The Art of Glass Beads

Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

 

17th December 2020: a major event in Venice History! The Art of Glass Beads became officially  enlisted as Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage.

 

Official Video by Unesco

This is an amazing achievement not only for the Art of Glass Beads from Venice, but for the art and the know-how of Glass beads from all over the world!

In the last few days everyone has been talking about this, but many times the talk was centered around Venetian Glass Beads. I wanted to clarify the point, as the people involved in achieving this great goal have been trying to do, that is it not about the Venetian glass bead in itself, but the Know-how in making glass beads” and the links to the communities of the world.

 

art of glass beads
Creation of a perla fiorata, flowered bead. Perlera Antonella Rossi. Photo by C. Ottica

 

So, who better to explain it clearly than the people who have worked so hard for so many years (since 2013) to reach this incredible recognition, that is the Comitato per la Salvaguardia dell’Arte delle Perle di Vetro Veneziane!

I put some questions to Claudia Cottica, anthropologist of the Comitato, Marisa Convento, vice-president, Muriel Balensi, counselor and Alessia Fuga, counselor –  huge thanks to all of them for the commitment and hard work! And a big thank you to Cristina Bedin, the president of the Comitato for all her hard work and having coordinated this very important project: I did not dare ask her for some more of her time to answer my questions, because I know she was overwhelmed by the media asking her for interviews!

This is a very long post because I decided to give a voice to each one of these women – enjoy it!

 

The long process to get recognised 

 

CLAUDIA COTTICA, anthropologist of the CPVV ( Comitato Per la Salvaguardia dell’Arte delle Perle di Vetro Veneziane)

Thank you Claudia for accepting to answer my questions – I decided to enclose also her answers in Italian, for clarity.

 

cmotato per la salvaguardia
Waiting for the positive answer by Unesco – ph by CPVV

 

  • When, by whom, how but, above all, why did the long and hard path for the art of glass beads to obtain the enlisting in the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage begin?

In 2017 I was contacted by the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Art of Venetian Glass Beads, to join in, as an anthropologist, to the candidacy project of the Art of the Glass Beads as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

The Committee, which represents the community of Venetian holders, had already started this path in 2013 through the first contacts with UNESCO-Rome and other initiatives, driven by the need to see the art of its members recognized: perlere e perleri (bead makers), impiraresse (bead stringers), threaders, grinders and glass masters.

 

art of glass beads
Creation of a millefiori bead. Perlera Giuliana Rioda for Ercole Moretti. Photo by C. Cottica

 

In the meantime, the ties, the continuous exchanges with the French community of Perliers d’Art de France, led the two communities to plan a joint candidacy process. In October 2017, Dr. Cristina Bedin, President of the Committee, and I presented a formal application to proceed with the joint candidacy to the UNESCO-Rome National Commission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An important moment was the decision, as UNESCO requires for multinational candidacies, of a leader, in this case Italy was the leader country.

In February 2018, the working group, called the Steering Committee, was set up, composed of figures with different skills: Dr. Cristina Bedin, as coordinator, Dr. Eliana Argine and myself as anthropologists, Dr. Maria Teresa Sega as historian.

The group was completed with four members of the detaining community: Marisa Convento and Luisa Conventi (impiraresse), Muriel Balensi and Cristina Sfriso (perlere).

The heterogeneous composition of the group is important: it is in fact essential that the process of drafting the dossier sees the active participation of the community of holders, since they are the proponents of the candidacy, accompanied by more specialized figures such as, in this case, the anthropologist and the historian.

Only the joint work of everyone allowed the preparation of a valid and timely dossier. The work was supervised by the UNESCO Office of MIBACT which has the task of technical and scientific coordination and supports the community in the long path characterized by numerous meetings both of the Venetian side and also the international one with the French community and the Italian and French ministerial officials (Dr. Luisa Montevecchi, Dr. Elena Sinibaldi, M.me Isabelle Chave). Every aspect of the dossier had to be discussed together, written and rewritten several times. We had also to produce photographic documentation and a video, L ’Art de la Perle de Verre, to be attached to the dossier. For the Italian part, we have also compiled a special MEPI inventory sheet published by the Central Institute for Cataloging and Documentation. Throughout the project, we also organized meetings with the keeper community to keep them constantly updated and make all decisions by mutual agreement.

