Meeting a “Perlera” Bead maker in Venice
Bead maker in Venice: in Venice, artisan craftsmanship has always been a central axis of its trading markets; so much so that the toponomy of some alleys (calle) and squares (campo) derives from ancient crafts – just think of Calle dei Botèri, Saonéri, Tentor, Dei Fabri and how many confraternities and schools were born: Dei Calegheri, the shoemakers; dei Luganegheri, the salami makers.
In the thirteenth century, the Venetians began to develop knowledge of glass processing in Murano, and in particular of the ‘lampwork’ technique, with which they were able to create splendid Murano glass beads, used as exchange currency and exported as a luxury item all over the world. Venetian beads thus became a symbol of elegance and prestige even overseas.
Hence the role of the “perlera”, bead maker, became so important.
Alessia Fuga, Murano Glass Bead Maker
During the lockdown I started a series of live chats on Instagram (see my YouTube channel “Venicemeets…”) – don’t forget to subscribe to see more live interviews.
One of my guests was my dear friend Alessia Fuga, world-renowned bead maker from Murano. She specializes in the production of high quality Murano Glass beads with captivating and original designs. Thanks also to her passion and attention to every little detail, her work is appreciated from collectors and beads enthusiastic worldwide.
In 2012 she was included by the International specialized magazine GlassLine in the list of the best world artists in the production of glass beads.
Unfortunately during our chat her video stopped working, but the sound was fine, so while you can enjoy our chat, thanks to some video editing, you can also appreciate her wonderful creations!
Watch the video below!
Meeting a “Perlera”
Here are some of the questions I posed her during the chat.
How are you doing during this lockdown?
So and so, I miss my torch, but I have been revamping my online shopping website www.alessiafuga.com adding a lot of new jewellery.
When did you start lampwork bead making?
I started 13 years ago, by chance. I was not planning to go into bead making, even if I come from a branch of one of oldest Murano families, the Fuga family. The Fuga family has even got its own crest depicted on an “Osella”. The Osella was a Venetian silver coin (from the Venetian osèl, “bird”), minted every year in a number proportionate to that of the nobles of the Great Council to whom it was donated by the doge; it took the name of osella because it replaced the 5 wild ducks that the doge in December gave to every nobleman of the Maggior Consiglio, until 1521, when hunting was prevented in the lagoon of Marano (Udine).
The community of Murano obtained, in the 16th century, to have special coins minted in Venice which were called osella, to be given to their Venetian officials and magistrates.
My father, actually, was not a glass master, but he still worked in the world of Murano glass – that is the funny thing about Murano. Generally even if you are not working in a glass furnace, you are probably doing a job connected to glass anyway. Before bead making, I was at university studying economy. As I finished school, I took part in a glass bead making class at Abate Zanetti, the school of glass making in Murano. The first time I held a piece of glass in my hand and melted it, I was hooked.
You were meant to be there, right?
It was magic, it was unbelievable for me that some objects could be made out of glass.
So it came to you pretty easy?
Yes, it did. I was lucky to discover that I was gifted in that way. It all came very easy for me.
Let’s get technical. Why is it called Lampwork bead making?
The term “lampwork” is derived from the fact that oil lamps were once used as the heat source to heat and melt the glass rods used in this process, unlike today where we use a torch. The base technique and the tools were the same as today.
So, if the heat achieved in the past was much lower than the one we can reach today, it means also the number of beads produced daily was much lower, correct?
Yes and the quality of glass would have been different too. The colours would have been softer.
Maybe even more dangerous, since glass contained toxic materials which we do not use today?
Yes, but this is a quite recent change. Murano glass is known for its bright colours and its softness. Glass is made all over the world, but Murano glass has always been very soft. The torches used in Murano operate with gas and air, and they reach a much lower temperature than other torches, cause Murano glass does not need high heat as other type of glass to melt. If the torch is too hot you can actually ruin the glass.
It is very important to know which glass you are working with, because depending on the type of glass, the temperature will need to change.
It always looks like there is some sort of metal in your beads, is that true?
My signature beads, my “Fenice” beads, have silver leaves on the surface. The metallic effect is given by burning this silver leaf on the surface of the bead and then by adding the decorations.
One particular thing about your jewellery is that it is easy to wear, even though it is solid glass.You have this ability to create necklaces with a great balance, which do not weigh on the neck when you wear them.
Yes, even if I do love to create big beads, because the part I love the most about my work is the decoration. So, the bigger the bead, the more space for decoration I have. That is why balancing the weight has been so important.
How long after you took the first course on bead making did you open your own atelier?
About a year later. I was out of work so I decided to set up my own shop.
And you became quite well known pretty soon!
Well, yeah [watch the video and here you can see how humble this girl is!] – let’s say I wanted to do something, which would be immediately recognizable, trying to make something different from the classical Venetian bead styles.
You are more an artist rather than an artisan.
Yes, I can say that now, because I do not make large productions. I make unique pieces.
And you do not make only jewellery; you make glass art too using the lampwork technique.
Yes, and it is not easy, because it requires a lot of practice.
And you are very meticulous about your work and you like it to be perfect.
Yes, that is why I do not show much of my glass artwork, because I do not consider it to be perfect.
That is so funny – I love when people walk into your atelier and see your amazing flowers, plants and animals and they go: Wow, that is amazing – and you go: Nahhh, can you see the defect? Isn’t it the defect that makes it so special? But you want it perfect, right?
Yes, because I believe that you must know the technique perfectly so then you can do with it what you want.
What is one of the hardest things you had to create?
I am still struggling with the glass blown technique. I want to get better at that. You need time and to be in the right set of mind.
Alessia offers also bead-making courses. I took a couple of classes with here – she is an amazing teacher. She does not simply show the technique, she gets her students to learn it, even when they are as useless as I am.
Another reason for you to visit Venice and spend more than 2 days! Take a course with a perlera!
The experience in the perlera laboratory will allow you to know the history of Murano glass and the steps necessary for the creation and production of beads. You will be able to touch the tools needed for their creation and have the opportunity to create a bead while learning about the history of glass as told by Alessia.
Here you can listen to an episode of Venice Talks Podcast Series where Alessia is my guest
Thank you Alessia for the lovely chat and carry on making beauty!
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