The Art of the Bead Stringer: Keeping a Venetian Tradition Alive

Venice – In a studio the color of red damask, Marisa Convento recounts the story of Venice while stringing the tiniest of beads onto the thinnest of needles.

Marisa, one of the few “impiraresse” (or bead stringers) who has remained active in the Venetian Lagoon, tells of how she discovered Venice through the beads – the murrine, the millefiori, the rosettes, the aventurine. Upon leaving her studio, on the Calle della Mandola, one feels guilty wearing a beaded necklace without knowing its name.
Storiedichi_Impiraressa_Venezia_wm_03From Africa, to the Americas, to Asia, Venetian beads have always been considered a precious commodity and a symbol of royalty. “I started working as a bead stringer at the age of 45, transforming something that was a life’s passion into a livelihood,” says Marisa Convento.

In her shop, among boxes full of photographs, books, and wires, there is an entire world – her own, but also that of an ancient tradition that lives on in spite of the “low cost” (inexpensive, mass produced) beads that have invaded the Venice market. L’impiraressa Marisa Convento has always been enamored with beads, small treasures that are still the protected domain of a skillful realm of women.
Storiedichi_Impiraressa_wm_04For centuries, until the Sixties, the bead stringers’ technique was the birthright of girls and women of all ages whom one could find stringing their beads along the narrow streets of Venice, seated on a chair with their “sessola” (a wooden box that contained the contourine) packed with beads. But after Venice’s great flood of 1966 and the decrease in population that ensued, as well as the simultaneous evolution of women’s roles and life styles, the art of the bead stringer lost many of its devoted creators.

“The way in which I learned the foundations for this art was rather bizarre – from a former Venetian bead stringer who moved to Padua and into the same apartment building where my sister-in-law lived,” recounts Marisa. “With a string of beads in hand, she said to us, ‘Listen closely because I don’t have any time to waste.’ After a few minutes, we learned the three basic moves to make a flower petal.”

Her success came in time, thanks to the passion and experience that Marisa Convento also cultivated during her time working as a reseller of Bevilacqua fabrics. In the workshop of this Venetian impiraressa, and in the antique and modern beads lovingly made by bead makers like Alessia Fuga, who is Marisa’s supplier, the Venice of the Venetians has been restored.

“To be able to continue this craft in a city dominated by Murano glass is a privilege,” says Marisa. “But it is also a vocation, a mission, and a test of strength that I carry with me on a daily basis, believing that Venice needs to be reunited with its beauty and its history.