In March 2019 the dossier was concluded and was deposited, signed by the ambassadors, at UNESCO Paris. Since that moment, the dossier has undergone an evaluation phase by an ad hoc body that decides, solely and exclusively on the basis of what is presented in the dossier, if the item is worthy of being reported as a possible candidate for registration. This phase is crucial because it is possible that the practice will be sent back to make changes within a set time or be discarded. In our case the dossier was positively evaluated and brought on December 2020 before the 15th UNESCO ICH Intergovernmental Commission.

The practice was submitted to the Commission on 17th December 2020 and judged, also on this second occasion, worthy: the Art of the Glass Bead was registered on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (15.COM 8b34) without any objection from the members of the Commission (not a foregone conclusion).

 

art of glass beads
Realization of a glass bead in imitation of hard stone. Perler Alessandro Moretti. Photo by C. Cottica

 

The dossier received praise from the Assessment Body for its timely drafting, for its ability to communicate the intangible aspects of the candidate element and for how communities can play a central role during the application process. I would like to emphasize that this year the evaluation body has judged very positively the increase in multinational candidacy proposals, which, in line with the UNESCO ICH Convention, stimulate cooperation, mutual understanding and the process of dialogue between communities. The Art of the Glass Beads fits perfectly into this spirit of sharing and inclusiveness.

Nel 2017 sono stata contattata dal Comitato per la Salvaguardia dell’Arte delle Perle di Vetro Veneziane, per unirmi, in qualità di antropologa, al progetto di candidatura dell’Arte della Perla di Vetro a patrimonio culturale intangibile UNESCO. Il Comitato, che rappresenta la comunità di detentori veneziani, aveva già nel 2013 iniziato questo percorso attraverso i primi contatti con UNESCO-Roma e altre iniziative, spinto dall’esigenza di veder riconosciuta l’Arte dei suoi membri: perlere, perleri, impiraresse, infilatori, molatori e maestri del vetro.

