A Modern-Day Impiraressa in Venice

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You may remember that I was a contributor to the Dream of Venice book of photography many years ago. You may not know that the book was a labor-of-love by JoAnn Locktov who I have become friends with over the years since she first contacted you about the beautiful book.

JoAnn is a frequent visitor in Italy and particularly Venice. She offered to send me some original pieces that she had written about her recent trips to the canal city, for publication here. This is the first installment. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


Thank you JoAnn Locktov, for sharing your experience with Italy Explained!

A Modern-Day Impiraressa

JoAnn Locktov

Photo by Evelyn Leveghi, Italian Stories. All rights reserved.

Impiraressa.

Now, slowly repeat the word.

Impiraressa.

It evokes images of imperial empresses and rolls off the tongue. It is actually the Venetian term for beadstringer.

Murano’s productions were not all intended for immediate pleasure. Glass blowers also made the humble bead. Before they could be packed into crates and shipped around the globe, each piece of glass had to be strung.

This was the work of women. While the men worked on building the ships that would conquer the east and west, women sat outside in the dimming light and created a linear shape from glass no larger than a seed.

Photo by Evelyn Leveghi, Italian Stories. All rights reserved.

photo by Evelyn Leveghi, all rights reserved

Marisa Convento has become a modern impiraressa. She elevated the bead-stringer’s status to that of an artisan.

Stringing beads is a necessary function. It is possible to create flowers, embroidery, or adornments. Marisa will guide you through Italian Stories if you’re curious.

Shoes with leather soles are her preference, not insubstantial heels. She walks with confidence and a sense of direction. We go to the Castello, near the Arsenale. Here was where the impiraressa from Venice worked. They counted beads, strung cotton thread with long needles and chatted. They went on strike when they were unable to feed their children with the meagre wages.

Photo by Evelyn Leveghi, Italian Stories. All rights reserved.

Photo by Evelyn Leveghi, Italian Stories. All rights reserved.

Marisa will accompany you to the votive display, where saints are sheltered in sotoportegos offering protection and grace. She will tell you that child labor was forbidden. She will show you the exact doors where women used to sit with their laps full of glass by comparing photographs from the early 20th century.

The history and development of the impiraressa are closely linked to that of the Arsenale, the history of Venice. The Republic’s success was due to the skill of its workers.

Heritage will eventually crumble if you eliminate one type of expertise, such as the sail maker, rope maker, wood carver, bead stringer or weaver, the remer and the cobbler.

Respect the artisans. They are able to preserve the traditions that keep Venice alive.

Photo by Evelyn Leveghi, Italian Stories. All rights reserved.

JoAnn Locktov founded Bella Figura Publications. This independent imprint publishes a series of photography books, including Dream of Venice as well as Dream of Venice Architectural. These books are about Venice as a modern living city.

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4 Responses to “A Modern-Day Impiraressa In Venice”

  • It is nice to see these artisans still pursuing their craft.

  • Jill Kerby said:

    The Impiraressa works tirelessly in her small jewel box in Campo San Angelo. I cannot wait to return there in March. Her signature design, the coral bead pendants and bead necklaces are distinctive.

    • Jess has the following:

      Her work is truly stunning. JoAnn’s article has inspired me to visit her shop during my next Venice trip. Jill, thanks for the kind words!

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