The origins and historical development of the "Dolfi" Comploi wood-carving company from 1892 to the present.
Origin and Development of the Adolf Comploi-Pizuela Company
Franz Comploj, Adolf's grandfather, made the most-important step from miner to artistic wood-carver prior to 1890.
His son, who was also named Franz (1880-1963,) was born on the small farmstead of Pizuela in La Poza-Wolkenstein. Around 1904, he moved from there to St. Ulrich / Ortisei, where he and Amalia Runggaldier da Passua founded a family in the Carolina House in what was then the town's main street.
Adolf Comploi "Dolfi" (1912-1979)
Adolf Comploi – nicknamed "Dolfi" – was born in 1912 as the second-oldest son of Franz and Amalia. He was only about three or four years old as the tracks of the narrow-gauge railroad – the so-called Gröden/Gardena Railroad – was built from Klausen in the Eisack Valley all the way up to Plan in the upper Val Gardena. With the completion of the railroad – which was built chiefly by Russian Prisoners of War under Austrian military supervision and which was finished in March of 1916 – the economy of the Val Gardena, which had been rather weak in the past, began to boom.
Between 1930 and 1932, Adolf Comploi-Pizuela completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter in a workshop on the Salman Estate in Überwasser-St. Ulrich with the well-known Master Craftsman Franz Anvidalfarei, who came from the Gader Valley. After that, Adolf was trained in artistic wood-carver and altar builder.
In the 1930s – but also later – apprentices in local workshops were paid nothing. After Adolf had completed his training, his Master (an altar builder,) paid him a pittance of 7 lire per day. That wasn't enough for Adolf to live on, and so he soon planned to become independent.
During these years, his brother Franz (Franco) had established a shop for the sale of wood carvings. Adolf became his salesman and traveled as a traveling salesman with his brother's wood carvings and a presentation catalog in his case with the Corriera (bus) – which was at that time still a rather primitive form of transportation – and by rail to souvenir shops, parishes, and monasteries. He traveled especially in cities of northern Italy, including Verona, Padua, Brescia, Milan, and Bologna – but also to Switzerland, Austria, and Bavaria.
In 1932, Adolf Comploi legally registered the "Dolfi" wood-carving company with the commercial registry in Bozen/Bolzano. Adolf was only 20 years old.
Military Service and War Service of Adolf Comploi
While a conscript with the (Fascist) Italian military, Adolf stole a military jeep in 1933. In 1935, he was sent as an Italian soldier to the war in Abyssinia (Ethiopia,) where many Italian soldiers were already fighting on the front. Once there, an Italian lieutenant assigned him to work as a motorized radio reporter and truck driver. In 1937, Adolf was promoted to the rank of Corporal-Major. Later, after the Abyssinian "Negus" (king) was assassinated, Adolf was able to return to Europe. After coming back to Italy – he was stationed in Riccione on the Adriatic Sea – Adolf, together with several other soldiers, was assigned to serve in Mussolini's personal guard. After the final end of the Abyssinian War, Adolf Comploi returned home to St. Ulrich via Trient. Here, he was offered a position by the Italian government in 1940 due to the fact that he had been one of Benito Mussolini's many bodyguards.
After the Abyssinian War, but before the outbreak of World War II, Adolf had established the foundation for the sale of products from the wood-carving industry of Gröden/Gardena.
In 1942, he married Maria Martiner da Cùenz, who was likewise from St. Ulrich. During these years, Maria ran Adolf's wood-carving company all by herself.
In 1943, their first son, Wilhelm (nicknamed "Willi,") was born. Adolf's family and their descendents spelled their surname with an "i" at the end, i.e. Comploi. This change in spelling occurred in 1943, during World War II.
Adolf was conscripted only in the closing years of World War II, in 1944-45. The Italian military command assigned him the task of purchasing construction wood for building bridges, especially in northwestern Italy.
In the summer of 1945, Adolf began his selling business, dealing in wood carvings from Gröden/Gardena – at first in the Panapruk House across the street from the St. Ulrich parish church. Soon afterwards, Adolf – whose company was now known as "Dolfi" – purchased from Leo Obletter da Juaut a larger parcel of land in the more-central Romstrasse. There, Adolf set up his own large building with workshops in the ground floor and warehouses and sales rooms in the second story. Before buying his first own car, Adolf drove a small motorcycle (the famous Italian Vespa) for a while.
