Ruins 5


A charcoal drawing of a war ruin, made by Svend Keller, dated November 20th, 1946. Under the date, one can read “Mittag, Himmel bedeckt” (noon, sky clouded). This is probably the same building that is visible in the middle of the watercolor shown in the Ruins article on this blog. When that watercolor was painted, some parts of the building obviously had been broken down, probably because they where unstable, and some rubble had been cleared away.

The watercolor had been painted looking out of an attic window of the house in which Svend Keller and his parents, Rolf and Grete Keller, where living at the time. This drawing might have been made looking out of their appartments window. Unlike many surrounding houses, that house had survived the war.




A view from Quedlinburg. This colored drawing was made by Rolf Keller during a trip in the 1950s. Parts of this town, situated just northeast of the Harz mountain range, are now on the UNESCO World Herritage List.

This drawing is framed and under glass, so it was a bit of a challenge to get a good scan of it.

Town Canal in Holland


In 1944, Rolf Keller spent some time in Holland. He was there as a soldier. We have little exact information on this time since most of the letters he wrote home during the war (many of them illustrated) where destroyed in a fire (I am going to publish the few extant examples here at another time). However, there is a number of drawings and sketches from Holland, some giving names and places, some without exact information on the where and when. It is obvious that Rolf Keller was a great admirer of Dutch architecture.

I don’t know where exactly this pen drawing was made. The tower looks like that of the Weigh House (containing a cheese museum) in Alkmaar. If you look at pictures of that town on the internet, you also find exactly that type of draw bridge and exactly that type of hand rail on the bridges. However, I was not able to find any point on the map of the city that would provide exactly this view. It might be that this is somewhere else, not in Alkmaar, it might be that I have not studied the map of the town well enough or that places have been changed.

However, it is also possible that this drawing does not show any actual view but was composed by the artist, combining different elements he saw or sketched while walking through the town, something like an ideal concentrate of that town, combining the different elements that provide the beauty and atmosphere of these Dutch and Frisian Towns, the canals, the bridges, the trees, the houses and the typical towers.

Advent Calendars 2


The second advent calendar by Rolf Keller enables us to take a look into the artist’s workshop because for this one, the original design has been preserved. Moreover, in this case I might have identified the original railway station that inspired this design.

More information on what an advent kalendar is can be found here. Before we look at the design, let me explain the different pieces of text that can be found on the picture. The railway station is called “St. Niklas Hbf”. St. Niklas (also known as St. Nikolaus, St. Niklaus, depending on the region and dialect) is German for Santa Claus. “Hbf” is an abbreviation for “Hauptbahnhof”, meaning “main station”. The destination of the tram is “Niklasdorf” (“Niklas village”). The “HO” on the kiosk refers to the “Handelsorganisation”, the largest state owned retail business in the GDR. The inscription on the side of the train is “SPEISEWAGEN MITROPA”. “Speisewagen” means “dining car”. MITROPA was the catering company for trains in prewar Germany. It was renamed in west Germany but retained its name in the east after the war. Rolf Keller’s signature and his “24” logo (referring to the year he started his own business) can be found in the left lower corner.

In the right lower corner there is a little poem.

Hier ist die Stadt                                             Here is the city

dahinter liegt das Land.                                  behind it there ist he countryside

Trennst du das Rückblatt ab                          If you cut off the back page

wird dir das Dorf bekannt                              You are going to know the village

Unfortunately, the back page (probably showing an image of “Niklasdorf”) is missing. So when you opened the little numbered windows one by one (one on each day from December 1st to Decmber 24th) you would see motives from the village scene behind.

The original design of this advent calendar has been preserved. It offers a unique view into the artist’s workshop. It is now in the possession of one of my sisters and she sent me some pictures of it. The advent calendar is approximately A4-sized. The design is about twice the size:


The painting is glued onto a piece of cardboard. The “mountains” on top are missing. A detail from the signal box shows that some parts have been cut out and replaced by others, so the whole design is made up of several pieces:


The design was then probably fotographed with a reproduction camera. The following detail from the left lower corner shows that probably some retouching was made to the resulting fotograph before it was turned into the final lithograph for printing (the right side shows the design).

Bahnhof_Code IMG_20141130_083733

The little numbers of the perforated “doors” where also not present in the design (the exception is the 24 that was integrated into the design on the signaling box), but I don’t know if they where printed separately or added in the same step in which the retouching was done.

Looking at the picture it occurred to me that the inspiration to it might have come from one of the train stations in the public transport network of Hamburg, a station called “Dehnhaide”. Here are some contemporary pictures of how that station looks today:

File:U-Bahnhof Dehnhaide Eingang.jpg




From 1919 on, Rolf Keller had been living in Hamburg for over a decade. He had many friends there and Hamburg was where he met his wife. His mother in law and other relatives of his wife where still living in Hamburg. They had been living in Hamburg Barmbek before the war and that is where this train station is. Before the war, the entrance had been in the middle (where the showcase is in the above picture). The whole area had been heavily destroyed in the war and in fact the facade of the station is the only pre-war building still standing in this area. The rounded entrance at the corner had been built when the station was rebuilt in 1950. There was a tram line in front of the station until 1965, when trams in Barmbek where replaced by busses. The design was made in 1952 (I have evidence for this, but that will be the topic of a later article) and the advent calendar was published in 1953 (according to the code printed in the left lower corner, see the left of the detail pictures above – some information on such printing license codes can be found in my previous article). Rolf Keller might have been visiting his friends and family in Hamburg between 1950 and 1952 (note that in the 1950s, the border between East Germany and West Germany was still open). On such a visit, he might have seen (and possibly sketched) this station and then used this as an inspiration for the advent calendar. I don’t know if the industrial building behind the station already existed back then but it might also have provided the inspiration for the factory building in the calendar.

