Friday, 13 March 2015

Venetian stories: Marisa and her glass beads

Marisa workshop in sestiere San Marco 

Venice is small. it has the size of a town. but, behind any door, an entire world could open up for you, like stepping in Marisa's workshop, in sestiere San Marco
quirky wallpaper, old books, pictures, necklaces, china porcelain cups filled with glass beads, coral branches made of glass beads, velvet slippers embroidered with glass beads. glass beads everywhere! a small, colorful world. and Marisa sits in the middle of it, her desk well lighted by an old fashion chandelier and a lamp, her hands weaving, embroidering, stitching fast, among hundreds of small variously shaped and colored beads. 

murano glass beads 
Marisa showing me the old way to thread  the typical venetian glass beads known as conterie
today i am in Marisa workshop to know something more about the smallest kind of traditional glass beads made in Venice: the conterie.

in Venice, the word conteria indicates a small round seed bead made of glass in different colors, that was used to make necklaces, flowers, embroidery.

but another interesting aspect has caught my attention: the conterie were also used during the time of the Venice republic for trade, instead of cash, so they travelled all around the world, as we can now recognize them in native americans embroideries, and in some corners of Asia and Africa, too. they were expecially popular during the roaring twenties, when many flapper dresses had decorations and fringes made of conterie {just look at the costumes of the Great Gatsby, Boardwalk Empire or Downton Abbey!}.

this is the way the conterie were sold 
they were sold in a bunch-like bundle. they had to be already thread into a string to be sold: otherwise it would be impossible for buyers to see if they were pierced or not. because if they were not, they would be useless. so, the Murano factories were in need of someone who thread them.

long needles used to thread the conterie

have you ever seen a conteria? they are s m a l l.

so this was a long, boring job. from the XIX century, until the 1960s, it had been made by women, called impiraresse.

most part of these women lived in the sestiere Castello {see Venezia introduction  here}, as usually they were wives, mothers and daughters of men working at the Venetian arsenal {arsenalotti}, which was (and is) located there.
the impiraresse carried out their threading work from home. they were poorly paid and their houses were poorly lit, so they used to work outside, sitting on a chair, with the beads and the needles in a box on their knees.
there are many vintage photographs picturing them, sitting in small groups, working, singing and {i presume} gossiping a lot :)

impiraresse at work | source 

impiraresse ad work | picture of Tommaso Filippi (venetian photographer 1852-1912) source

Marisa considers herself a contemporary impiraressa. she works from her shop near San Marco threading and embroidering, making small pieces of glass art

the impiraresse story is mostly unknown and untold, and their art has almost disappeared. i didn't know anything about that before meeting Marisa, who welcomed me in her workshop and the took me out for a walk in sestiere Castello to tell me the impiraresse story and show me the places where they worked.

Marisa showing me the work the old impiraresse used to do

it was an amazing day, and i have someone to thank for that.
i met Marisa through the new website Italian Stories, a smart idea that combines the new media to the old craftmanship
Italian Stories collects artisans throughout all Italy, and gives you the chance to book your visit to their workshops, to live an authentic experience and to understand more about their personal story and the one of this wonderful wonderful Country.
see Marisa profile in the website here

i'd like to have something like Italian Stories in every country i visit, in order to meet people with precious skills that have to be preserved and handed down.

Murano glass beads and conterie in Marisa's workshop (and look at that porcupine shaped pincushion in the back!
how lovely is that?)


  1. Wow! La prossima volta che vado a Venezia ho finalmente qualcosa di nuovo da vedere :)

    1. evviva Sabrina! sono contenta di essere stata d'aiuto! fammi sapere come va :)

  2. Oh Silvia, che bellezza! Con il tuo post sono arrivati tutti i colori di Venezia qui a Milano, rendendola meno grigia. Grazie, mi fai sentire meno lontana dalla città più bella del mondo :)

    1. Venezia ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
      (tra l'altro ho scattato queste fotografie in una meravigliosa giornata di ormai diverse settimane fa. anche a me quindi fa un po' lo stesso effetto, del tipo : AWW DEVO TORNARE A VENEZIA)

  3. Ci hai fatto conoscere un aspetto particolare di Venezia e della sua tradizione! E poi... bellissime fotografie!

    1. grazie!! italian stories è una miniera di queste chicche :)

  4. È da tempo che medito un week end a Venezia: ora ne ho ancora più voglia!! ;)

    1. fammi sapere in caso! andiamo a mangiarci qualche buon cicchetto ;)

    2. Certo!! Così mi fai da guida locale (che è la cosa che preferisco per scoprire veramente una città!). Buona serata!!


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