the Grand Canal with the Giudecca Canal. A place to share, perhaps a rowing boat ride to enjoy a different point of view of the city and appreciate every hard-earned moment of rowing. Finally, a place that should not be missed: a view from the rooftops or from a bell tower. So three points of view: from the ground, from the water, from the sky.

If you could ask visitors to Venice to do one or two things to be better visitors, what would you ask for?

Respect, for oneself and for others, would be enough. For me, the best way is to mirror into each other, asking these questions: What am I looking for and what am I leaving?

Elisabetta shows off the exquisite details of her work.

And here is her interview in the original Italian. Elisabetta was very patient with me as I spoke Italian with her! Thank you to Luisella Romeo for translation help.

Quando Venezia vive pienamente come se stessa, che aspetto ha?

Venezia è un insieme di isole, ha vissuto e vive di mare.

Il suo orizzonte si è sempre spostato arricchito per poi tornare.

La sua capacità di adattarsi l’ha portata sin qui oggi.

Venezia è fatta di luci di riflessi, silenzi rotti dalle campane dai gabbiani dai passi dal lavoro e le voci di chi la vive e passa.

Venezia non è una è ciò che rappresenta per ognuno di noi.

Elisabetta shows off the transparency of her paper.

In che modo Lei o il suo lavoro portate la vita a Venezia? Che regalo porta?

Io sono un artigiano. Gli artigiani hanno costruito Venezia, lo dicono i nomi di tante calli, ma nel tempo è calata la popolazione e sono aumentati i turisti e questo ha modificato il lavoro.

Per accontentare la domanda di questo nuovo pubblico il lavoro si è trasformato.

Prima un artigiano costruiva oggetti utili e belli, ora riversa in piccoli oggetti facili da trasportare, l’idea di quel ch’è stato.

Portare a casa un pezzetto di Venezia è quel che il turista chiede e la resilienza di tanti artigiani resta nel far piccolo e leggero tutto il suo sapere perché possa stare in una valigia.

A Venezia c’era il minor tasso di analfabetismo grazie al bisogno di far scambi commerciali e comunicare con le genti di tutto il mondo, la carta di cui mi occupo era il supporto indispensabile per registrare ogni tipo di scambio. La produzione della carta non avveniva proprio in città ma nei territori dell’entroterra che la Serenissima governava a cui portava saperi lontani per produrre in proprio.

C’era tanta richiesta di carta di tutti i tipi. La carta ha cambiato il mondo se ci si riflette, non saranno il computer o le mail a soppiantarla.

Il bisogno muove le mente e le mani l’accontentano.

Bisogna scrivere, per ricordare, rilegare, per tenere insieme, conservare per il futuro, è questo che cerco di fare nella mia piccola bottega.

In che modo il suo lavoro preserva la cultura o la storia di Venezia?

Nel mio lavoro cerco sempre di portare un po’ del passato e un po’ del presente, il futuro lo scrive chi ha comprato un taccuino e lo riempie.

Quali sono uno o due aspetti della cultura di Venezia che preferisce?

Venezia è sempre stata accogliente lo dimostrano i vari Fondachi, adoro l’equilibrio stabilito nello scambio tra dare e avere.

Si è prima veneziani che cristiani, era un modo di dire che non definiva la nascita ma un senso di appartenenza a un posto davvero speciale.

An example of a commissioned card.

A quali veneziani (viventi ora o nel passato) si ispira?

Tanti i veneziani che con lungimiranza hanno fatto grande questa città, il buon governo (per quei tempi) ha fatto sì che tanti grandi personaggi vi si stabilissero facendola ancora più grande, sarebbe difficile dirne solo uno, ma il viaggiatore Marco Polo ha fatto in modo che giungesse a noi il racconto della sua vita, Marin Sanudo con i suoi “Diarii”, Aldo Manuzio stampatore, ma anche grandi donne come Elena Lucrezia Cornaro (Corner, nata nel1646, teologa) la prima donna laureata del mondo (in filosofia a Padova, monaca “forzata”), Rosalba Carriera ritrattista e musicista di straordinario talento artistico (nata nel 1673, miniaturista su tabacchiere), Elisabetta Caminer, sagace giornalista e opinionista dei suoi tempi (nata nel 1751, fondò il giornale enciclopedico).

 Qual è il suo posto preferito a Venezia per stare da solo? Da condividere con gli altri? Che nessuno dovrebbe mancare?

Un posto che trovo fantastico è punta della Dogana, arrivi e non puoi che fermarti ad ammirare l’incontro del Canal Grande con il Canale della Giudecca. Un posto da condividere, forse un giro in barca a remi per gustare un punto di vista della città diverso e apprezzare ogni momento guadagnato a fatica di remo. Infine un posto che non si dovrebbe mancare: una veduta dai tetti o da un campanile. Quindi tre punti di vista: da terra, da acqua, da cielo.

Se potessi chiedere ai visitatori di Venezia di fare una o due cose per essere visitatori migliori, cosa chiederesti?

Basterebbe il rispetto, per sé e per gli altri.

Per me il modo migliore è specchiarsi nell’altro, facendosi queste domande: cosa cerco e cosa lascio.

Pens, ink pots, wax seals–all can be found at Carteria ai Frari

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
This entry was posted in Italian heritage, Venetian artisans, Venice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to When Venice Lives: It Looks Like This–Carteria Ai Frari

  1. Nancy W Schwalen says:

    those journals are beautiful.

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