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Venice Master Artisans

Book Review
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Examples of Artisan Profiles

Thirty craftsmen are profiled in Venice Master Artisans, with several pages of photos and text devoted to each. Here are just a few of the artisans you'll read about in Norbert Heyl and Cristina Gregorin's richly illustrated book:

photoBeatrice Perini is a "painter, sculptress, creator of papier-māché masks and a teacher" who designs hand-painted china dolls with expressions that are almost uncanny in their realism. Cristina Gregorin writes: "Her dolls are made painstakingly down to the very last detail: the clay model is made in separate pieces, after which the work on the joints is carried out ... A few weeks later, once the cast has dried out completely, liquid porcelain clay is poured into it. ... A couple of months are required to complete a doll."

photoThom Price is an American gondola-maker who lives in Venice. Ms. Gregorin explains: "At the time of the Republic not all squerarioli, or boat-builders, were born here. Many came from the mountain areas and being expert wood-carvers they did not find it very difficult to learn this craft. Thom Price has continued this tradition, because he was born in the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina." After learning to build fishing boats in Maine, Price obtained a grant to spend a year in a Venetian squero before setting up a gondola boatyard of his own.

photoAglaia and Adriana Minelli are two sisters who hand-print velvet fabrics. In her profile of the Minellis, Cristina Gregorin writes: "Great lengths of iridiscent fabric, mostly featuring geometrical or flower patterns, are draped casually over chairs or hang on the walls in the vast rectangular room. ... During the actual printing stage, when Aglaia and Adriana stand in front of each other, on opposite sides of the large table with the fabric stretched out between them, they have to work 'like two acrobats on a tightrope', to make sure that the succession of prints made with the block matches perfectly."

photoMario Valese, owner of the only surviving foundry in Venice, "learnt how to melt metals as a child. Strolling through the city, Valese brass can be seen everywhere in bells, door-knockers, bras plates and the faceplates of locks. They have made many ornamental items and collector's items, such as his famous Saint Mark's Lions, which are also used as awards for the Venice Film Festival. The most seen of all are, however, the seahorses, which decorate many gondolas." (Interestingly enough, when the Gran Teatro La Fenice burned down in 1996, "his playbill frames were among the few things that were not lost, since bronze only melts at 1000°C.")

photoRuggero and Lucio Orsoni are brothers whose family has produced glass mosaic tessarae since 1888. Their small firm "is currently able to produce as many as somewhere between 4 and 5 thousand shades. Ruggero seems to have inherited his ancestor's talent for alchemy; when he prepares the mixtures for the vitreous pastes, he shuts himself into his workshop and works away there on his own. Lucio, on the other hand, is a mosaic worker, and in addition to designing mosaic decorations for customers, he is also a renowned artist and creates abstract compositions, in which the possibilities of mosaic work are exploited to the full."

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