Nel frattempo, i legami, i continui scambi con la comunità francese dei Perliers d’Art de France, hanno portato le due comunità a progettare un percorso di candidatura congiunto. A ottobre 2017, io e la Dott.ssa Cristina Bedin, Presidente del Comitato abbiamo presentato domanda formale per procedere con la candidatura congiunta alla Commissione Nazionale UNESCO-Roma presso il Ministero degli Esteri. Un momento importante è stata la decisione, come richiede UNESCO per le candidature multinazionali, di un capofila, in questo caso l’Italia era il Paese capofila. A febbraio 2018 si è istituito il gruppo di lavoro, denominato Comitato di Pilotaggio, composto da figure con diverse competenze: la Dott.ssa Cristina Bedin, coordinatrice, io e la Dott.ssa Eliana Argine antropologhe, la Dott.ssa Maria Teresa Sega storica. Il gruppo si è completato con quattro membri della comunità detentrice: Marisa Convento e Luisa Conventi (impiraresse), Muriel Balensi e Cristina Sfriso (perlere). La composizione eterogenea del gruppo è importante: è fondamentale infatti che il processo di redazione del dossier veda la partecipazione attiva della comunità dei detentori, dato che sono loro i proponenti della candidatura, accompagnati da figure più specializzate come, in questo caso, l’antropologa e la storica. Soltanto il lavoro congiunto di tutti ha permesso la redazione di un dossier valido e puntuale. I lavori sono stati seguiti dall’Ufficio UNESCO del MIBACT che ha il compito del coordinamento tecnico e scientifico e affianca la comunità nel lungo percorso caratterizzato da numerose riunioni e incontri sia della sola parte veneziana, sia internazionali con la comunità francese e i funzionari ministeriali italiani e francesi (Dott.ssa Luisa Montevecchi, Dott.ssa Elena Sinibaldi, M.me Isabelle Chave). Ogni aspetto del dossier doveva essere discusso insieme, scritto e riscritto più volte. Abbiamo inoltre realizzato una documentazione fotografica e un video L’Art de la Perle de Verre, da allegare al dossier. Per la parte italiana abbiamo anche compilato una apposita scheda inventariale MEPI pubblicata dall’Istituto Centrale per la Catalogazione e la Documentazione. Durante tutto il progetto, abbiamo anche organizzato incontri con la comunità di detentori per tenerli costantemente aggiornati e prendere tutte le decisioni di comune accordo. A marzo 2019 il dossier era concluso ed è stato depositato, firmato dagli ambasciatori, a UNESCO Parigi. Da quel momento il dossier ha passato una fase di valutazione da parte di un Organismo ad hoc che decide, solo ed esclusivamente in base a quanto presentato nel dossier, se l’elemento è meritevole di essere segnalato come possibile candidato all’iscrizione. Questa fase è cruciale perché è possibile che la pratica venga rimandata indietro per effettuare delle modifiche entro un tempo stabilito o venga scartata. Nel nostro caso il dossier è stato valutato positivamente e portato a Dicembre 2020 di fronte alla 15° Commissione Intergovernativa UNESCO ICH. La pratica è stata sottoposta alla Commissione il 17 dicembre 2020 e giudicata, anche in questa seconda occasione, meritevole: l’Arte della Perla di Vetro è stata iscritta alla Lista Rappresentativa del patrimonio culturale intangibile dell’umanità (15.COM 8b34) senza alcuna obiezione da parte dei membri della Commissione (aspetto non scontato). Il dossier ha ricevuto un elogio da parte dell’Organismo di valutazione per la sua puntuale redazione, per la sua capacità di comunicare gli aspetti immateriali dell’elemento candidato e per come le comunità possono avere un ruolo centrale durante il percorso di candidatura. Tengo a sottolineare che quest’anno l’organismo di valutazione ha giudicato molto positivamente l’aumento delle proposte di candidatura multinazionali le quali, in linea con la Convenzione UNESCO ICH, stimolano la cooperazione, la mutua comprensione e il processo di dialogo tra comunità. L’Arte della Perla di Vetro si inserisce perfettamente in questo spirito di condivisione e inclusività.

 

  • The Art of the Glass Bead is now Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Unesco 2020, you added: living heritage – why did you want to point this out – why is this distinction so important?

To understand what a candidacy for the UNESCO Representative List of intangible heritage means, it is first of all necessary to slide from a monumental paradigm to a living paradigm, from the paradigm of protection that restores and preserves, to that of safeguarding that requires vitality and constant evolution of tradition.

An element registered as an intangible cultural heritage must face a very important problem: that of spreading as much as possible a greater awareness of the very meaning of intangible cultural heritage. In the case of the Art of the Glass Bead, not the object itself, the glass bead, has been declared a World Heritage Site, but the know-how.

 

art of glass beads
Glass bead grinding. Cavagnis grinder. Photo by C. Cottica

 

This is a very important difference. We speak of a set of inseparable aspects: representations, practices, knowledge, techniques, tools, artifacts, associated cultural spaces, values, memories, skills, and sensitivity. Highlighting only one aspect is inaccurate. The UNESCO ICH Convention of 2003 was in fact created to give visibility to the so-called living heritage. People who constantly create and recreate intangible cultural heritage and pass it on from generation to generation. It is a dynamic concept, which sees tradition innovating, changing, transforming precisely because it is a living heritage. For the Art of the Glass Bead we must focus attention on creative processes not on products, on practices not on objects, on the transmission of knowledge not on conservation, on the importance of increasing awareness of its value among the younger generations, on the sense of belonging to a specific community. The keywords become practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, know-how, skills, identity, memories that are associated with tools, objects, artifacts and places: the material aspects are deeply correlated with the immaterial ones and NOT separable from people.

