ABOVE: Federica and Giancarlo in their mask laboratorio.
Masks are easy to buy in Venice, but not all Venetian maschere are the real thing: Souvenir shops and street kiosks often sell imported masks made of plastic or resin-impregnated paper, and the prices charged for mass-produced knockoffs are intended to maximize profits, not to ensure that tourists get bargains.
If you're attracted by Venetian masks--either the kind you wear or ceramic display masks that are meant to be hung on a wall--we'd suggest shopping at a laboratorio or workshop run by artisans who are passionate about their craft.
One such studio is Artifex, on the Campiello Widmann in Cannaregio, where the proprietors--Giancarlo and Federica--bring a sense of history and tradition to their handiwork. The friendly, personable couple offer products for every budget, from elaborate papier-maché masks that you could wear with a Carnevale di Venezia costume to miniature ceramic display masks that cost only a few euros each. (The workshop also has a modest selection of handpicked Murano glass necklaces, frames, and other objects.)
Giancarlo and Federica treat every purchaser with courtesy and respect. Even a €2,50 refrigerator magnet is encased in bubble pack, wrapped in paper, and presented with a handwritten receipt.
Artifex is easy to find: From the main route between Rialto and the Strada Nova, turn onto the Salizzada S. Canciano and head in the direction of the Fondamente Nove (away from the Grand Canal). The Campiello Widmann is just a few short blocks inland, past the Campo Santa Maria Nova. The map below, which is taken from the Artifex business card, and the accompanying photo of the workshop's exterior will help you get there: