Maria Luigia Guaita was born on 11 August 1912 in Pisa, the city where she spent the first ten years of her life. Later she moved to Turin and from 1926 in Florence. She studied with her brother Giovanni, the youngest, at the Liceo Galilei and her brother introduced her to the group of anti-fascist of Pieraccini, Traquandi, Enriques Agnoletti. In 1941 she was assumed to the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, where she worked at the counter. This enables it to have ongoing relationships with the public and become very good medium for the transmission of messages relating to her illegal activities, at that time, is to provide identity cards to the Jews and sought political. On 25 July 1943, after the fall of fascism, Guaita, during lunch in the canteen of the bank, to the amazement of her colleagues and superiors, makes her first official statement of anti-fascism. As a result, when, with the armistice of September 8, the fascists of the Republic of Salò and the Germans appear on the scene, Guaita is recommended by the head office to give herself sick and not to return to the bank. Thus enters into full secrecy and began her career in the relay for the Liberation Committee, the partisan brigades and Radio Cora.
On August 11 of ’44, when Florence was liberated by Allied troops and precisely with the DWB (the British secret service), arriving in Florence also Dino Gentili, jew from Milan emigrated abroad years before. Gentili meets the Committee of National Liberation Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, Luigi Boniforti, Maria Luigia Guaita and with their other companions the Partito d’Azione, founded the publishing house “Edizioni U”, for which the Guaita became editorial secretary.
It is thanks to this small publishing house the first publication in Italy of books by authors hitherto banned in Fascist Italy: Gaetano Salvemini, Aldo Garosci, Valiani, Carlo Levi, Franco Venturi, etc.. In this new adventure Guaita puts the same passion she put into overcoming fear of the partisan war, but now it is to deal with a work which ignores everything. The books are printed at the Vallecchi typography own by Enrico Vallecchi, important publisher. Between the two was born an affectionate association: Vallecchi helps her to overcome all the difficulties that the new work presents. The Guaita, in fact, has to deal with both the correction of the proofs that the secretariat and accounting. In the spring of ’45, when the war ended, the books are ready, and are distributed throughout Italy. The publishing house closed in 1948, but already in 1946 Dino Gentili had brought his company “Dreyfuss Gentili” in Prato, which Guaita joined. The “Dreyfuss Gentili” imports, in the city of Prato destroyed by the war, Australian wool, helping in the reconstruction of factories, which were fitted as textile manifactories. Instead of rags will be processed wool, carding process it will be replaced to brushed process and Prato becomes one of the major importer of wool. The “Dreyfuss Gentili”, meanwhile, becomes “Imex Lane” and in the company also enter Bruno Tassi and Roberto Cecchi, sellers of wool “Dreyfuss”. However, after some time, Guaita feels the need to pursue other interests and began a collaboration with Il Mondo a weekly magazine directed by Mario Pannunzio.
She also publishes a book of memoirs on the Resistance, “Storie di un anno grande”, with whom she won the Prato Prize in 1958. During her journalistic activities for “Il Mondo” came to the defense of a couple of Prato married civilly that the Bishop of Prato, Monsignor Fiordelli, had called from the pulpit as “concubine punished by God,” taking as an excuse the fact that the husband suffered a paralysis. Guaita’s article raises a stir at the point that was brought a lawsuit against the bishop. Guaita is recommended to leave Prato for some time. She went to Edinburgh in Scotland where she learns to do the lithographs in the studio of a painter friend, Anna Redpath. Back in Florence in 1959, she sells part of her shares “Imex Lane” and founded the Printstudio Il Bisonte, who soon became her main activity.
In this new venture is supported by Professor Rodolfo Margheri, talented painter and engraver, and two printers, former workers of the Military Geographical Institute, Guerrando Giachetti and Piero Innocenti, as well as two young apprentices, Raffaello Becattini and Franco Pistelli, which will become very good printers themself.
Thus began what would become the passion of her life. She invited to work at Il Bisonte the major Italian artists and, in those years, were made etchings and lithographs that will remain popular. The headquarters of Via Ricasoli becomes too small for the needs of Il Bisonte and after her mother’s death, Maria Luigia leave the family home and buy, in the district of San Niccolò, an old shop with attached apartment, where moved house and laboratory. A few months later, on November 4, 1966, the Arno flood engulfs Il Bisonte with four meters of water.
Maria Luigia, stuck inside, escaped out from a window. The news of the disaster goes around the world, artists and friends help her start over. In the summer of 1967 Henry Moore, the great British artist, goes to visit her in San Niccolò accompanied by a friend, former partisan that, as an Art Director at Penguins Books, is preparing a book about him. The Printstudio Il Bisonte still smells of mildew, the houses on the street are still propped up, from the walls has been taken off the plaster in order to dry the dampness … Moore is moved and promises to return to Florence. He goes back the next summer and for two months he worked at Bisonte. The result is a portfolio of six lithographs, and Guaita promised to work so that could make a big exhibition of Moore in Florence. Four years later, in 1972, Moore’s sculptures are exposed at the Forte Belvedere, while Il Bisonte will host the graphic works. It’s a great success for Moore, for Florence, for Il Bisonte, and the seal of friendship between the english artist and Maria Luigia Guaita, who that same year, she married the publisher Enrico Vallecchi.
The lithographs became fashionable and, consequently, also a great business. Invade galleries and exhibitions and the desire to make profits more quickly and with less effort led to the use of photolithography. Maria Luigia Guaita opposed to this trend. In 1982, after a disagreement with Guttuso that has not kept his promise to fight with her to the distinction between the original graphics and the offset and has sold himself a photolithography classifying it as original artwork, closed the Printwork. Il Bisonte remains only just a Gallery. The year before, the President of the Republic Sandro Pertini was awarded Maria Luigia Guaita with the title of Commendatore della Repubblica.
So it was that the Guaita passes from crafts to trade, while not becoming ever, he said, a good trader. The passion for etching and remained with some friends in 1983, in the district of San Niccolò create a Cultural Center, a non-profit organization, and opened a school to teach to young people the traditional techniques of printmaking. She continued her battle against “false” graphics. The school, whose courses are held in via Giardino Serristori, in the former stables of Palazzo Serristori, is still active.
Since 1990, after the death of Enrico Vallecchi, Guaita moved into an apartment above the school, and devotes much of her time and energies, realizing at the last, in 2005, the foundation “Il Bisonte – per lo studio dell’arte grafica” designed to give effect to her intent of protecting, teaching and dissemination of original graphic art.
She died December 26th, 2007, the date from which Il Bisonte continues its journey under the guidance of her nephew Simone Guaita, trying to honor the legacy with its activities and the enthusiasm of its exceptional founder.