Showing posts with label apprenticeship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apprenticeship. Show all posts

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Babette, Bärbel's older sister?

About a month ago I introduced Bärbel who had to leave school at the age of 13~14 following the death of her father, and go off to learn a trade so she could contribute to the household. Bärbel was the protagonist in Bärbels fröhliche Lehrzeit (Bärbel's Happy Apprenticeship) that I wrote about in Bookbinding as Chick Lit. This genre is known in German as Backfischromane, an interesting term. I had found the book by accident while surfing eBay... and ordered it on a whim, no researching the Author further in any detail. The story spoke for itself, and the illustrations were fun. After that post I received an email from a librarian colleague in Weimar who wrote to let me know that Felix Riemkasten had written an earlier version of the book in 1935... Well, now I was obligated to dig deeper if only to see what the differences were. After all, post-war Germany in 1953 was a very different time from Nazi Germany in 1935...

Babette bindet Bücher (Babette Binds Books) arrived early last week and provided a wonderful deja-vue experience. The 1953 story (Bärbel) was an almost identical word-for-word reprint with the same characters, but with a different illustrator (Lotte Oldenburg) than the 1935 story (Babette). Babette did however provide some differences that were interesting. The first was the choice of typeface in the 1935 story, an appropriately German fraktur. Makes for an interesting combination with the typefaces used on the cover... I did look through my Buchbinderlehrling to see if the book might have been reviewed or at least mentioned, but alas, no. Babette was described in Georg Ruppelt's Buchmenschen in Büchern (Book People in Books), 1997, accompanied by the frontispiece illustration.

Both books can be found via various online antiquarian platforms:

Cover | Einband

From the dedication below, I wonder if Lotti Kessler went on to become a bookbinder because of Babette's story...

Dedication | Widmung
Lotti Keßler
zum Geburtstag 1936
von ihrer Freundin
Lore Panzer.

The frontispiece and title page below show Babette in workshop with Meister Schwannecke and depict her as a the book-lover she is.



The 1953 story with Bärbel began with her being told by her mother that with the death of her father and the loss of income, that she would need to leave school to learn a trade and contribute to the household. We do not learn how the father died or other family details. These were, however, revealed in 1935's story about Babette... Babette's father was the local "city clerk" (Stadtsekretär, Beamter/Civil Servant) and went after his duties and responsibilities with great dedication. He was thinking of these on his way to hearth and home when he stepped into oncoming traffic on a slushy wintry day... He died instantly, a small consolation for his family... As the youngest of three she also had two brothers, one a student at university and the other a sailor. As a student, Babette was very bright and would certainly have followed her brother to a university - she wanted to become a teacher...

Babette cleaning the store room in her first days as an apprentice.
Babette muß in ihren ersten Lehrtagen den Lagerraum aufräumen.

More about Babette's family and the consequences from the death of her father...
Mehr über Babettes Familie und die Folgen vom Tode des Vaters...


Babette's mother spoke strongly about these consequences and the impact that they would have. Babette answered with "jawohl" and "jawohl Mutter...," I.e. "yes, ma'am! A good obedient child who knows her duties and responsibilities. The story itself is told very unpolitically, although duty and obedience (Pflicht und Gehorsam) could be interpreted that way, and probably should be in the context of 1935 when everything was politicized, including trades and education.

After this the story continues identically with only very minor variations for both Babette and Bärbel.



Coffee with her former teacher, note press under table.
Kaffee mit ihrer ehemaligen Lehrerin. Die Presse ist unter dem Tisch.

Babette gets to go dancing but is encouraged to wear gloves because of calluses...
Babette geht tanzen und wird geraten Handschuhe zu tragen wegen Hornhaut...

Babette sewing | Babette beim Heften

The cranky Journeyman's pants are glued to the stool as a prank, and torn out.
The other apprentice got sent to his apartment to grab a new pair...
Die Hose des fiesen Gesellen wird vom Lehrling an den Hocker geklebt.
Nach gelungenem Scherz muß Letzterer eine neue Hose holen.


At the exhibition | Bei der Ausstellung
The end | Ende


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bookbinding as Chick Lit

Bärbels fröhliche Lehrzeit (Bärbel's Happy Apprenticeship) by Felix Riemkasten written in 1953 is a charming piece of teen lit. for women. Illustrations by Christa W. Gräfin von der Schulenburg.

