Forget gondola riding, cappuccino-sipping and pigeon-feeding on Piazza San Marco — if you are looking for things to do in Venice, paint your own mask at Ca’Macana.
Mask makers since the early 1980s, the Ca’Macana workshop offers families a chance to experience the real Venice by teaching them centuries-old mask-making techniques.
You’ll indulge your inner artist (and perhaps historian), support a family-owned and locally grown business, and leave with a masterpiece that pays homage to one of Venice’s most treasured traditions.
Ca’Macana is located in Dorsoduro, an area of Venice that’s a 15-minute walk from Piazza San Marco along winding streets and canals. Known to cinema buffs as the mask makers for the movies “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Casanova” and, more recently, “50 Shades Darker,” Ca’Macana was founded by Mario Belloni and Antonella Masnata in 1984, a few years after they moved to Venice from Genoa.
At that time the Venice Carnival was going through a revival following a hiatus of almost 200 years. Mario and Antonella began as young people often do — by making masks at home and selling them on the streets and to a few shops — but soon expanded into their own space.
“I opened the business because I like creating new masks,” says Mario. “Sculpting [something new] is the most exciting part.”
Each mask is made and decorated by hand, and the process can take between three and 30 hours, depending on the complexity of the design. It starts with fashioning a shape from a block of clay and continues with making a mold and then applying papier-mâché to that mold. After the mask dries it gets painted, decorated and glazed.
“The inspiration for each mask we make,” says Davide Belloni, Mario’s son and Ca’Macana’s general manager, “comes from history, traditional Venetian masks, Comedia del’Arte characters and — in a new and exciting direction — steampunk and cyborg designs.”
In addition to selling masks in their shop and in stores throughout town, Ca’Macana also runs mask-decorating workshops. But don’t be alarmed — you won’t be spending hours in their studio molding a mask from scratch.
Instead you’ll be able to choose between two programs: a private two-hour course or a one-hour group class. During the former you’ll learn the history of masks in Venice and get to wear the famous Bauta mask — the mask that Venetians, rich or poor, men or women — wore as part of a special costume to conceal their identities.
You’ll also hear about Ca’Macana’s mask-making process and receive private instruction on how to paint and decorate your own Bauta, plus any other mask (class fee includes two masks).
In the latter you’ll skip the history (they’ll give you a book to take home to read about it later) and paint and decorate a mask of your choosing. With several color combinations with which to paint the mask, sparkles and crystals to dress it up, and ribbons to complete the design, you and your kids can make it as mysterious as the Venetians intended or as entertaining as you need it to be for your next costume party.
If these two options aren’t enough, a third kind of workshop is set to launch. For those who want to create a mask from an earlier stage, Ca’Macana has decided to teach their papier-mâché method.
A painstaking process, this is not for the impatient, but it’ll definitely make you appreciate the time, energy and effort that goes into making masks the traditional way.