The Creative Process of Italy's Most Prolific Small Publisher, Alberto Casiraghy

photo by Lucrezia Lozza

Alberto Casiraghy’s Italian workshop is full of woodcuts and printing plates used to make innovative small books in collaboration with artists.

Creating these books is an anthropological experience,” said Alberto Casiraghy—who also goes by Casiraghi—sitting at a table in his house-atelier as he talked with a local artist who came to discuss the creation of some books. In front of him was a stack of newly finished booklets, which Casiraghy was patiently stitching with needle and thread.

The production of Casiraghy, the only publisher and typographer of the Italian press Pulcinoelefante, originates from what he calls the “joy of printing,” which encompasses his entire creative process. “I started printing my poems, just for the joy of doing it, but I always loved sharing things.” For Casiraghy, printing a book is often a collaborative experience. “Every day, someone comes in, and we create a book together,” he said. “The aesthetic quality is central: I have the ability of printing, but whoever comes shares it with me.”

Since 1982, he has published 11,000 titles. The books are printed with a movable type printing press and lead typeforms. All folded in octavo, they come in a small format (usually 13.5 x 19.5 centimeters) and are printed on high quality Hahnemüle paper and hand-sewn. “Because the object I make is so small, it has to be supported by a beautiful paper,” Casiraghy said. His books are all limited editions, each existing in no more than 30 copies.

Books printed at Pulcinoelefante
Photo: Lucrezia Lozza

Books printed at Pulcinoelefante include works made with leading Italian authors and artists, often featuring poetry accompanied by art. 

Alberto Casiraghy
Photo: Lucrezia Lozza

This work held by Alberto Casiraghy features a quote from Voltaire accompanied by one of his colorful drawings. 

Pulcinoelefante studio
Photo: Lucrezia Lozza

Around 11,000 titles have been published by Casiraghy, whose Pulcinoelefante studio overflows with fine paper, type, and art.

His workshop is in Osnago, a tiny Italian town in the countryside between Milan and Lake Como. Pulcinoelefante’s eclectic catalogue includes poems from various authors, both famous and less known, short texts, and aphorisms—including the ones Casiraghy has been writing for 50 years. He has also crafted books for many of Italy’s leading authors and artists.

His interest in creative freedom also translates into the originality of the books. “It is a sophisticated game,” Casiraghy said while opening his drawers full of neatly organized typefaces. The beauty of his books also originates from the relationship between typeface, content, and decoration. 

He keeps a collection of woodcut matrices and clichés—printing plates used in letterpress—depicting objects, animals, and fantastic beasts that are reminiscent of a medieval bestiary. He likes to mix this imagery with typeforms and overlap them with different woodcuts during the printing process to create “evocative alchemies.” Sometimes Casiraghy mixes different fonts together, Roman and italics, to create artistic effects.

The books are often enriched by Casiraghy’s drawings. From a pocket, he pulled out a colored pencil and sketched a flower on a book he was working on. “See how it changes from just black and white to color?” He often also adds odd materials: books with some quotes from C. G. Jung have been decorated with a small mirror, others with watercolors, collage, and materials of various textures depending on the content.

The name Pulcinoelefante (chick-elephant) is itself part of the joyous and surreal universe of Casiraghy: a small chick with an elephant head. “I drew it as a child. It is an oxymoron. As I got older, I made a cliché and I have been using it for 40 years.”