When I started working as a guide many years ago I used to walk back home from San Marco square through a narrow street with several glass shops, Calle delle Rasse.
I often stopped by a small shop displaying lovely coloured glass beads, all in different colours and diverse shapes.
Glass beads were all unique – not like the ‘common’ usual beads you find everywhere.
I learnt soon the artist was from Africa, from Senegal, his name was Moulaye. He had first come to Venice on vacation, he had fallen in love with the city and decided to settle here. He became a ‘perler’, a master making lampwork glass beads.
A few years later Moulaye opened his first own shop near the Campo della Bragora, 4 bridges away from San Marco (this is how distances are calculated in Venice, ‘bridgewise’).
His present shop is now one street away from there, still in the district of Castello, Salizada del Pignater, 3545, on the way to the Arsenale and to the Biennale exposition areas.
I moved over to that area years ago, so I see Moulaye working in his shop nearly every day.
A few days ago I stepped into the shop around 5 pm. A warm ambiente, white walls, wooden African masks, black elephants or busts with gorgeous necklaces made with his lampwork glass beads hanging everywhere around.
Moulaye was working on his last bead of the day. He was shaping as usual his bead after having melted a glass rod, a sort of stick (canna), with a torch burner. His rods are produced in Murano (Effe3). However he also uses special ones, produced by different glassblowers like Davide Salvadori, each unique in colour as all glassblowers have their own recipes for colours.
The stick melts, the glass is shaped and wound around a small cane, a mandrel, one or more colours can be melted over. The bead needs to cool down in a big bowl under ash.
Moulaye can produce 100 beads a day, but a special bead for collection can require up to 30 minutes.
While taking photos a German couple walked in and mentioned they had seen Moulaye a few days ago on Arte, a German TV Channel, Ueberleben in Venedig (Surviving in Venice), a documentary about the present problems of Venice. They fell in love with his beads, bought two and took several photos with the artist.
Finally it’s the right timing to ask Moulaye a few questions:
What did you find in Venice?
‘Venice gave me life. Imagine living in Paris: confusion, haste and frenzy. Venice is exactly the opposite; everything is slow in Venice, even the public boats. People have to walk, here people greet one another in the street, say hello, ciao and, you cannot run. You gain in serenity. You have a drink with friends in a bacaro, elderly people also meet there or talk in the main squares sitting on a bench.’
He adds, ‘Venice gave me another great gift. I could have been born Chinese. By accident I was born in Africa. People from all over the world come to Venice; a dream! In Venice I meet people from all over the world, and working here also means sharing your experiences with them. These people take back new ideas to their own countries and you realise we want the same things. You can also play music with different people’.
Moulaye plays music. Hence my next question.
If Venice were a piece of music what would it be?
‘Venice would be natural music, people talking in the streets, bells of bell-towers ringing, wheels of suitcases being dragged along, carts transporting supplies into the narrow streets of Venice. It would be street music, there is always music in the background, and what a music, with a specific rhythm. It is crazy, it is like an army that walks’.
Do you have a favourite glass colour?
‘No, I do not, I love them all, unfortunately’. Moulaye smiles.
The first word you associate with glass?
‘Transparency’. My turn to smile, his lovely beads can be described in many ways, but not transparent. ‘I am exactly the opposite, I hide behind my colours’.
One word you associate with a bead?
‘A bead is like a woman, representing sweetness and delicacy’.
Beads can represent a lot and can mean a lot.
I had read online a nice article of Il Ridotto about Moulaye and spiritual pearls. Those pearls used for praying require a special workout, he needs to get spiritually prepared early in the morning and then on his way to work he cannot greet anyone, and this is difficult in Venice, because nearly everyone knows Moulaye. If he meets someone, he needs to return back home and start again his meditation. This around 6 am!
On our tour we can visit Moulaye’s shop, see him at work. You can also contact him for a workshop.
(1) Once every two months Moulaye organizes ‘il bello delle differenze’, a dinner with people from different countries.