Sunday, 29 January 2012


81. Venetian mask

I have bought many souvenirs, over the years, from Venice, my favourite city. The earliest purchases were of shoes, bought from small shops that sold custom and ready made shoes of the softest, jewel-coloured leathers. Sadly the shoemakers have now gone, but many other skills survive. The pleasure of shopping in Venice is that craftsmanship is still alive. In back rooms the paper makers, framers, glass blowers and mask makers are all busy producing their goods, skills passed down unbroken through the generations. Like every other tourist I have bought my fair share of embroidered and initialed handkerchiefs and mementos of Murano glass.
As well as sunshine we've also experienced a fair amount of rainfall in this city of water and one year we came home with an extremely large and elegant gentleman's umbrella. It was not remotely British, the fabric was a rather racy navy with brown spots and each metal spoke was tipped with wood to match the handle.
Now the city is awash with tourist tat, imported fabrics that are a dull echo of the work of previous years. Masks are big business. They vary from the traditional to the revolting to the magical. I bought this blank to decorate myself. It has been hanging on the wall of my workroom for years, a quiet presence, with a teardrop moulded into the papier-mache. Initially I had some complicated idea as to how I would paint it, but now I like it just as it is and it will remain unadorned.

I am usually disdainful of holiday souvenirs, but can hardly be so about those from Venice, after all I have bought so many! Half masks and full masks, vases, glass sweets and jigsaws, water carafes and ice-cream sundae dishes, the latter stretching my Italian vocabulary to the limit but improving my miming skills considerably.

82. Jigsaw of the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava.

Venice is a place for moving slowly, on foot through the myriad small alleyways, by boat up and down the canals. It gives a pace for looking, observing more closely, discovering all manner of small pleasures, the sounds of footsteps that have not been obliterated by the roar of car engines. You stroll along the same streets each day, you linger in a shop doorway, and you are tempted. It isn't possible to buy the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava, so beautiful on the Grand Canal, but you can take home the jigsaw that bears it's name.

83. Classical casts.

A ramshackle wooden box, bought years ago at auction for a few pounds, holds four layers of these delicate small casts, souvenirs from an era when people embarked on the 'grand tour'. They brought these items home as a reminder of the works of art that they had seen on their travels through Europe.

An old German book, 'Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums Etder Neuzeit' helped me to identify much of the subject matter and the source material.
Some of the pieces had perished and Peter set to work to reproduce the remainder whilst they were still sound.

Moulds were made, after which the fun really started. What materials to cast in, and what colours to choose? We made a mixture of resin, marble dust and pigments and worked alongside examples of different stones to imitate their qualities.

We were delighted with the results and had several pieces made into jewellery. We thought that we could sell these. 
We couldn't ! Our skills didn't extend to commerce, or any ability to make money. After the pleasure of making durable copies, followed by designing a letterhead and leaflet, our enthusiasm and salesmanship faded and our little gems were put away in a cupboard.

Stick to what you know!


  1. Two things rather surprise me here. Firstly that you couldn't find a market for your jewellery, and secondly that Monsieur Thomas Cades (?) should have written his blurb in French. I've always found those small medallions very attractive.

    You've just reminded me that I used to buy shoes when in Paris, aged between 18 and 20ish. I can also remember flying back from Miami (I was only in transit) amongst hoards of male UK tourists all wearing stacks of foam rubber Stetsons on their heads. Some had as many as ten. Oh dear!

    1. I'm glad that you are surprised about the jewellery, Cro, because we thought that it was lovely and were a bit miffed that so few seemed to share our opinion!

      My first memories of shopping in Paris are all about food!