Only a few minute’s walk from St. Mark’s Square, hidden in a little tucked away corner that is so easy to walk right by without noticing, is where you will find Paolo Brandolisio’s workshop.
If you are lucky enough to discover it, you will find yourself drawn inside, into a place that is worlds apart from the bustle of Venice’s busy tourist center. And for good reason. Paolo is one of Venice’s only woodcarvers who make the oars (remi) and oar locks (forcole) for gondoliers and rowers of other traditional Venetian boats.
The forcola (oar lock) holds the oar, which is used to steer and maneuver the gondola through Venice’s narrow canals and waterways. The forcola, custom made for each gondolier, is essential to proper rowing of the gondola, as it is designed to account for the gondolier’s height. The gondolier slides the forcola into a special slot on the right side of the boat. To steer the boat, the gondolier moves his oar to different positions on the forcola in order to make a turn, slow down, and stop. While watching a gondolier row, he may make it look easy, but it is quite the opposite.
Inside Paolo’s workshop you will watch a maestro, a true artist, as he works to create both oars and forcole. The forcole are usually made of walnut, cherry or maple wood, carved from a single block of wood. The methods of carving the forcole and making oars here in Venice have been handed down from master craftsmen over hundreds of years. Paolo’s career as a woodcarver started when he was just 14 years old when he took a carved forcola he had made at home to the workshop of Giuseppi Carli, the maestro. Carli looked at Paolo’s work, pointed out some areas he could make improvements (but he thought it was a good start), and encouraged Paolo to make another. From that young age, Paolo began his apprenticeship with Maestro Carli. Today, Paolo operates that very same workshop.
Tools of the trade….and the sweet smells of freshly cut wood and sawdust.
Amidst the oars and other carvings are a few photos on the wall, even one of Paolo’s mentor, Giuseppi Carli.
The visit to the forcola maker is a bit of both fantasy and reality – the meeting of Gepetto’s workshop and the work place of both an artist and a craftsman. This isn’t mass production or imported and inexpensively made reproductions. It’s one of a kind creations, each one lovingly crafted by a skilled woodcarver, someone who knows how to transform an ordinary piece of wood into something both useful and beautiful.
While you are exploring Venice, treat yourself to something a bit off the beaten path with a visit to Paolo Brandolisio’s workshop.
Castello, 4725 Hours of operation: 9-1, 3-7, weekdays only.
Karen Henderson and her husband Michael moved to Venice in 2008 to escape the rat race of their hectic American careers. Karen blogs about their transition to expat life and their daily adventures in Venice on her blog, The Venice Experience.
Concierge tip: Venice visitors with a passion for fine craftsmanship will enjoy staying in the magnificent new San Giorgio Terrace Suite at Luna Hotel Baglioni enhanced by handmade craftsmanship and beautiful detailing in typically Venetian style.