After the death of her father, Bärbel, at age 14, needs to leave school to take up an apprenticeship rather than going on to university like her eldest brother (She was a straight A student). She loves books, bookbinding isn't too strenuous (says her mother), ... What could go wrong? Nothing actually, mostly, and after finding an apprenticeship her first task is cleaning the store room (very familiar to me). Then there are challenges in dealing with the Altgeselle (Journeyman who never moved on to become a master), being the only woman, ... However, she's an ambitious over-achiever, pushes herself to learn new things, wants to create fine bindings and open new markets... A fun read that is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of many of the realities of apprenticeship, its descriptions of tools and equipment, and is up-beat, cheerful, and even empowering.

Bärbel pointing out some of her bindings in a book store window.

Although Germany had been relatively "progressive" about women as apprentices..., Bärbel was the first woman to apprentice with Buchbindermeister Schwannecke. All apprentices were referred to as "Junge" (boy), and Bärbel was also referred to as this... Bärbel's gender was also something that led to regular disputes with the Altgeselle, a journeyman who never progressed beyond that stage and was largely responsible for the day-to-day work and apprentices.

Bärbel heaving a sewing frame loaded with books through the bindery... Why? To demonstrate on her first day that she could carry her weight. Would be easier and safer to carry if held lower...

As woman, Bärbel was naturally weaker, something of a liability in a trade that required great stamina working while standing and carrying heavy loads... Hence, carrying the loaded sewing frame on her first day... Of course, she first had to identify the sewing frame never having seen one...The number and size (as well as dangerous) of the equipment and tools also intimidated her.

Among the adjustments was also that learning a trade as an apprentice was not a warm and fuzzy environment filled with mutual respect... Praise was scant, even when the work was well done, and apprentices (and journeymen) were chastised in the presence of others.

As part of her apprenticeship, Bärbel also had to go to trade school - the great equalizer where apprentices learned those things they might not learn in the shop... This was an experience she enjoyed, in large part because it was not the "bunker" her shop was.

Bärbel also learned about the value of acquiring the best tools and equipment very early on, and invested heavily in herself, often at the expense of a nice new dress... Fortunately, she was also able to borrow some equipment like hand presses or sewing frame so that she could practice at home...

Wrapped up in her ongoing conflict with the Journeyman was also the realization that it was very important to set personal goals for oneself, and that not to do so was to hold oneself back. For her, this meant going beyond mastering just the day-to-day skills, but taking it to the next level.

The book also did a good job of describing the types of jobs that came in, from repairing textbooks, to binding ledgers for businesses, to journals for libraries, ... This was the kind of work that sustained small trade binderies, and subsidized the more demanding work. It was also the kind of work that "allowed" apprentices to develop chops via rote memorization (of mind and hands), not her favorite. Via a conservation with another apprentice, she learns about his motivation for stealing, with his eyes, picking up tricks and new techniques. Bärbel is his favorite for this as she does the most beautiful work.

In terms of techniques, one of the best descriptions is for when Bärbel learns about decorated papers, and how to make and apply these. For her, this is also when she realizes even more what the design possibilities can be, and how to set her work apart. In some respects it felt the Bibliophile listening to the Master in Ernst Collin's Pressbengel (Bone Folder).

In the end, Bärbel passed her Gesellenprüfung ending her apprenticeship, but she stayed on at the bindery. First though, time to forget about the bindery and go dancing...

Bärbel gets to go dancing but is encouraged to wear gloves because of calluses...

Newly minted as a journeyman binder, Bärbel seeks out venues for showing her work, and perhaps earning some extra income. A local bookstore is more than happy to display her work in their shop window, also indicating that customers can contact her via the store. Ironically, she has very little success in attracting work. She does gain a patron of sorts in her brother who was at university and is now doing well, binding books for him (and his friends...). This eventually catches the attention of the (now other) journeyman who rats her out to the Meister. Without her Meister and the license to run her own shop she cannot legally do this kind of work on the side. However, after reprimanding her more for using shop resources without permission and compensation, he senses opportunities for his business and adds Kunstbuchinderei to his name. This gives him more prestige, and with Bärbel's skills that he acknowledges are more refined than his, a broader pallet of services. The other Journeyman gets reproached for being a busy-body, and further when learning that she is earning more than him, and as a girl no less, plans for further revenge. This back fires, or as is said in German "geht in die Hose" (went to his pants), literally. Bärbel, meanwhile, continues to be allowed to borrow equipment, and is quite happy with the situation.

