Around 1900, Ortisei in Val Gardena, was not only known for carving statues, but also for the construction of wooden carved Altars: the Altar was the figurehead of Val Gardena. At that time, not a week passed without an Altar being created in Val Gardena, which generally began its journey to a distant destination. In many countries of the world Val Gardena grew to a synonym for sacred Art. The construction of Altars in Val Gardena in fact belongs to the most fascinating chapters of the recent art history of South Tyrol. Despite the enormous success of the Altars and statues around 1900, the history of art was often casted by a shadow of prejudices about the entrepreneurs in Val Gardena.
From the artistic point of view the founding of the School of Design, built up by the imperial regime in 1820, was a significant enrichment. The first master of art at this structure was Sotriffer Jakob, a native from Val Gardena.
Since 1850 some young students of Val Gardena continued their studies at the renowned Academy of Art in Munich, Bavaria. The Bavarian capital was the centre of the Nazarene painting. With some exceptions, so far there were no Nazarene sculptors. The transmission of Nazarene aesthetic from the bi-dimensional drawing into three-dimensional sculpture should become the domain of the sculptors. During the 19th century the demand for ecclesiastical art grew increasingly and the disposal throughout Europe boosted exponentially. The result was a wave of enterprising young people who learned the art of sculpture and acquired some good business skills.
This enormous growth was underpinned by the optimal connection to the rail and road network of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Without the combination of creative and artistic potential and great underlying economic conditions, there wouldn’t be a track record of the sacred wood furniture in Val Gardena. However in the seventies of the 19th Century there were several art institutes, which cleverly market their creations; the main destination was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but also beyond this boundary. Many creations were transported through the ports of Trieste, Genova, Rotterdam and Hamburg to the various destinations worldwide. In this way a big competition was formed among the many companies, which had high quality works as a logical consequence.
Some of the major studios that employed more than twenty craftsmen were: Ferdinand Stuflesser Petlin, Josef Rifesser by Stufan, Leopold Scurcia by Moroder, Dominik Janmeine by Demetz, Ferdinand Cademia by Demetz, and Josef Conrad Martiner Riffeser. Even studios that earlier specialized in the production of wooden toys, passed to the realization of sacred wood furniture: Business & Insam Prinoth (Insam and Prinoth) based in Tirol St Ulrich / Ortisei, as well as in Nürnberg, Johann Baptist Purger (J.B.Purger) studio, Senoner by Costa studio, Mauroner by Gustin, Josef and Dominik Moroder, brothers Moroder based in Val Gardena and Offenburg (Workshop for Sacred Art Brothers Moroder) former studio Franz Josef Simmler (Offenburg), Mahlknecht (Ingenuin Mahlknecht and later Johann Baptist Mahlknecht) studio, Franz Moroder studio, Runggaldier by Janon (Joh. Dominik Runggaldier) studio, Leopold Moroder studio.
In 1906 a consortium for advertising, quality control and pricing should have been build up, but this project wasn’t brought to a termination. The organizing committee of the project consisted of: Kostner Alois, Ignaz Insam, Ingenuin Testor, Josef Rifesser, Franz Anvidalfarei, Ferdinand Stuflesser, Josef Obletter, Franz Irasek, Ferdinand Perathoner, Johann Baptist Moroder, Konrad Pitscheider and Josef Riffesser. In 1910 the “Produktiva” (first consortium of productive creators of Sacred Art Church in Ortisei Val Gardena) was established. Ferdinand Demetz even founded its own school of arts. Also many photos, original models from past workshops and pamphlets, give an idea of the vastness of the production of this period. The First World War and the collapse of the Danube Monarchy marked the end of the majority of these companies. The period of prosperity was over and only a few companies, the most determined and resourceful, were able to survive this crisis period. The search for new markets and customers in order to continue the road success began of the construction of wooden altars began. The oldest and most traditional studio which is still operating is the company Ferdinand Stuflesser 1875 which continues to write the valuable history of this art since 1875.
Here is a list of the main companies of Val Gardena: