Looking for an item that's handmade in Italy… and can be shipped abroad? You've come to the right place! For the fourth post in my Italian gift guide, I wanted to spotlight Italian artisans, whose work—whether in leather or mosaic, glass or ceramics—is some of the finest in the world.
Gift-wise, there's something here for everyone, speaking to the incredible variety of output of Italy's artisans. Need something for a mother or female friend? Check out the beautiful baubles made of Venetian glass, including necklaces and jewelry. Looking for a gift for a hostess? A handpainted ceramic serving tray is a thoughtful gift. Want a memento for someone who visited Italy, and loved it? Any of these would do!
Of course, many of Italy's artisans don't have websites, or don't ship abroad. I handpicked artisans from among the few who do. Some of their websites have online stores, where you can pay electronically; at others, you need to contact the owner to arrange payment. But aside from the slight inconvenience it might cause, the opportunity to buy a piece handmade in Italy, and shipped to you, seems worth it.
Nota bene: Some websites are in Italian only. Just run them through Google translator to put them in your own language!
Mosaic from Ravenna: Picture frames, decorations, and more
Mosaic is an ancient tradition; on the Italian peninsula, the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines all raised it to a fine art. Luckily, Italy still has artists today who are keeping the tradition alive, producing gorgeous, elaborate images—by hand. And guess what? Many of them do ship abroad.
Ravenna is, without a doubt, the Italian (and perhaps international) capital of mosaic. So what gift could be more special than a mosaic, handcrafted by a workshop in Ravenna, and shipped to you? Remember, by the way, that a mosaic doesn't have to be a decorative image; it could be a picture frame, mirror, even jewelry.
Mosaicists in Ravenna who ship abroad, including to the U.S., include:
Anna Fietta creates such gorgeous, updated mosaics from glass, with a particularly large selection of picture frames, mirrors, and decorative animals—like this Tiffany-inspired picture frame (3.9 by 5.9 inches, just €35), shown right, or the whimsical fish, at top (4.3 inches, €22). Here's Anna Fietta's online store.
Barbara Liverani handcrafts contemporary mosaics using Byzantine techniques. She has a number of mirrors and small boxes, and also—more whimsically—gnomes and letters. Spelling out "home" or "love" seems like it would be a particularly sweet gift. You can't just purchase her items online, but you can take a look at her gallery and email her if something strikes your eye. Of course (as per the point of this post!), she ships abroad, including to the U.S.
Glass from Murano: Jewelry, sculptures, tableware, and more
The island of Murano, off of Venice, is one of the most famous in the world for its glass. But there are countless Murano knockoffs (even on Venice itself, dozens of stores advertise "Murano glass" that's actually cheap, factory-made imports from China!). So if you want to buy the Italy-lover in your life a light-catching piece of Venice, make sure you're buying from an authentic Murano glass dealer.
One authentic Murano workshop with items available online is Esse Due Murano, which has an especially excellent, and varied, collection of jewelry. The style is contemporary and stylish, and ranges from elegant necklaces like the one shown at right, €87, to items like these gorgeous drop earrings, just €18.
Another is Ragazzi Murano, who have an online shop here (however, you still have to email them for price information and to place an order). Items include whimsical clocks, picture frames, and jewelry as well as vases and tableware (shown at top).
Finally, for the ultimate variety (and ease of purchase), the online store MuranoNet is one of the few "big ones" I would trust. It's certified and trademarked by Venice's Murano glass oversight association, and all objects come with certificates of origin and authenticity. The store has everything from sculptures to jewelry to ornaments, and definitely worth checking out if you want the perfect Murano glass gift.
Ceramics from Tuscany (and beyond): Kitchenware, home decor, and more
Handpainted ceramics have to be one of Italy's finest artisanal traditions. And a pitcher, tray, or decorative plate, handcrafted in and shipped from Italy, makes a thoughtful gift for any hostess or homebody—especially one with a passion for Italy.
In Rome, my favorite ceramics workshop is Le Tre Ghinee, where ceramics artisan Susy Pugliese handcrafts contemporary, stylish plates, bowls, and more; many of her items are shown online, and you can order by emailing her.
Located in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Rampini Ceramics, one of the finest and best-known ceramics workshops in Italy, produces handmade saucers, bowls, and more using traditional handpainting techniques. Designs aren't just traditional scenes of lemon groves and olive trees (though those are lovely, too—just check out the picture above!), but also more-contemporary designs. They also sell gift sets, like a large pitcher and four mugs, all handpainted (€312), for a truly special gift.
Ceramics artisan Sabina Pagliai is the artisan behind Ceramiche Bibi in Siena. All of her creations are handmade, using unleaded colors; pieces include plates, vases, and trays, all decorated with traditional emblems of Siena and Tuscany.
Since 1981, the workshop Poterie has handcrafted ceramics in Genova. Their artists specialize in decorative tiles and panels, including house number plates, with traditional Italian patterns of geometric shapes, fruits, and flora.
The two women behind Artesia have been handcrafting, painting, glazing and firing gorgeousvases, bowls, plates, trays and more in Certaldo Alto, Tuscany since 1990. The prices couldn't be more fair: This 4.5 inch by 10 inch fruit bowl is €37, while this stunning 16-inch plate (shown left) costs €70.25.
Leather from Tuscany: Bags, wallets, iPhone cases, Kindle covers, and more
The family-run workshop La Dolce Vita has handcrafted leather accessories since 1980 in Buonconvento, Tuscany; now, you can buy their items—including beautiful bags for both men and women, like this red purse, at right, €145—online.
Another leather workshop that lets you buy items online is Fandango, where every item is handmade in Italy. Their style tends to be contemporary and in-the-moment, and they have some great gift ideas, like a bright blue leather case for a MacBook Air (€85.90).
Italian linens: tablecloths, baby bibs, and more
Since 1842, Tuscan workshop Busatti has been handcrafting fine fabrics using traditional procedures; every step of the process is done by hand and takes place in Italy, including dying, spinning, weaving, and finishing. From tablecloths to bed linens, towels to baby bibs, they have many of their items on their online store.
Masks from Venice: The perfect memento (or decoration)
Despite being one of Italy's "newer" artisanal traditions (truly), Venetian mask-making is now the most popular on the island. As with "Murano glass," though, many of these masks are cheap, manufactured abroad… and not exactly a great (or artisanal!) holiday gift.
That's why I love Ca' Macana. If you go in person to the workshop in Dorsoduro, you'll see artists crafting each mask by hand. But if you can't make it there quite yet, then check out Ca' Macana's online store. Prices are very fair, starting at €19, and if you want to get a loved one a true objet d'arte, you can even pick a full-face mask that would make a gorgeous wall hanging; the one at right is only €59.
Please note: All photos in this post, aside from those of Le Tre Ghinee, were provided by the stores themselves and are their copyright, not mine.