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5 Things to Buy in Venice

by Lesley Peterson

When it comes to the arts, Venice is both ancient and new. An energetic contemporary scene inspires local artists to constantly reinvent traditional Venetian crafts. Meeting designers and craftspeople in their studios is a great way to learn about and support Venice’s artisanal heritage.

If you’re after a souvenir to bring home from Venice, look for:

Masks

Centuries ago, masks were worn year-round in Venice, permitting wearers to sneak off to romantic liaisons, avoid creditors and otherwise discreetly get in and out of mischief. In the 18th century, Carnevales were heydays of disguise and most Venetian masks today are inspired by that era of cloaks, Casanova and Commedia dell’Arte. Variations on the eerie white Volto are typical.

In Dorsoduro, Ca’Macana offers fine decorative and Carnival masks made of traditional papier mâché. The shop provided the gilt mask worn by Tom Cruise in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut. They also offer mini-workshops, if you’d like to make your own.

What to Buy in Venice

Art Glass

Vases swirling with lagoon blues and greens, playful Harlequins, chic jewellery—the range and quality of Venetian glass is extraordinary. The island of Murano has been home to glass blowers and their secret techniques for over a thousand years.

Check out the Museo del Vetro, then check out the fornaci (‘furnaces’) along the Fondamenta dei Vetrai. Consorzio Promovetro Murano lists glass-blowing factories that welcome visitors. Wherever you buy, look for the Vetro Artistico Murano label issued by the Regione Veneto; it’s the official guarantee of authenticity.

Travel Journals

Fine stationery items are a Venetian specialty, often incorporating carta marmorizzata, or marbled paper. This old technique involves creating patterns in pigments that float on treated water. Paper is placed on the water to pick up the pattern, which ripples with aquatic effect. The artistry doesn’t stop at handbound sketchbooks and journals. At Carté, former manuscript restorer Rosanna Corrò fashions her modern carta marmorizzata into rings, necklaces, purses and more.

Fashion

From the delicate tracery of Burano lace to the towering Renaissance velvet platforms called chopines, Venetians have always loved high style and luxe fabrics. At non-profit Banco Lotto 10, fabric donated by famous Venetian textile houses such as Fortuny is turned into garments designed and sewn by inmates of a local women’s prison. With all purchases funding further career training, Banco Lotto 10 is a great place to buy or rent Carnival costumes.

What to Buy in Venice

Custom Oarlocks

Venetian forcole, or oarlocks, are uniquely suited to the standing style of Venetian rowing and must be customized to the rower’s height and weight. Why would you order a custom oarlock if you don’t have a personal gondola to attach it to? Because they make handsome, sculptural conversation pieces and because Mick Jagger has one. Mick’s was made by Saverio Pastor, in Dorsoduro. The workshop also sells scale models.

If you’re too busy poking about palazzos to track down specific specialty shops, don’t worry. Marco Polo airport offers a last chance to pick up quality made-in-Venice mementos. Resist the temptation to buy items exposed to the elements at outdoor stalls. They, like Marco Polo himself, may have travelled all the way from China. With slightly more investment, you can bring home the real thing.