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Venezi'Arte

Muriel Balensi's Glass Bead Workshop

Muriel Balensi of Venezi'Arte

ABOVE: Muriel Balensi uses a gas torch to melt glass for a handmade bead.

Glass beads and necklaces are everywhere in Venice, but not all beads are the same. Some are manufactured by factories on the island of Murano, using industrial processes; others are imported from mass producers in countries such as China; and the best are made by hand, one at a time, by artisans like Muriel Balensi of Venezi'Arte.

Murano glass canesMs. Balensi's studio is in Castello, a few minutes' walk from the Piazza San Marco. At a worktable in one corner of the studio, the personable young artist uses a gas-fired lamp to melt the tips of Murano glass "canes" (thin cylinders shaped like solid glass drinking straws) before cutting off the tips and shaping the softened glass into individual beads or "pearls."

Muriel BalensiSome Venezi'Arte beads are simple, while others are multicolored creations--often with rounded protrusions or bumps--that are made by combining  glass from several canes. (An elaborate bead or perla can require up to 40 minutes of hand labor.)

Although the beadmaking process is time-consuming and the Murano glass canes can cost upwards of 100 euros per kilo, Venezi'Arte's prices are surprisingly reasonable: perhaps 25 to 50 euros for an attractive ready-made necklace. The shop also sells Ms. Balensi's abstract glass-bead sculptures and a small selection of clothing and accessories.

Glass beadmakingIf you're just looking for an inexpensive but high-quality souvenir, Ms. Balensi will make you a small custom necklace or pendant from individual beads that you select, charging only for the beads plus a euro or so for stringing. You can easily walk out of the studio with a delightful memento of your Venice trip for five to 10 euros. (See a sample on page 2 of this article.)

For larger, captioned photos of Muriel Balensi at work, see page 2. And for directions with maps to help you find the workshop, go to page 3 of this article. 

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