The story is true, and, just like in the story, it comes true when you least expect it. Especially in Venice...where it is becoming increasingly tricky to find the real handmade Venetian products buried beneath all the chotsky that is imported into the Venice from abroad. The very best Venetian products really are reserved for those who wander into small shops, on small streets, that look like “nothing” from the outside. And inside, like as not, there is another generation of masters of their crafts.
The famous arts of Venice include glass works, lace and, of course, carnival masks. There are, scattered throughout the islands of the lagoon, forth and fifth generation masters of these crafts; true artists who have preserved the traditions of the islands while at the same time revolutionizing the form and styles of the pieces they create. Unfortunately, there are also chotsky shops jam-packed with imported mass produced glass and masks and these last actually occupy the retail space nearest to the main tourist attractions in the city. So how can you find your treasure, write your own story and avoid being cheated of your true Italian artisan experience?
Some of the handmade Venetian treasures most in demand in Venice are carnival masks. So, here are a few tips about how to buy an authentic Venetian carnival mask in Venice:
- Look for a signature, stamp or sticker representing the shop or the artist.
- Look for shops that have original and unique pieces on display. Mask makers are artists. They may produce several masks in traditional designs, but they will also have designed and made pieces that are entirely their own.
- Test the materials. Carnival masks can be made of any number of materials nowadays- metal, lace, ceramic- but most are still made of paper machee.
- Look for the imperfections that make it perfect. Since Venetian carnival masks are individually handmade, you can expect that even masks of the same style or theme will be slightly different.
- Ask about it. Venetian artists take pride in their work and they appreciate you taking an interest. They will happily tell you all about it.
- And finally, a workbench in the shop, or a workshop next door or across the way is a very good sign!
The mask I am wearing here comes from Atelier Flavia. Flavia is not only a mask-maker, but a full service carnival atelier who hand makes entire carnival dresses and suits. Flavia's shop is in the tiny Corte Specchiera, near Campo San Lio, and yes it looks like “nothing” from the outside.