Per capire cosa significa una candidatura alla Lista Rappresentativa del patrimonio intangibile UNESCO bisogna prima di tutto scivolare da un paradigma monumentale a un paradigma vivente, dal paradigma della protezione che restaura e conserva, a quello della salvaguardia che esige vitalità e costante evoluzione della tradizione. Un elemento iscritto come patrimonio culturale intangibile deve affrontare un problema molto importante: quello di diffondere il più possibile una maggior consapevolezza sul significato stesso di patrimonio culturale intangibile. Nel caso dell’Arte della Perla di Vetro è stato dichiarato patrimonio dell’umanità non l’oggetto in sé, la perla di vetro, ma il saper fare. Si tratta di una differenza importantissima. Si parla di un insieme di aspetti inseparabili: rappresentazioni, pratiche, conoscenze, tecniche, strumenti, manufatti, spazi culturali associati, valori, memorie, competenze, sensibilità. Evidenziare solo un aspetto è inesatto. La Convenzione UNESCO ICH del 2003 infatti nasce per dare visibilità ai cosiddetti patrimoni viventi. Persone che costantemente creano e ricreano il patrimonio culturale immateriale e lo trasmettono di generazione in generazione. È un concetto dinamico, che vede la tradizione innovarsi, modificarsi, trasformarsi proprio perché è un patrimonio vivo. Per l’Arte della Perla di Vetro dobbiamo concentrare l’attenzione sui processi creativi non sui prodotti, sulle pratiche non sugli oggetti, sulla trasmissione dei saperi non sulla conservazione, sull’importanza di aumentare la consapevolezza del suo valore tra le generazioni più giovani, sul senso di appartenenza a una comunità specifica.

Le parole chiave diventano pratiche, rappresentazioni, espressioni, conoscenze, abilità, saperi, identità, memorie che associati a strumenti, oggetti, artefatti e luoghi: gli aspetti materiali sono profondamente correlati a quelli immateriali e NON separabili dalle persone.

  • How do you now see the path to the art of glass beads?

From the inclusion in the List begins an equally complex process of safeguarding.

This is in fact the correct term to use, much more than protection or enhancement. In fact, the UNESCO ICH Convention expressly requires the community of holders to actively participate in the processes and projects for the protection of the element registered in the List. It recognizes the strategic role that the holders of the files assume over time in the capitalization processes. When we talk about “involvement” and “participation”, the concepts of community and identity, politics, tourism and economic development of cultural heritage, management of resources, economics of culture come into play, with different nuances: such aspects, you might find that many projects are done for communities but NOT DONE WITH communities. This doesn’t have to happen.

 

art of glass beads
Microsculpture creations. Perlera Cristina Sfriso. Photo by C. Cottica

 

This is the first challenge that the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Art of Venetian Glass Beads will have to face, together with its French counterpart.

The Art of the Glass Bead is an intangible heritage closely connected to the two Venetian and French communities of reference, this means that from now on the actions should be the result of a bottom-up governance that will see the synergy between the communities, always at the forefront, and the activity of the UNESCO Service of the General Secretariat of MIBACT which is responsible for the technical-scientific activity in the constant updating of the management and protection plans of the heritage recognized by UNESCO, in line with the directives supranational operational.

 

art of glass beads
Passing on the know-how. Perlere Antonella Rossi and Luciana Battistin. Photo by C. Claudia

 

Dall’inserimento in Lista inizia  un percorso altrettanto complesso di salvaguardia. Questo infatti è il termine corretto da utilizzare, molto più di tutela o valorizzazione. La Convenzione UNESCO ICH infatti richiede espressamente che la comunità di detentori partecipi attivamente ai processi e progetti di salvaguardia dell’elemento iscritto nella Lista. Riconosce il ruolo strategico che i detentori delle pratiche assumono nel corso del tempo nei processi di patrimonializzazione. Quando si parla di “coinvolgimento” e “partecipazione” entrano in gioco, con sfumature diverse, i concetti di comunità e identità, di politica, di sviluppo turistico ed economico del patrimonio culturale, di gestione delle risorse, di economia della cultura: rivedendo criticamente tali aspetti, ci si potrebbe accorgere che molti progetti sono fatti per le comunità ma NON FATTI CON le comunità. Questo non deve accadere. Questa è la prima sfida che il Comitato per la Salvaguardia dell’Arte delle Perle di Vetro Veneziane dovrà affrontare, insieme al suo corrispettivo francese.

