Marina Celano, Mask Artisan
Close to the historical Venetian fish market, yet off the beaten path, Marina welcomed us into her little and lovely masks shop. From the creation of the mold, until the finishing touches with feathers and gems, Marina puts her fine creativity and touch at work for the crafting of original, fine, and feminine masks.
In the respect of the ancient Venetian techniques, Marina creates her masks entirely by hand: starting with the creation of an initial mold, the second step is the making of the shape with the use of papier-mache and wallpaper glue put inside the mold. Once the mask has dried, layers of paint are applied to increase its strength and flexibility. At this point, the creative process begins, and Marina’s fantasy takes over. Ultimately some finishing touches are applied to embellish even further her creations, making every mask an original and unique piece.
Marina chose Venice and her work, the possibility to craft with her own hands, because this smaller reality keeps her and her family more grounded and connected to a human dimension that is vanishing so rapidly or already has disappeared in many other western cities.
Looking for a summer job, I began working as an assistant in a masks shop, but as in the best fairytales, I fell in love with this activity and decided to open my own workshop.
Hello, I’m Marina Celano. I live in Venice since 2000, when I got married and moved here. But I was born and grew in Mestre, so I’ve known the city ever since.
The techniques I use, are those of the Venetian tradition: gold and silver foil, gilding, decoupage.
So I can show masks with music notes, with sights of Venice. It’s all different possibilities of the decorative process. The base for every mask is the use of papier-mache. It all starts from the molds, well, actually the first step is creating a sculpture. Or in our case, we can use as a base the same masks we already have. Then, a gypsum cast is poured over it, in order to obtain the negative of the mask, in this case, I’m showing a cat.
“Cartapesta” (papier-mache) is obtained by soaking newspapers with wallpaper glue. After the use, it dries out and hardens. Nowadays, however, we work making use of “carta lana”. “Carta lana” is a kind of paper that contains many fibers, being, therefore, a very strong yet very flexible material. Once put inside of the mold and drenched with wallpaper glue, it hardens inside of it, it then gets extracted and is left drying up. For how long it depends on the weather, for we are dependant on it… Once it’s dry, the mask has to be cut out.
I can show you this: this one here is the mold of the “Colombina”, a classic mask, which is known as “le loup” in French or “eye-mask” in English. It’s the most classic one because it keeps the person’s face hidden but it’s also the easiest one to decorate, so it’s easy to create many variations adding feathers, flowers, or whatever we want.
This is the mask that comes out of the mold, with the different layers of papier-mache; once it’s dry, I have to cut out the eyes and the borders and start by painting it white to give more solidity: now the mask is ready.
It’s quite flexible, so it can be adapted to the face, and also light. From here, then, the decorative phase starts.
One summer, thanks to a friend, I started working in her shop as an assistant. Just like in stories, the assistant discovered such a strong passion for her new job that… well, I chose to work on my own, and stick to this activity because I really liked working with my hands, and decorating the masks: it was love at first sight
It’s the city I chose. I belong to those few that move from Mestre to Venice. I chose it first for my studies. I chose it for a living because Venice is a city that is still on very beautiful human scale.
Since 2007 and the global crisis, also in Venice I noticed what has happened in all the other big tourist cities: it has been invaded by a tourism without any control, a mass tourism that surely does bring something, but, let’s say it, it has more negative aspects than positive ones, for sure.
It’s… all the same, everything, for a hit-and-run consumerism. As we all know by now, this is what it is, a hit-and-run tourism and the shops adapted to it.
There are people that enter here by accident, and they ask me why my masks cost so much. So I show them: I start it, I finish it, I prepare it, I do everything: let’s suppose it takes me only 7 hours to craft it, how much would you pay me per hour?
Actually, it takes me much more, because I have to wait for the mask to dry, cut it out, set things up, and so on. The difference is all here: it is not a product mass produced by a machine in China
I really hope that the problem of managing the flows of tourism will be taken seriously, to avoid having Venice losing all its charm and to definitely sink, as it is doing now. I hope that something will change, as soon as possible.
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