Living Room with Tropical Plants

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In a previous post, it was already mentioned that one of Rolf Keller’s hobbies was growing tropical plants. In 1958, he removed one of the walls of his apartment (he was the owner of the house) and replaced it with a glass cabinet or indoor greenhouse, shown on this drawing. In the lower right corner, you can see Rolf Keller’s “24” logo, his signature and the dating “Dez. 58” (Dec. 58). The two rooms where integrated into one larger room this way with the “greenhouse” as a room divider. The size of the painting is 22 cm * 29 cm. It is mixed media, predominantly watercolor.

There had been paintings of tropical plants on the wall before, documented on some photographs, but obviously Rolf Keller had preferred to get the real thing instead. The integration of living plants and typical 1950s furniture creates a modern atmosphere.

The project of building the glass cabinet and populating it with plants is documented in several letters, some of them with illustrations. I am planning to show the more interesting ones here in a future post. For example, in one of the letters Rolf Keller describes how he got and transported the large branch that acts as the “backbone” of the little tropical landscape inside. Getting the plants in the GDR (East Germany) of the late 1950s was a challenge, but he was eventually able to get several species of epiphytic ferns and flowering plants.

In the back of the room, you can see Rolf Keller’s wife, Grete Keller, perhaps reading a book, or playing a solitaire card game.

On the right side, the picture is getting sketchier. One can see here that Rolf Keller would draw hidden parts of an object, like the arm chair sketched here, in order to get the proportions right, even if these would not be visible in a finished painting. Rolf Keller signed and framed the picture like this, so I think the sketchiness of the drawing on the sides is intended. This way, the viewer’s gaze is directed to the center which has been worked out in more detail, showing the plants and the bright light of the lamp.

In the foreground you can see one of the chairs shown in a previous post. The lamp might be the one shown there as well.

Here is an enlargeable version of the image. Click on it, then click again to see details.

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Ruins 5

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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.

Town Canal in Holland

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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.

Industrial Logos 1 – VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrik Saalfeld

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On March 15th, 1957, while working on the industrial fair in Leipzig, Rolf Keller sent a brochure “Halle 20” to his son, Svend Keller. This brochure lists the companies exhibiting in hall 20 of the fair in that year. This hall was dedicated to the East German machine tool producers organized under the organization of “WMW”, a large association of publicly owned (i.e. state owned) comanies.

In the 1957 brochure, Rolf Keller had marked those logos of exhibiting companies that he had designed or re-designed. It turns out that he was involved in the design of the logos of more than half of all those companies.

I am showing here one of the logos. Those of you who are just interested in art might not find this interesting, but some of you might have studied graphic design or might be interested in the history of industrial graphics design.

All of the logos in the book are printed in blue color. Perhaps there where guidelines based on the available printing technology, but I don’t know. Maybe the goal was to produce a common look and feel for all WMW companies.

The logo shown here belongs to a producer of “High duty drilling machines” called “VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrib Saalfeld”. There still is a machine tool industry in the town of Saalfeld, but I do not know if they are connected to that 1950s GDR-company (I am trying to find out). It might be that a company still exists that owns the rights for this logo but I was not able to find out so far.

There are other examples where the legal successors of the state owned companies from GDR times can clearly be identified and in one instance, I even found a company that is still using the logo as designed by Rolf Keller in the 1950s, without any changes, to this day (see the “Aue”-Logo in the blue cirlce here: http://www.blema.de/index.php?id=blema_de that also appears in exactly that shape in the “Halle 20” brochure of 1957, marked by Rolf Keller as his design). In other instances, the companies seem to have vanished completely after the German reunification.

One might ask the question what was the purpose of having logos for companies in a state planned economy like that of the GDR. But back in the 1950s, these machines where exported worldwide, so establishing brand names was important since machine tools where a mayor export article and thus an important source of forreign exchange for the GDR.

Such logos seem to have been one of Rolf Keller’s main sources of income. From his letters, we learn that he earned well from designing such logos. For example, in one letter from 22nd of October, 1957, he writes that he got the job of designing one logo for 2000 Mark and three for 1000 Mark each. This was much more that the average monthly income of a worker that, according to the information I could find, seems to have been in the 500 to 600 Mark range at the time.

(In case you, as an organization or individual, are the owner of the rights to this logo and you do not agree with me showing it here, please contact me. I will remove it in that case).