L’Arte della Perla di Vetro è un patrimonio intangibile strettamente connesso alle due comunità di riferimento veneziana e francese, questo significa che d’ora in poi le azioni dovrebbero essere il frutto di una governance bottom-up che vedrà la sinergia tra le comunità, sempre in prima linea, e l’attività  del Servizio UNESCO del Segretariato Generale del MIBACT al quale spetta l’attività di indirizzo tecnico-scientifico nell’aggiornamento costante dei piani di gestione e di salvaguardia del patrimonio riconosciuto dall’UNESCO, coerentemente con le direttive operative sovranazionali.

The Art of Glass Beads

A bead stringer point of view

 

MARISA CONVENTO, bead stringer and vice-president of the CPVV

  • What is an impiraperle?

An impiraressa or impiraperle is the one who makes with glass beads, in ancient times this term described the simple threading of the conteria, the smallest glass beads produced in the furnace with the pulled barrel technique.

  • Why did you decide to join the committee and in such an active way?

I decided to participate actively in the Committee’s activities because I strongly believe in the need to affirm, safeguard and transmit the founding values of the Community to which I belong.

Each string of glass beads is a weft in the warp of world culture. It is one of the most precious examples of a shared intangible culture. Defending it is defending freedom of expression itself. It is transmitting faith in democracy and peace. The culture of glass beads is an ideal bridge between Venice and the world. This is why it was important to work with the French community. To reiterate this crucial point.

 

art of glass beads
Marisa Convento introducing people to the art of glass beads in Venice

 

  • What does it mean to be a bead stringer to you?

Today what it means for me to be an impiraressa is to create jewels and ornaments with Venetian techniques and materials.

  • Why is this UNESCO recognition important?

The UNESCO Recognition is important because it officially validates our work and gives it the authority and the character of officiality, even supra-governmental, which allows us to now embark on a wonderful journey of enhancement, transmission and protection.

  • How do you now see the path to the art of glass beads?

I see wonderful things in the future: conferences, exhibitions, publications, teaching, research, innovation, and involvement of other communities. UNESCO recognition is not a point of arrival but of departure.

I sincerely hope to live long and healthy to see developments. And I am proud to have contributed, because earth must be left better than when you found it.

 

The Art of Glass Beads

The beadmakers point of view

 

ALESSIA FUGA, bead maker and counselor of the CPVV

  • What is a bead maker?

The perlera is the one who makes glass beads. From the 1800s onwards the perlera is a figure that became typical in Venice and Murano. It started because before, but also after in many cases, the processing of glass beads, like glass processing in general, was almost exclusively the prerogative of men. Only widows or orphans of perleri (or perlai – the terms are interchangeable) could devote themselves to glassmaking. Today like in the past, the space needed to set up a lamp station is not excessively large and therefore alongside the large workshops, there has been a flourishing of women who work by lamp at home, allowing them to continue to follow the daily life of the family.

 

art of glass beads
Alessia Fuga ph by Alessia Fuga

 

  • What does it mean to be a bead maker to you?

For me, devoting so much of my work to glass beads has always been a kind of silent mission. Many told me, and still tell me, to forget about beads, which by now, in the economic panorama of Murano production, are no longer convenient to do. But, if on the one hand I feel I have an elective affinity with beads and their decorations, on the other I have always hoped that my “different” beads (from the traditional Venetian ones) would contribute to attracted and intrigue new audiences to the world of glass beads, precisely to show how much it is an environment that is still alive and that can give opportunities for expression.

