Rolf Keller was not just an artist, he earned his money mainly with commercial contracts as a graphic designer. For example, he designed logos, did technical illustrations, caricatures for newspapers and other things like this.
One specialty were his advent calendars. A few of them have survived (in some cases only as copies) and over the next weeks, I am going to post them here. For a start, I have chosen a relatively well preserved one. It is approximately A4-sized. There is a hand-written “7” in the top left corner (shown incompletely here) and I don’t know what that means. There are two holes near the top, indicating that it had been nailed to the wall. Near the lower right corner, you can see Rolf Keller’s logo and name.
Nowadays, advent calendars normally contain chocolate. In the days of December before Christmas, children open a numbered door on each day and get a little piece of chocolate. Back then, however, there was only a little picture behind each door. We liked it that way; every morning, it was a little surprise. Since my grandfather was the one designing them, we had such calendars in our childhood. We were living in the west, my grandparents were in the east. Christmas parcels went in both directions. The ones going from east to west contained, among other things, such advent calendars.
There is a little poem on this one, about the winter, fitting to the main motive of the calendar, a personified winter:
The winter covers with ice and snow
Mountain, field and forest, village, creek and lake.
Little lights flicker in every house
And shine outside golden
Soon emerges from deep winter night
The beautiful celebration in its splendor
And as you take pleasure every day
Looking behind a new window
Mom removes from the calendar, snip-snap
After Christmas the back side
So that you will discover
What was until then hidden
The calendar has two layers, glued together at the rim. On the back side, there is an intstruction how to separate the two:
(“Please cut out the back side along the printed line”). The back side in this calendar is still attached to the front and I am not intending to destroy this item it by cutting it open, so the mystery of what is there will remain. Behind the doors are little pictures of a tree, a cat and things like that. These are probably arranged into another picture.
The following images of another advent calendar by Rolf Keller are from a collector’s site on the internet (http://www.merrytheschristmascollection.be/papadventcalendars.htm – thanks to the owner of that site for allowing me to include them here). Here you have an example of both the front page and the back page.
The back page of these calendars also contains a license code. Here is the one form my “Winter” calendar.
East Germany, i.e. the communist “DDR” had a state directed economy. Every book and printed work had to get a license code indicating it had been approved for print. This was a precondition for the allocation of paper and other resources for printing and it was also a control mechanism in the system of censorship. The big L in the dark rectangle here is probably the logo of the printer or publisher. It is not part of the license. The “A142” is the number of the publisher (Verlag). Some of these publisher’s numbers can be found here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lizenznummer but this list is obviously incomplete. On http://www.merrytheschristmascollection.be/papadventcalendars.htm, however, I find another advent calendar with this logo and the publisher’s name “Lederbogen” as well as the A142, and my mother told me that Lederbogen-Verlag was one of the main customers of Rolf Keller. Besides advent calendars, he did things like christmas cards for them. The owner of that site also sent me some additional information on these codes from the book “Adventskalender Geschichte und Geschichten aus 100 Jahren” by Tina Peschel. According to that information, 56 is the year of print or the year when the license was issued, so this design is from 1956. DDR is the German Democratic Republic. The sequence III/29/3 is the registry number of the printer’s shop, but again I don’t know the name of the printer. This system of codes was introduced in 1951.
The motives show winter activities and toys. The figure on Nr. 17 is a wooden incense smoker. Such smokers are produced in the “Erzgebirge” region in the south of Saxony. My mother has one from Rolf Keller’s heritage that is exactly like this, and probably its the one he had been drawing here. You can remove the top part, put an incense cone inside, light it and close it back. The smoke will then come out through the mouth. The figure beside it is another incense smoker. Even if there are some angels, the motives on these calendars are largely secular. The angels are actually depictions of christmas decoration and candle holders, like they are produced in the Erzgebirge region, and are no longer religious symbols.
One may say this is kitsch, and I don’t deny it, but there are childhood memories connected to these calendars.