The Elf Maker

by Rebecca Bricker on December 6, 2015

I went down the road today to meet the neighborhood Elf Maker. Doesn’t every neighborhood have one? (Mister Rogers’ neighborhood springs to mind.) I live in a neighborhood in Florence called the Oltrarno, known for its artisan workshops. The Elf Maker lives only a short distance from me.

Many an evening, I linger at the Elf Maker’s shop after he has closed for the day. His window is full of amazing creations and decorations. Big eyes peer from the displays. One evening, this fellow winked at me. >>>

In recent weeks, the window has been home to the Boboli Elves, fantasy characters who one day will appear in a book the Elf Maker is writing. In the Elf Maker’s vivid imagination, the elves live underground in the famous Boboli Gardens just behind his shop.

On sunny days, I’ve roamed the Boboli Gardens, an expansive park at the Medici’s Pitti Palace. Grand and curious sculptures dot the landscape. I’ve often wondered if they come to life after dark. I almost got to find out one night as I dallied on a garden path at closing time. The guard was surprised to see me as I scurried past the gate. On my walk home that evening, I looked up above the garden wall and saw the light of a firefly — or was it a fairy? — tipping its luminous lacey wings at me. I’m not at all surprised to learn that elves linger there, too.

I was delighted when the Elf Maker invited me to see his studio, which sits behind the shop’s middle room that looks like a Christmas treasure chest. He apologized because the studio was a bit messy. But I’m sure it wasn’t totally his fault. I sensed, as we stepped through the doorway, that a few of his creations had been cavorting on his work table just seconds before we appeared.

The Elf Maker’s name is Giovanni Lopez. His shop is GIOLU, a made-up name that combines his name, GIOvanni, with the name of his lovely wife LUcille Cracolici, who had helped me select Christmas decorations for my apartment just the day before. My big purchase was an elfin stocking made in Belgium. Another stocking, shaped like a woman’s high-heeled boot (“The Boot of Italy!” I exclaimed to Lucille), also had caught my eye. But I went with the elfin one — to remember the Elf Maker by.














Giovanni is a fine artist whose fantastical paintings evoke Gulliver’s Travels, with flying ships full of fairy-tale creatures. He showed me a sketch he’s doing for a painting of Alice in her Wonderland. There’s another painting on his easel that hints at the story of Giovanni’s beginnings as an artist. He worked as an animator at the Matitanimata studios in Rome, before he opened his shop in Florence on Via Romana in 2003.


There’s great anticipation about the Christmas lights that will be strung on Via Romana this year. Last Christmas season, Via Romana was the most talked-about street in Florence — it was decorated with flying bicycles and bicycle wheels.









No surprise — the Elf Maker KNOWS what the theme will be this year. But it’s a secret, he says. All will be revealed on December 8, a holiday here when the Christmas season officially begins.

I asked the Elf Maker if his Boboli elves will have a hand in the decorating. His eyes twinkled as he laughed.

I think I’m going to take a midnight stroll on Via Romana tomorrow night to watch the magic unfold. :)

<<< This elf (named Murchino) is dressed in Florentine fabrics and has a beard of curly sheep’s wool. His clay hands and face have been modeled by the Elf Maker himself. Murchino comes with a certificate of authenticity (and a price tag of €600). Note the fetching signora with the big hair in the top photo — she’s Murchino’s wife. She’s priced separately (though I’m not sure she’ll let him out of her sight). 😉

GIOLU ~ Via Romana 135/R ~ phone: 055 225518 ~ www.giolu.com