In our history there’s actually one thing we’re particularly proud of: the collaboration with Štěpán Zavřel and Grafiche AZ contribution to the birth of the “artistic tradition” of fine picture books, in Italy and in the world.

Through the precious testimony of Leo Pizzol, one of the founders of the Exhibition and subsequently of the Illustration School of Sàrmede, a longtime friend of Grafiche AZ, we want to tell you about those first magical and exciting years, about a relationship – the one with Štěpán – that from being just professional has turned into a true friendship.

Štěpán Zavřel and the illustration as a form of art

Štěpán Zavřel is to illustration as Elvis Presley is to rock.

Zavřel was born in Prague in 1932; since childhood he’s been in love with drawing, and after graduation he starts working as a cartoonist in the animation studio Bratři v triku, directed by the great Jiři Trnka. Life behind the iron curtain, however, is not easy: he manages to attend the Academy of Fine Arts only by attending “clandestine” lessons.

In 1959 he leaves the country and after a daring escape he arrives in Italy, in the refugee camp of Trieste, and then he moves to Rome where he attends the Academy of Fine Arts. Here he meets his classmate Hélène de Franchis, with whom he will open the art gallery “Galleria La Città” in Verona.

In the following year he studies and works a lot: among others, he works as a graphic designer for the Rolf Seifert Studio in Munich, and simultaneously as a designer for the animation studio of Giulio Zannini and Emanuele Luzzati in Rome.

The meeting with Luzzati is crucial for Zavřel, who – fascinated by the Italian style – will develop the idea of ​​making illustration an autonomous art. That’s when his first illustrated book, The Magic Fish – made with Mafra Gagliardi in 1966 – was born.

The idea, which Štěpán Zavřel pursued throughout his entire artistic career, is to use illustration to create a bridge between the world of art and that of childhood. In the same vein, a few years later (1973), together with Otakar Bozejovsky von Rawenoff, Zavřel found the Bohem Press publishing house in Zurich.

Meeting Grafiche AZ and the collaboration with Bohem Press

That’s exactly in 1973 when Grafiche AZ met Štěpán Zavřel.

It happened by means of Mario Vigiak, graphic designer, artist, editor of Quadragonoduring a mythical trip to Frankfurt.

It is said that the protagonists of this trip – Giorgio Aldegheri (founder of Grafiche AZ together with Franco Armano), Otakar Bozejovsky von Rawenoff, Štěpán Zavřel and Mario Vigiak himself – risked an accident. Luckily, the story went differently, leading to the birth of the illustrated book we still love.

Those 800 kilometers together marked the beginning of a decades-long collaboration, of a very close both personal and professional relationship.

Shortly after, Grafiche AZ began to regularly print the illustrated books of Bohem Press.

Leo Pizzol, who at that time was responsible for correcting press proofs, told us some anecdotes about the working methods of those ancient times, which marked the birth of the illustrated book as we know it today.

Štěpán Zavřel was always present during the printing and proofing phases, often joined by Fulvio Testa. Before midnight Franco Armano started the machines, so that the process would have ended in the morning; Zavřel, who was sleeping in the apartments right above the factory (now converted into offices), used to go down during the night to check the color rendering of the first prints.

Another curiosity about this great illustrator comes from Leo Pizzol himself: Zavřel used to prepare the dummy by sticking the texts by hand, so that it could take up to three days to print a single title.

From left to right: Susanne, Otakar's wife, Giorgio's wife Paola, Otakar (founder of Bohem Press together with Stepan Zavrel), Giorgio (Grafiche AZ, founder), Klaus Flugge (founder of Andersen Press)

The International exhibition and the illustration school of Sàrmede

In the meantime, Zavřel’s house in Rugolo (a small town in the province of Treviso, near Sàrmede) had become a true cultural center where artists of all kinds, authors, illustrators and publishers meet. In this fertile milieu, the idea of an exhibition completely dedicated to children’s illustration was born.

The opening of first edition of the International Exhibition of Children’s book Illustration of Sàrmede was hence in 1983. The exhibition had an immediate success, coming to other Italian cities and European capitals.

Even in this fundamental junction of the history of illustration, Grafiche AZ had a hand: we printed all the materials of the first exhibitions (invitations, posters and the wonderful catalogs).

A few years later, again in Sàrmede, Štěpán Zavřel began holding illustration courses: it’s the origin of the Štěpán Zavřel International Illustration School, which in its more than 30 years of activity has trained thousands of artists, many of whom have become very famous in the world of illustration.

Štěpán himself had published about 30 works throughout his life, translated into over 30 languages ​​and distributed all over the world.

On February 25th, 1999 Štěpán passed away; just two months earlier he had attended the company Christmas dinner, as had been the tradition for over 20 years.

Working with him, as well as with other great pioneers of contemporary children’s illustration, was a true honor.

It fills us with pride to know that, if the art of illustration is now flourishing and spreading worldwide, it is also thanks to this fabulous story we played a role in.