The Venice Carnival – the most glamorous and glitzy of festivals – ends on February 28th. With a week left you’ll be needing a mask to take part, won’t you? Instead of buying one, take a trip to one of the city’s most famous mask-making workshops, and decorate your own.
Ca’ Macana has been offering courses in traditional Venetian mask decoration for almost 20 years. Their masks are some of the best around – they’ve even been used in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and by theatres and opera houses for big productions.
A two-hour course at Ca’ Macana is the perfect mix of history and hands-on crafting. Each session begins with a presentation about old-timey mask-making techniques (the workshop uses an 800-year-old method!) along with the chance to see a mask being hand-made from scratch using a clay sculpture to form its mould.
You’ll also learn about all the different mask shapes and their significance in Venice. Hearing how masks became such a massive part of the city’s identity – at one point they were worn daily, and laws came into effect in the 18th Century restricting mask-wearing to three months of the year – you’ll be shown some familiar faces. The Bauta, with his prominent nose and huge chin (to facilitate talking and drinking); the Medico della Peste, or Plague Doctor, the one with the freaky-long beak; and the Volto, the iconic full-face mask worn with a tricorn and cloak.
And then it’s time to choose a mask to decorate! This is papier mâché, but not as you know it – there are over 45 hand-crafted designs to pick from, and the decorating skills you’ll learn from Ca’ Macana’s resident experts are based on traditional methods of working throughout the Carnival’s history. There are eight core techniques involved, allowing you to recreate a heap of effects and make your perfect mask. There’s also a chance to experiment with metallic paints and waxes, and of course feathers, sequins and ribbons.
By the end of the two hours, you’ll have created TWO masks to take home, learned new techniques, and heard the fascinating history of masks in Venice. The course is great for adults and children alike (the history and theory is woven into the practical stuff if loads of kids are there, to make it more engaging for them), and a fun way to create your own Venice souvenir – particularly in the run-up to the Carnival.
Header image by jpellgen via Flickr.