  • Why is this UNESCO recognition important?

The UNESCO recognition is important precisely because it identifies how profoundly the processing of glass beads is linked with the social fabric of Venice, as far as we are concerned, but not only, with the social fabric of each community in which this processing is widespread. The perleri community today, among other things, is even more interconnected thanks to modern technologies. This makes the exchange of knowledge and experience more alive and lively than ever.

  • How do you now see the path to the art of glass beads?

Now that the know-how to make glass beads has been recognized for this important role, I think it is the right time to give this process the space it deserves in the local cultural scene, first of all, but I am sure that any activity aimed at enhancing this knowledge will act as a further attraction, on an international level, for all glass lovers in general, of Venice, Murano and their rich traditions.

So this prestigious goal is just the beginning, a springboard that I hope will take us far with projects that see citizens and institutions join forces for a common good: that of safeguarding an ancient knowledge that is still and more alive than ever.

 

MURIEL BALENSI, bead maker and counselor of the CPVV

  • What does it mean to be a bead maker to you?

For me, being a perlera means giving life to what I love, sharing the values I believe in.

Love and Beauty are creative forces that can change the world, that’s why I create microcosms of glass. Beads tell about journeys, emotions, dreams, they are worlds of escape, micro universes of dreams. As we cannot change the macrocosm, each of us can work on his own scale, to sow and make the most beautiful, the most wonderful grow on this earth.

When I create a glass bead I try to insert the best of myself, of what I have seen and experienced, all my feelings, everything that the History of Art has handed down and that has enchanted me. In this sense, the bead sums up the entire history of glass.

The intangible heritage is alive. It is embodied in the Spirit of the Bead, in its Soul, but also in the gestures of our glass masters, famous or not, in the techniques learned or invented. All that makes the identity and uniqueness of the culture of our community. To be a perlera is to pay honor and homage to the masters who preceded us and try to perpetuate their heritage with respect and innovation. But being a bead maker also means offering all this energy, this history to those who will wear the finished work and therefore means being a creator of happiness.

 

art of glass beads
Realization of the sommerso bead. Perlera Muriel Balensi. Photo by C. Cottica

 

  • Why is this UNESCO recognition important?

This recognition is important first because it crowns seven years of work that the Committee run by Cristina Bedin, Marisa Convento, Eliana Argine, Claudia Cottica, Cristina Sfriso, Maria Teresa Sega, Luisa Conventi and myself, dedicated to this cause, to this project with all its strength, its faith and its love. Second, it is important because it allows the two Italian and French communities to get closer, work and grow together.

Consequently, this exchange is creative and fruitful for both parties and for the history of the Art of Venetian Glass Beads. Then it is important because glass beads are finally recognized as an Art with a capital A. And this is truly fantastic. Indeed, fire is music, glass is ballet, its colors are paintings, many beads are also micro sculptures. In addition, there are masters, rules and history of the art of beads, so this name is perfectly justified. I hope that this international recognition can motivate the new generations to learn and perpetuate this knowledge and know-how and with the transmission of our intangible heritage, perpetuate this secular art.

 

  • How do you now see the path to the art of glass beads?

I imagine the future of the Art of Venetian Glass Beads in any case as full of light because we work with the light of this immense satisfaction of Unesco recognition. After that, in practice, everything is still to be built, there are already various international projects in progress as obviously bilateral projects with France, our partner, but also with other immaterial communities. In any case, we do not lack ideas or good will and this remains the source of a bright future for any initiative and consequently for our Art.

 

I truly have not enough words to thank all of these amazing women: for dedicating so much time and passion to such a wonderful goal, for giving me their precious time in answering my questions and to be simply so full of energy and determination!

The Art of Glass Beads can only have a bright and long future with people like this!

About The Author

Food & Travel Blogger, Culinary & Food Tour Guide, Cooking Consultant & Instructor - this is me....as well as an event organiser and overall talker - always in Venice! #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at http://www.cookinvenice.com As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, writing a book on Cicchetti!

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