Start of School Greeting Card

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A postcard designed by Rolf Keller for Lederbogen Verlag. The text says: Best wishes for the beginning of school. This image does not show the whole postcard; I have cut off the margin (about one cm) around the picture since it had been written on.

I cannot date this card exactly. It does not show the printing license code typical of GDR printed media. The System of printing licenses had been introduce in 1951 (see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druckgenehmigungsverfahren), so this card should be latest from 1951. A letter by Rolf Keller dated February 23rd 1959 tells us that he started working for Lederbogen in 1945  “… Lederbogen is opening their trade fair stand fort he last time. In March the have to dissolve the company, an old customer (since 45) goes down the drain that way, who brought me 6000 per year on average. Friday morning I am driving to the fair to design the Lederbogen stand.” (“… Lederbogen hält zum letztenmal seinen Messestand offen. Im März muß die Firma liquidieren, ein alter Kunde (seit 45) geht damit flöten, der durchschnittlich 6000 im Jahr einbrachte. Freitag früh fahre ich zur Messe, um den Lederbogen-Stand zu gestalten. ”) I do not know what was the reason for the liquidation oft hat company, it might have been for political reasons since many private companies in the GDR where transformed into state owned ones or integrated into larger state owned companies.

So the earliest date for the card would be 1945. However, the quality of the paper and printing is quite good and there was probably no demand for such cards directly after the war, so I think it is very unlikely that this card is from the immediate post war time. I would therefore date it to around 1950

The motive of the card, however, is older. It shows Rolf Keller’s son, Svend Keller (born in 1928), as a young boy (around 1935) in the Kellerfamily’s apartment in Chemnitz, so probably Rolf Keller used a sketch or photograph from the 1930s as a basis for this card.

The “Reiterhaus” in Neusalza-Spremberg

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Another pencil sketch by Svend Keller, from August 9th, 1948. The caption reads “Neusalza Spremberg Reiterhaus”. Neusalza Spremberg is a village just at the border between Saxony and Czechia. This is where the father of Rolf Keller’s mother Gabriele Hünlich, Friedrich Wilhelm Hünlich, came from. Her mother, Rosa Plocek, was from Czechia.

So while the year before, Svend Keller had visited Heidmühlen where the ancestors of his mother came from, one year later he visited Neusalza Spremberg on the trail of his father’s ancestors, although the family was not from this particular house.

The Reiterhaus that is shown on the sketch, is today a local museum (see http://www.reiterhaus.de/). It was built in 1670. The name refers to the depiction of a horse rider fixed to one side. This is hardly visible on the sketch but if you know where it is, by comparing it with the pictures from the museum’s web site, you can see that it is at least hinted at on the sketch. This house was built in the style of “Umgebindehaus”. In such houses, the upper part of the house rests on the pillars at the side, while the rooms downstairs are not directly connected to it. Typically there are arches at the windows in order to carry the weight of the upper part of the house. One theory why these houses are built like this is that the noise of the looms that where typically operated in these houses would not be propagated upstairs so strongly, so people could weave while other members of the family were sleeping. Another advantage seems to be that this way of building leads to a relatively stable room climate which is also thought to be advantageous for weaving. However that might be, all of the known male ancestors of Friedrich Wilhelm Hünlich (from the Hünlich and Hempel families) had actually been weavers, although he himself was a clerk at a district court.

Six Generations later, my sister Christine returned to the profession of our Saxon ancestors and became a weaver (and textile designer and textile artist) again.

 

Zooming In and Zooming Out

My contribution to the cooperative blog project “Journey of a photograph”. The journey will be going on now…

Journeyofaphotograph

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Nerve impulses running down the spinal cord, triggering muscle cells – mitochondria pumping protons and electrons to provide the energy to move a muscle. The muscle contracts and the fingertip touches the release button, triggering a cascade of electronic signals, calculations, movements of electromechanical parts, chemical reactions inside a battery, a shutter opening, photons flashing inside and triggering chemical changes in the particles of the film. A myriad of smallest and shortest events and processes combine to produce that short “click” that indicates that a picture has been taken. The photographer looks away and her mind and eye turn on something else.

A short moment in her life. The moment she pressed the trigger of her camera. Clouds, trees or bushes, houses, the horizon, the sun. Motion blur. Lens Flair.

The photograph was shot while in motion, maybe from a train or a car. The hexagonal spots of lens flair…

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