5.16.12 Handsome Prints
We hit the ground running in Venice, dropping our bags at the sweet garden apartment we rented in the Dorsoduro neighborhood (more on that another day), and hoofed it right up to Canareggio in the northern part of the city to visit Gianni Basso Stampatore. G had brought me to this dark sliver of a shop on Calle del Fumo last time we were in Venice, but it was closed on that cold day in early January and I vowed to return. The window was tantalizingly full of gorgeous calling cards created for an eclectic roster of luminaries, including names as diverse as Hugh Grant, Pierre Bergé and Gael Greene. Gianni himself mans the shop (though his son now works with him, too) and I was thrilled to spend some time with this genial Venetian who is responsible for such beautiful letterpress creations.
Gianni's collection of stamps includes everything from the winged lion that is the symbol of Venice to heraldic crests, charming animals, complex filigrees and lovely botanicals. If you don't find something you like (impossible!) he will even create a new one for you from the many reference books on hand.
Gianni was apprenticed to Armenian monks at age 14 to learn his trade and has become something of a legend in Venice (and beyond), where his nickname is Gutenberg. Like virtually everything authentic in this city, his shop has the rich patina of age and is filled with artifacts, including the antique presses and ancient stamps he uses, and even some engravings from the first edition of Pinocchio. Despite all this, the maestro is very down to earth and will even gossip with you about his famous clients. And doesn't he totally remind you of an Italian Jeff Daniels?
The hardest part is choosing which of his amazing collection of images you want to have on your custom-designed bookplates, business cards or stationery. Gianni has a good eye and will help you pick your fonts and colors. I work quickly and intuitively and so does he, so we had a lot of fun, even though my Italian is not much better than his English.
You are free to roam about the shop touching everything, snooping, calling out questions and generally getting into mischief. Gianni is very tolerant. Oh, and he only takes cash.
There are several intriguing pieces of equipment, and a few gorgeous slabs of well-worn marble that have been used as work surfaces for centuries.
Of course there is wonderfully thick and pulpy Venetian paper and be sure to choose those feathery deckled edges. I'm so happy that I went all out and treated myself to Glutton for Life calling cards featuring what Gianni called la zucca ironica (the wry pumpkin), as well as personalized note cards with the most beautiful plant, roots and all.
If you don't have a trip to Venice planned in the near future and are craving some equally sophisticated custom-engraved bookplates or stationery, I suggest you visit Thornwillow Press. It has a similar reverence for Old World craftsmanship which, in these latter days, cannot be overestimated.