Venice: The Venician Beads are Speaking…………………

“Tuttifruttii” each bead is different
Click, Click …………. I hear this rhythmic sound as I walk with Marisa Convento in the residential neighborhood historically known for the ‘bead stringers’, the impiraresse.   

As the beads tap against each other, they produce a music. Marisa tells me she never leaves home without ‘the beads’ and the one time she forgot them, the beads had to be delivered to her!

Jewelry designers and bead historian: Marisa Convent
Photo from Italian Stories website
Click, Click, Click
 I met with Marisa on two different occasions during this trip to Italy. Although a very busy designer, she stopped her work to share with me her passion for Venice and the important history of Venetian glass beads.

This was a history lesson that wove a ‘string’ between international trade hundreds of years ago and how glass beads exported from Venice impacted the lives of Venetian women.  
Leaving the crowds to head towards the Arsenale.
  On my second visit,  Marisa met me near St Marks early one morning before the thousands of tourists arrived. We strolled along the lagoon towards the area of the Arsenale and the Biennale Pavilions. (note:  only St Marks is a square)
The landscape of Venice changes as you get away from the historic center. We passed shops that sold cheese, meats, the coffee roaster, a bakery, local Venetians supporting the residents in a world of large supermarkets.   Without my camera we could have been seen as two acquaintances out for a walk.

I have only been ‘lost’ in this part of the city once so I was happy to return with an expert. I love to watch Venetians transverse their city with ease, never looking at the few street signs, just knowing when to turn left or right.

As we turned down one of the side streets everything changed. We were in the neighborhood where Venetians live. It was a hot sunny day so laundry was hung across every passageway, a colorful display of family flags!
The extreme heat wave hitting Venice this week, kept most of the locals walking on the shady side of the street and spending time in the massive park near this part of the island. Marisa had a great deal to show me and tell me about the ‘bead stringers‘ in every campi (courtyard) we visited.  

Click, click, the beads continue to sing as we walk through the neighborhoods

The daily shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables is centrally located on a former boat parked in the canal at the center of the neighborhood. Not much has changed over the decades. The small campi in the neighborhoods are still the center of the community. 

A former city well now covered, sits in a prominent place within the neighborhood campo.   You will see these throughout Venice, some larger than others, some with intricate carvings and heavy metal lids.
  • Marisa explained that the women had to bring water to their homes twice a day for cooking, washing and laundry. Gathering at the well may have given them a few moments to chat while waiting to fill their buckets.   

      The women had large families and many exhausting duties        at home yet they still took on bead work for the small amount of money it would contribute to the family. 

More fascinating  to me were the corner shrines tucked into walls or over archways. We saw several and some had interesting stories. Each shrine is taken care of by an appointed neighbor. Flowers and lights embellish most of the shrines. One was totally renovated and the largest we saw that day had an interesting history.

One of the neighbors living a few doors from this shrine told us there is a communal prayer “Il Rosario di Maggio” service every week. Neighbors in this campo come together and pray the rosary.  They form a procession to visit other  shrines in the surrounding campi.  

Look closely and you will see the same shrine in this photo of the early 1900’s that Marisa shared with me.   The women in the photo are ‘bead stringers’.      

During my tour of the neighborhood that once housed many impiraressi, Marisa shared wonderful anecdotes about the strong guilds that were prominent in the area:   la pegola, the caulkers, those that worked with tar,  the carpenters who always carried  their tools with them, were ‘on call’ at any time for a repair and the rope makers, all guilds vital to the shipping industry.  Streets are even named after the trades the residents practiced.   

The neighborhood women spent whatever daylight hours that were not devoted to children or household chores, stringing the very small glass beads made in Murano.  

Above is a tray of seed beads and the multi needle tool that was passed through the tray of beads.  As the needles filled with beads they were passed down to the strings attached to the needles.    The more proficient the woman stringer, the more needles she used.  

Beads were easier to ship around the world when uniformally packaged in this way……another entire history lesson you shall hear when you join one of Marissa’s tours.   (see below).

She will share the history and importance of the smallest of glass beads made in Murano, strung by hard working women, the beads that would be traded and used for ball dresses, costumes, beaded bags, beaded jewelry and flowers.

One of the original designs at Marissa’s studio.  Photo from her web site
 On your next visit to Venice don’t be a tourist, experience part of the life of Venezia.   Venice is a living museum that has much to tell you.  

All the great adventures listed below are available through:

Italian Stories

The Hidden Beads of Venice
Visit the secrets of the bead stringers

Beads in Family Workshop
A family friendly event that is a hands on experience

Midnight Beads in Venice
An evening event that shows you Venice in a different ‘light’

And you may hear the click of the beads

From Marisa Convento’s web site

“My name is Marisa Convento, I am an Impiraressa, venetian traditional word for what I do: inventing  jewelery, embroidery, flowers and corals with fine venetian glass beads and rare vintage seed beads. My Venetian Dreams are strung for you and for the love of Venice, the city where I live, dream and work

I was the guest of Marisa Convento, who I want to thank for her time and extensive knowledge of Venetian history.   Her passion for her art and her city is contagious.

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

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