The advent calendar from 1956 I have posted last week looks a bit jumbled and disorganized in comparision to this one. There, a number of toy motives where put together without any unifying idea. In this older calendar, however, there is a unifying concept and a richness of little details. Letters show that Rolf Keller had a lot of work to do in 1956, he might simply not have had the time then to come up with such a charming design. The “St. Niklaus” advent calendar was obviously done with commitment. I imagine he had a lot of fun designing this one.

Houses and Trees on a Hill


Houses and TreesA pencil sketch on paper, 13 cm x 14.2 cm, showing some houses and trees. It is unsigned but by the style, it can be ascribed to Rolf Keller. It is a typical feature of Rolf Keller’s style to draw objects, e.g. trees, with one or a few long convoluted zigzag stroke.

Other examples of his style of sketching can be found here, here and here. The more I look at these sketches, the more I like them.

There is a caption in the left lower corner but I am not sure about how to read it. It seems to say “Anlage zu 5” (attachment to no. 5), but I am not sure if that reading is correct and if so, from which context it has been taken. It might have belonged to some letter. There are some letters of Rolf Keller that I have not evaluated yet, so it might be possible to find the context into which this belongs, but maybe that context is lost. I cannot, at this time, identify the buildings shown here, nor do I know the time this was drawn (maybe the 1920s or 1930s).


This is the second time I am reblogging a post of an artist I find remarkable on The Kellerdoscope. To me, the paintings of Ashley Sullivan are mesmerizing. Some are pure abstracts, some are landscapes, some are cityscapes or show industrial motives, with varying degrees of abstraction. Many of them are magic for me. I had a hard time deciding which of these paintings to choose. Just have a look yourself.

Ruins 4


This pen drawing, made by Svend Keller in 1949, is an illustration for a newspaper article. Below you can see the finished article, as it was probably published in a local newspaper of Chemnitz (yet to be identified, however I have no proof at the moment the article actually appeared in print, but it probably did). This is one of the very few examples where Svend Keller actually worked commercially in his newly learnt profession as a Graphics Designer. It looks like Svend Keller designed for himself a logo to be used for such purposes (probably a stylized “K”, above the name) but I have not seen it anywhere else yet. I don’t know if other newspaper illustrations by Svend Keller exist. To find out, one would have to screen the old papers from Chemnitz, if they still exist in some library or archive, probably as microfilm. As you can see, in the printed version of the drawing, the top part of the drawing was sacrificed. Perhaps drawings played a greater role in newspapers and magazines in those days than they did later when they where largely replaced by photography.

The author of the article signed “Knudsen”. This is a pseudonym of Svend Keller, so he wrote the text himself. The article is a reportage describing efforts to remove the ruins at one place in Chemnitz where a new square (“Kollwitzplatz” was being built).

A rough translation is following below. I can only give an idea of the text here, I don’t know how to capture the subtleties of the slightly propagandistic language of some sections. Remember we are here in eastern Germany, in the Soviet occupation zone, a few months before the foundation of the GDR (DDR). For example, an expression like “das schaffende Chemnitz” (literally “the working Chemnitz”, where the word “schaffen” has a connotation of “to bring into being”) seems to be communist jargon. I have translated it here simply “the workers of Chemnitz”. Probably a native speaker of English with some knowledge of Soviet jargon could come up with a better translation.




28th of March 1949.


Where the Kollwitz-square is forming

Once again, spring is coming into our city, accompanied by many hopes and wishes. With strengthened effort, people work on the rebuilding of the heavily destroyed Chemnitz.

Behind the museum as well, callused worker’s fists are clenching harder. Here, the new Käthe-Kollwitz-Square is forming that is supposed to unite the workers of Chemnitz on Mai 1st into a tremendous peace rally. Ruins are being blasted; a steam shovel is loading the narrow-gauge railway removing the debris.

In the evening the colossus is still digging its giant shovel into the debris. The day’s planned target has to be accomplished. The machine is screeching and making noise. Enormous chunks of debris are thudding into the trolleys. Suddenly, a heavy, elongate steel object is clamped between the digging teeth. A bomb! – For four years, the unexploded bomb had been lying in the ruins, witness of a night of horror. Now, one push is forwarding it into the light of the day. In an instant, the square is deserted. But the operator is keeping his nerve. Gently, he lets the 250 kg chunk glide to the ground.

On the next day, the removal of debris is continued as if nothing has happened. Even an American bomb cannot stop the work!

At noon, two blasts are to be conducted. To prevent a mishap, the unexploded bomb is “screened” by T-beams and boulders. A contingent of the People’s Police closes off the surrounding streets. Two explosions – the walls are collapsing -, work can continue. But now the bomb has to be removed. Defusing it is impossible, the detonator is seized up by rust and such old explosive devices are treacherous things. The power shovel must load the chunk into a trolley. “Well, you can sit inside it!” the machinist is saying.

But then he is doing I nevertheless. Four venturous men are clasping the bomb with a chain and fix it to the giant. It is lifted more gently than a raw egg and loaded into one trolley ready for it. Carefully, it is taken away. At the street, the unexploded bomb is loaded onto a police truck allocated for it, gazed at by many passersby, to be exploded in Rabensteiner forest.

On the Käthe-Kollwitz-square, people are already working again to remove the remains of the war.