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The Mask Maker
A Venetian Settles in Florida
It was 2001 when I first met Giorgio at the Italian pavilion in EPCOT Center Orlando. He was painting a mask, just like the ones I had seen in Venice. In fact, the tag on the mask said “Balocoloc Venezia”, identical to the one my wife wore during Carnevale the year before. Giorgio explained that the woman from whom we purchased our masks in Venice was Silvana Martin, his mother!
The Venetian tradition of Carnevale started in the 1100s and was quite popular during the renaissance. In the days of the Venetian Republic, it was not allowed for citizens to associate with people of a different class or social status. The use of masks gave upper class ladies the opportunity to discreetly spend an evening with the young gondoliers, and for seemingly upstanding men to dance with women of all classes. Gambling was also allowed during the festival. In 1797 when Venice was under the rule of Austria, Carnevale and the use of masks were forbidden, and remained so (with few exceptions) for nearly 200 years.
Venice brought the festival and the masks back to life in 1979. Silvana Martin managed one of the first mask making workshops, and she continues to manage it today. In the year 2000, a representative from Walt Disney World approached Silvana and asked if she or one of her sons would be willing to come to Florida for three months and set up a mask making workshop at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Her sons were excited about the idea of sharing the culture and history of Venice with so many Americans. Having learned the craft from their mother, they created Balocoloc’s first overseas laboratory within Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center. Under Georgio’s management, young Venetian artists craft the masks using the same time-honored techniques as his mother does back in Italy. The workshop was so successful that Disney kept it open after the original three month period was over.
For five years, Giorgio and his brother Flavio bounced back and forth from Orlando to Venice, each spending six months at a time in each location. Finally, Flavio decided to stay in Venice, and Giorgio took up permanent residence in Florida. Each year, artisans from Venice join Giorgio to create countless authentic masks for visitors at the Italian Pavilion.
In addition to mask making, Giorgio is a professional photographer. Each year, from 1990 until 2017, he was taking photos at the Venice film festival with the rest of the paparazzi. Some of his photos have appeared in the famous fashion magazines.
I caught up with Giorgio in October 2023 and asked him what he liked most about his craft. “As a mask maker, I can create with my hands whatever comes into my head. With a mask, a person can cover their face and pretend to be someone else. They can change their mood from sad to happy, from curious to sinister. And creating a completely handmade mask gives me excitement because it’s a unique skill that not everyone can do, and it can last forever.”
He is proud of his “Paint your own mask” workshop where guests can interact with a real Venetian mask maker who helps them with ideas and techniques. Then the masks are hung on the wall next to the professionally done masks for everyone to see, until they dry and the customer picks them up at the end of the day.
He now offers a “Paint your own mask at home” kit, for those who want to repeat the mask making experience after having been to EPCOT Center.
Every year his group of craftsmen create a limited edition, 100 pieces of Christmas ornaments numbered and signed by the artist.
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For more information about Giorgio the Mask Maker, click here.
To visit Balocoloc’s website click here.