Expansion of the Small Wood-Carving Business
After the end of the war, Adolf Comploi beefed up his company by hiring his wife Maria, two packagers, and two secretaries. In 1946, the industrious and clever wood carver began marketing the wood carvings manufactured in the Gardena Valley in other European countries. Several years later, 656 families in Gröden/Gardena were working at home, producing merchandise for the Dolfi Comploi company. Every Saturday morning, approx. 30 home-based workers from the valley would be paid a total of 200 lire for the carved goods they delivered. The annual turnover of the Dolfi company amounted to approx. 32,000 lire in 1946/47. Adolf had already become a well-known businessman in the wood-carving sector.
In 1947, his second son, Siegfried, was born. He has a degree in architectural engineering and has been a well-known and respected constructional engineer in St. Ulrich for many decades.
By 1948, the Dolfi Company Was Shipping Wood Carvings to the U.S.
For the most part, so-called "chiena," i.e. small carvings and wooden toys, as well as religious statues (nativity scenes, either unpainted or painted,) were sold.
By 1948, 20% of Dolfi's carvings were headed for the United States. Interested American customers were still coming by ship across the Atlantic to Europe, and some to Gröden/Gardena, too, to find manufacturers of wood carvings, including religious statuary.
Religious statues were originally made chiefly of Stone Pine, but Limewood was gaining in popularity. Up until the Second Vatican Council of 1963, they sold well. But in the wake of this council – which disapproved of the excessive ornamentation of churches with statues – the market for religious carvings for churches and chapels slumped. This soon led to a major crisis in the area of large wooden carvings.
Our American customers ordered by telegram. "Please send us everything you have – especially weather houses, carved animal figurines, and anything else you have on hand." The desired goods were securely packed in wooden crates made of spruce boards and sent by rail, chiefly to the big shipping port of Genoa. But the competition in our sector was already growing. Sometimes, during the night, the addresses of our customers on the crates of goods sitting at the railroad station in St. Ulrich were copied down. Dishonest competitors would then also sneak their catalogs of merchandise into narrow cracks in the crates being shipped to our customers.
For security reasons, every Saturday, the newly-opened Bank of Trient and Bozen/Bolzano would bring the money received from our customers to Adolf Comploi's private address, where it would be deposited until the next Monday.
In the late-1950s, Adolf opened a small kiosk across the street from the Hotel Maria in the city center, for the direct sale of his company's wood carvings.
Starting in 1954, the First Wood Carving Machines Come into Use in Gröden
In 1956, a machine construction company in Germany built one of the first so-called wood-carving machine; the first functional machine of this type came to South Tyrol in 1954. This revolutionary invention for the wood-carving sector, its appearance, and function generated a lot of excitement. Shortly thereafter, a company in Bozen/Bolzano constructed the first carving machine for the Dolfi company. The demand for such machines was tremendous. Thus, about six machines of this type were built for Adolf Comploi.
A skilled artisan from the community of St. Christina, district of Monte Pana, built himself one of these carving machines out of hardwood and put it to considerable use for the Dolfi Comploi company up until 1980. Especially in the 1960s and 70s, several wood-carving machines in Gröden/Gardena were in around-the-clock use, in three work shifts.
In 1959, Adolf (who had just turned 50) was involved, through no fault of his own, in a major automobile accident in Atzwang, near Bozen/Bolzano. As a result, a large part of his body was in a cast for an entire year.
In 1961, Willi Comploi, Adolf's older son, turned 18 and began working in his father's company, displaying considerable diligence and a keen sense of responsibility.
1956: Construction of the Garni Astoria in the Stufan Strasse in St. Ulrich
In 1956, Adolf purchased a large parcel of land right above the Stufan Strasse from the Grunschberg family in order to establish the Astoria Bed & Breakfast there in 1956-57. In 1956, Adolf and his son Willi went on a tour with his Fiat 1100 to visit numerous customers in Central Europe. They started in September and continued traveling until early-October. When they arrived home, the roof of the Astoria had already been raised. The rather unusual name of the establishment was borrowed from a Hotel Astoria near Barcelona in Spain where Adolf and his family had frequently spent their holidays.
1960-1970: Significant Market Growth – Especially Abroad – for the Dolfi Company
The decade of the 1960s was marked by a significant growth in the Dolfi company's market, especially in Germany. The demand for carved and stained figures was so great that many customers snatched the still-unfinished goods from the carving machines to unprofessionally finish them themselves at home.
In February of 1969, Willi Comploi and Annamaria Rella (also from St. Ulrich) were wed. In December of 1969, their daughter Monika was born, who has been a energetic worker in the Dolfi company for many years. In 1971, their son Matteo Comploi was born, who has worked as the company's prudent and committed junior executive for several years, now. At the age of six and seven, Monika and Matteo were taken along on nearby business trips by their father so that they could familiarize themselves with the trade at an early age.
