I found this drawing (aprox. 12.7 cm x 13,7 cm, pencil and watercolor on drawing board) among Rolf Keller’s letters. My mother had pre-sorted them by year and this one is from the 1958 file, so I suppose it is from that year although it is not dated. I have not yet transcribed the letters from that year (I am currently working on 1957, fighting with Rolf Keller’s sometimes hard to read handwriting), so I don’t know yet if the drawing is mentioned in any of them.

After Rolf Keller’s son Svend Keller, who had been a political prisoner (see Advent Calendars 3) had been released in 1956, he left the GDR after a few weeks and went to Hamburg in West Germany where he had relatives. As a result, they started writing letters to each other. Of this correspondence, the part from Rolf Keller has been preserved and that is what I am currently working on. The letters turn out to be a very interesting historical source.

The drawing shows some armchairs that Rolf and Grete Keller had acquired. As you can see from these chairs, the typical 1950s style, with its characteristic slanting conical legs, also existed in the German Democratic Republic. The material on the yellow chair, with its irregular black stripes, is a typical textile design of those years.

The captions read:

Left lower corner: “„Mein“ Wannensessel FUG, Gelbschwarz. ich vermisse nur den eingebauten Aschenbecher” (“”My” basin-shaped armchair FUG, yellow-black I’m only missing the built-in ashtray).

Right lower corner “„Muttis“ Sessel SYLVIA schwarz-gelb” (“”Mom’s” armchair SYLVIA black-yellow).

Upper left corner: “Solche Lampe aus d. Verkaufsgenoss. Bi Künstler wollen wir Knudsen zu Weihn. schenken. Wie denkt ihr darüber? (<- Zweiflammig)” (Such a lamp from the Verkaufsgenossenschaft Bildender Künstler (Sales Cooperative of Visual Artists) we want to give to Knudsen for Christmas. How do you people think about it? <- with two bulbs (lit. two flames, a rather old-fassioned expression)).

“Knudsen” was a pseudony or nickname of Svend Keller (see also Ruins 4). The “Verkaufsgenossenschaft Bildender Künstler”, established in 1954, was a state-controlled trade organisation for the visual arts in the German Democratic Republic. This example indicates that not only fine artists in the narrower sense but also designers had to trade their products through this organisation.

I have a faint memory of these chairs, especially the yellow-black one of my grandfather that I must have seen as a child on a visit to Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz). I have probably been sitting on that chair myself. I am very fond of this 1950s style of furniture, with this kind of chairs and the characteristic kidney-shaped or triangular rounded tables. I also like the abstract designs on textiles, ceramics and other things from that time, as well as some of the architecture. I suppose that when I was a small child in the 1960s, a lot of such furniture and objects in that style where still arround and these things make me feel at home.


18 thoughts on “Furniture

  1. I love these drawings. I remember furniture like this from my childhood as well. You are right, it does make me feel at home to look at a picture like this. Calls up so many other associations For one thing, I am thinking of “The Lonely Bull” by the Tijuana Brass, I think, playing on our hifi record player, on a day in winter. Just that flash, these chairs brought it up! Thank you for posting.

    • Some stuff is stored in our memory but there is no way to access it, unless the right trigger evokes it. The material on this chair, with its irregular black stripes, is a typical textile design of those years. Those lost days of our childhood. 🙂

    • It just occurs to me that the legs of some of the figures in your collages have this shape as well. Who knows, maybe there is an influence. Also comparing these textile designs to the textures in your works… 😉

      • Sometimes I think the things that influenced me in childhood are the deepest rooted and most pervasive, and show up in all kinds of places. I agree with you, I do think my tastes were formed long ago and I’m still finding places to express them.

  2. And again.

    I have (in a room in my house that is not really accessable at the moment) a watercolour of the living room in Karl Marx Stadt and I think those chairs might be on there though I am not sure…

    Maybe a lamp like that.
    Did we ever get the lamp????
    Will look and try to scan. (I am planing to frame it but have not have funds for that…

    • In Gesine’s living room, there is also a drawing showing the living room of the Keller’s, including one of these chairs. I found out that Stuttgart University library has some overhead scanners where it could be scanned, and I will do so next time I go there. The library was closed betwenn Dec. 24th and Jan. 4th, so I could not do it when I was there.
      It looks like you will have to spend some time to scan or photograph all the stuff you have 🙂
      I don’t remember this lamp, What was there was a round one with three feet (there is also a drawing about it, and there are fotographs showing it.

  3. So fascinating how this Rolf Keller story keeps on growing. I am sure, that, if he could be watching, and maybe he is, he would appreciate this very much.
    I also remember this type of furniture being very in vogue in Belgium also, certainly with the younger people.

    • Just keep watching, there is a lot of nice stuff still to come. When visiting my mother in December, I looked through some sketch books and they are really fascinating. My sisters also have some stuff. And interesting information keeps coming out of these letters, also about other people. For example, on your web site, I see an advent calendar of Marianne Drechsel. Just yesterday evening, I read in one of the letters that she visited the Kellers in 1957 and stayed at their place for three days.

      • I remember the name of Marianne Drechsel, and I think, there are some fotos of my first visits in Karl-Marx-Stadt in the early sixties, when I was a small child.

        • Our mother just sent me the transcript of a letter Marianne Drechsel sent her in 1961, with a straw star for christmas that she (M.D.) had made (the star that was used at the top of the Christmas tree when we where small). According to that letter, she had left east Germany in 1959, but was still in Kontakt with the Keller family there. She even mentioned me in that letter 🙂
          When I was in Hamburg, I scanned some Christmas cards she designed. Maybe I will show them here next Christmas. Rather kitschy, but interesting.
          Among the slides I digitized last year there are some showing you as a small child there. Did you get a copy of the slides? We need to get an LCD projector an make a “DIA-Abend”.

    • This type of furniture was an international phenomenon in those years (as well as a connected style of architecture and other areas of design). I wonder where it originated. It seems to have connections to art deco, Bauhaus and Italian Futurism, i.e. design directions of the 1920s and 1930s. There also seem to be connections with paintings and sculptures of the abstract expressionism of the time. Maybe designers began where they had been forced to stop in the 1930s by Fascism and Naziism. Would be interesting to find out more about the origins of this style. Did it originate in Europe, in the US or both? I guess there are some books about it, but a lot of the history is probably lost, especially what happened inside the factories of furniture producers. A lot of designers and artists of this time have vanished into obscurity (and what I am doing here is just an attempt to bring at least one of them back, as far as possible).

    • More and more intersting details come to light from the letters. For example, I was able today to locate the scene shown in, a watercolor painted by my father, mentioned in one of Rolf Keller’s letters from 1956. I also found information on the kind of industrial drawing I posted recently. I am sure a lot of interesting stuff will still come up from the letters and from the artworks we have. Stay tuned!

  4. Interesting and informative post! Last year we were cleaning my grandmothers house and putting it up for sale. It is located in the historical district in San Antonio. The house is 114 years old with beautiful molding inside, a wide open hallway and very high ceilings. She had two chairs that had 50’s era design. I own one of them. It is a teal rocking chair with a small band of embroidery on the back. When you think of the memories that particular pieces of furniture evoke, you realize there is a significant story behind its’ design and use.

    • Thank you for sharing this.
      Indeed, such things bring up memories, sometimes some that would not have accessible in other ways. Sometimes just moods. I am currently evaluating old letters, photographs and the works of art left by my grandfather and father and it becomes more and more fascinating.

  5. Pingback: Living Room with Tropical Plants | The Kellerdoscope

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