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History of Dolfi Dolls

The history of how the Dolfi Studios came to be is as heart warming as Dolfi Originals themselves. Just as Dolfi’s artists carve life into seasoned wood blocks, Franz Comploi began carving his place in history 1892 amid the romantic mountains of Ortisei, Italy.

During these early days of Dolfi, a staff of approximately 40 carvers and painters worked from their hones with diligence and devotion to create handcarved masterpieces from timber. What began as a cottage business thrived and prospered into a full service family woodcarving studio named "Dolfi" after its founder son Dolfi Comploi. Success continued at a steady pace. And, in 1945, the Comploi family business was further expanded in order to meet the demand of the burgeoning European marketplace. The Dolfi Studios’ first workshop was built in 1945, and by 1955, 620 artisan families were under its employ. During this period, the artisans carved mostly utilitarian items such as corks, salad forks, and knives which were sold internationally. In 1955, Dolfi was at a turning point, Two important decisions were made that helped promote Dolfi to its current status as a world class woodcarving studio. First, it was decided that all Dolfi carvings should be made of maple rather than pine. Maple is a close grained, light coloured wood which offers aesthetic and lasting qualities. Second, and most importantly, a decision was made to produce fewer utilitarian pieces, and more fine art and collectibles, which have become the lifeblood of the Dolfi Studios. Both of these decisions were favorably accepted by the marketplace which gave the Dolfi Studios an opportunity to expand. A larger, more contemporary workshop was built in 1975 which still houses Dolfi’s artisans. Today, three generations of Dolfi woodcarvings, as will as the Dolfi Studios, have become precious heirlooms, handed down and treasured for generations. Adolfo Comploi retired in 1979 leaving the internationally renowned Dolfi Studios under the direction of his son, Willi. The younger Comploi’s goal is to continually improve the quality of Dolfi’s figurines which are considered respected collectibles world-wide.

Woodcarving is a classic art form that has been perfected by the artisans of Austria, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland throughout the centuries. Toy woodcarvings in South Tyrol have been traced back to as early as 11 A.D. Since then, each passing year has produced more skilled artisans and a progression from toys, to religious artifacts, to today’s decorative collectible figurines. The treasured art of woodcarving has been lovingly passed down for generations by the families of these European regions, helping to build its current fame and success. While the desire to fashion wood into intricate carvings has been bred into generations of woodcarvers, the skill to do so must be learned. Many of the artisans from Europe’s woodcarving regions have attended the Art Academy of Ortisei in St. Ulrich for up to six years. Four years of apprenticeship follow the formal education. It is during the apprenticeship that the artisan’s own unique style emerges, resulting in the fascinating variety of woodcarvings available today.
Each Dolfi woodcarving is an original, one of a kind work of art embodying three generations of Tyrolean pride and technique. Carved into each Dolfi Original is a picturesque history of the classic art of woodcarving, and the soft luster of timeless beauty. All Dolfi Originals, including the woodcarvings illustrated, are copyrighted with the United States Copyright Office of Washington, D.C.

In this era of high technology and mass production, the Dolfi Studios still offer hand carved and hand painted one of a kind collectibles that retain their value as years pass. Dolfi’s artists and carvers breathe life into seasoned wood, keeping the lost art of woodcarving alive and respected. Over the years, Dolfi’s carvers have learned how technology can enhance their detailed figurines. Today’s modern technology, in the hands of skilled artisans, have resulted, in Dolfi’s finest carvings. Dolfi’s time tested procedures have reaped the benefit of years of experience from devoted artisans and proven methods.
1. Artists prepare designs for Dolfi’s famed woodcarvings including animals, miniatures, religious figurines, dolls, and chess sets. Many of the figurines are designed to include wood pedestals, though Dolfi has recently created an unprecedented limited edition of perfectly balanced free-standing figurines.
2. Before carving into wood, the carver fashions a three-dimensional clay model from the artist’s approved drawing. From this, he creates a carved wooden master model. After the wooden model has been perfected, the carver selects blocks of wood from which to carve identical figurines.
3. By the time the carver is ready for the wood, it has undergone a comprehensive "qualifying" process. The first step begins with the cutting of select maple and linden trees at least 75 years old. Imperfect and knotted boards are discarded. Next, the wood is allowed to dry naturally for up to four years until it has a moisture content of only 8-12%.
4. Further drying is achieved in a vacuum-assisted kiln. The kiln helps stabilize the wood by breaking down fibers at the core of each carving. This drying process is of upmost importance as it brings out the grain of the wood and eliminates the possibility of cracking. The drying process is carefully monitored to ensure that the wood of each carving will "live" forever without suffering the effects of time and moisture.
5. The seasoned boards are cut into blocks of varying sizes. The master carvers select from among the various woods for the piece that is perfect for their needs. Alpine maple is the wood most frequently used by carvers due to its clean, lightly veined appearance and hard unknotted texture. A carving of great size or detail, however, may be better suited to linden wood. A lathe is used to give the selected wood block a rough silhouette of the design it’s to become.

6. Each carving is hand-crafted and entirely handpainted from start to finish. The detail work requires a killed craftsman, much dedication, and an intricate set of hand forged tools. The artisan’s tools are so important to his livelihood that many of Dolfi’s carvers commission ironsmiths in nearby Stubei Valley to manufacture special tools for specific cuts and shapes.

7. The perfectly carved figurines are lovingly painted and painstakingly detailed with delicate, yet vibrant oils transparent enough to allow the grain and character of the wood to shine through. Some Dolfi Originals are gilded or given a natural wood’s personality. Though each carving is fashioned after a master model, no two are exactly alike. Each carving takes on a distinct character as mandated by the grain and colour of the wood..

8. Each completed woodcarving is examined thoroughly to ensure it meets the Dolfi Studios’ strict standards for quality. Once approved, the Dolfi seal is affixed to each figurine. The seal bears with it the Dolfi Studios’ guarantee of quality and originality.

used with permission Dolfi

History of Dolfi Dolls
History of Dolfi Dolls
History of Dolfi Dolls


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