In 1973, Willi contracted tuberculosis and became so ill that the physicians in the hospital in Bozen/Bolzano gave him only six more months to live. On January 2, 1973, the invalid was sent to Arco near Riva del Garda. The doctors there expected him to survive only another two or three weeks. The patient from St. Ulrich was strictly prohibited from smoking. But Willi couldn't be bothered with quitting, and continued puffing away as though nothing had happened. Of the total of 130 persons suffering from severe pulmonary diseases who were in treatment in this hospital, only 22 were still alive after six months. One of them was Willi Comploi. Perhaps the new, effective medicine Refadin saved his life?
Starting in 1970, Willi Comploi Heads the Dolfi Company together with His Father
1961: Willi starts working in his father's business.
1972: The Dolfi Company has more than 600 outworkers in the Val Gardena on its payroll – i.e., more than 600 craftsmen (especially wood-carvers and painters of both sexes) who work at home for the company.
1977: The Dolfi Company moves into the new, spacious building in the Romstrasse, above the city hall of St. Ulrich.
1974 – 1979: Willi is frequently underway throughout the world on behalf of the Dolfi Company for nine months of the year.
1979: For the first time, Willi returned from his annual month-long business trip to the wholesalers without a single new order.
In the same year, on February 28 of 1979, ownership of the company, which had now grown to a considerable size, was formally transferred from Adolf to his son Willi.
In the late-1970s, the great change with respect to work processes and business practices came. In the meantime, Dolfi had become a supplier for a total of 22 wholesalers in Germany. Willi Comploi and his wife were selling Dolfi carved products in 60 countries, including many countries outside of Europe.
Soon afterward, plans were drawn up to replace the factory's entire inventory of machines. A total of 36 new wood-carving machines were ordered. At the same time, the company placed orders for lots of new models of carved figurines. In order to fill these orders, a large quantity of cut wood had to be purchased.
In 1980, in addition to the twelve employees already working for the company, another 66 workers were hired. In the same year, several wood-carving machines were lent to some outworkers. Simultaneously, the company established a major presence in such sales markets as the U.S., South America, Europe, and Japan.
In 1988, Dolfi opened up spacious sales rooms in the center of St. Ulrich, in the Hauptstrasse. The rooms which Adolf had purchased from Josef Sanoner-Adlerwirt in 1968 have now been owned by the Dolfi family for 30 years.
Gradually, the company's 78 employees were reduced to 40. In the context of cost-reduction measures, the post-processing of carved goods and the painting of individual pieces by outworkers was restructured.
At the Dolfi workshops in St. Ulrich and in Runcadic, a total of 278 female painters, 146 wood-carvers, and numerous so-called post-production carvers received vocational training. For many years, Willi managed the company all by himself. Later, his wife Annamaria as well as Matteo and Monika helped lead the company.
In 1995, Another Big Change in the Dolfi Company
Son Matteo and Daughter Monika Comploi Work with Their Parents in Their Own Business
In 1995, the company underwent another major change. After the onset of a very severe crisis in the wood-carving industry of Gröden/Gardena, the current proprietor of the Dolfi Company realized that business dealings could suffer unless the company trademark became more widespread. Consequently, the company made sizable investments in long-term marketing, in customer-oriented advertising, and in the constant modernization of the production facilities. These changes cost and continue to cost lots of time, energy, and money.
A few more developments which took place over the last 15 years:
In the year 2002, Matteo Comploi and his sister Monika assumed control of the large company. On the basis of their many good ideas and innovations, the Dolfi Company has experienced a palpable renewal in recent years. The two siblings have devoted considerable commitment and creativity, but also their extensive experience and entrepreneurial spirit to maintaining the company's time-honored business traditions.
A Few of the Wide Range Dolfi Wood Carving Collections:
Nativity scenes with mangers, various different kinds of Christmas ornaments, special collectible dolls, Teddy bears, chess sets of different sizes, our special "Children's World", our collection of religious art, crucifixes and Christ figures, Madonna figures, statues of saints, all kinds of secular wood carvings, lucky charms, small and large animal figures, crystal bells with small carvings, angels and angels' heads, South Tyrolean apples, three-dimensional puzzles made of wood under the Matteo-Comploi trademark (including vehicles, animals, and couples,) the "Dolfi Casa Collection", and finally also customized products.
A lot of innovation and hard work was invested in all of these collections. The entire manufacturing process in the field of wood carving is more complicated than many would believe. Until a wooden figure has been completely carved, undergone post-production processing, has been lacquered, painted, and gold-plated, at least 150 (on the average) manual steps are necessary.