The cranky Journeyman's pants are glued to the stool as a prank, and torn out. The other apprentice got sent to his apartment to grab a new pair...

The frontispiece: That's a heavy load that she's carrying on her shoulder. She's carrying a book in a finishing press through town, just like on the other occasions when she borrows equipment from the shop to keep working on her own books at home...

Finally getting a binding job via the book store, she gets to know a Frau Director Feld, a woman who is very successful and independent in her life. This Frau Feld becomes her patron in the classic sense, giving her commissions, discussing bookbinding with the interest of Collin's Bibliophile, but even more. Asking her to leave her portfolio of designs, materials, and decorated papers, she shows these to like-minded friends, but also arranges a tea in her home where Bärbel gets to meet these friends and give her pitch. While very surprised by this scenario, she is very prepared, poised, and confident.

Bärbel confidently and enthusiastically at work.

One of the guests mentions an upcoming competition for a new guest book for the city (every village, town, city, ... had one). Open to all, Bärbel enters a design finely executed on a sample binding. She is heart-broken to learn that she did not win having been beaten by established artists, and is told by Frau Feld that the gentleman who encouraged her to enter was doing so largely in jest – she was still very young and inexperienced, and the winners were established and highly respected artists. She did, however, come in fourth and her work was exhibited with the winners, a consolation. Her Meister was appropriately proud, and wanted her to remain with him to do the higher end work that she had been bringing to the bindery – who would do it if she left... Frau Feld had other ideas however and had been busy networking to find Bärbel a position in a large trade bindery where she would work in the extra binding department. Having worked in the same bindery for her apprenticeship and journeyman years, she had very limited perspectives and alternative experiences. Moving on would be very important for her professional development, something the Meister also realized.

The [binding] world was hers for the taking, and with her drive, passion, and the help of patrons and mentors she would succeed.

Bärbel dedicating a guest book she bound to her patron.

So, from this 54 yr curmudgeon, a fun read loaded with accurate descriptions of the trade and apprenticeship in general, positive and encouraging, and with the complications of teen love and its associated drama. Based on my personal experiences as an apprentice in Germany during the 1980s, I found the portrayal of the Meister and his relationships with the others fair and largely accurate - apprenticeship is not summer camp, management style ranging from brusque to encouraging, what we would expect in the traditional trades. For someone like Bärbel who was academically strong and would have gone on to university, the contrast would have been stark and revealed crass differences in class and educational background, as well. Throughout though, Bärbel and the Meister handled themselves and each other well, and the real antagonisms were expressed through the journeyman who never showed any drive or enthusiasm, but was jealous of those who did. Ultimately his behaviour had him strongly reprimanded – shape up or ship out – and he and Bärbel came to an understanding. Finally, there was Frau Feld, a successful and cultured woman whose strong support (and some enabling) opened many doors for Bärbel, doors that she walked through with confidence to close the deals that Frau Feld had started.

Thinking that this book might have been reviewed, or at least mentioned, in Das Falzbein, THE journal for bookbinding apprentices I leafed through my complete run page-by-page starting in 1952. Alas, nothing, disappointing because I think the book could have encouraged readers to at least consider our craft. I did, however, find numerous images of female apprentices and art school students who could have been models for Bärbel.

So anything like this appear in English or another language?

See also my post about Bärbels older sister?, aka Babette bindet Bücher.

Both books can be found via various online antiquarian platforms:
 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Bookbinding and Ideology

On the Print blog (3/10/17), Steven Heller wrote a piece titled "Normalized Letterheads":
By 1936 the Nazis were firmly in place in all aspects of government, society and culture. Gleichschaltung was the term for standardizing or normalizing the Nazi aberration. It meant that every aspect of the Third Reich followed the dictates of the ideological wing of the state and party. These innocent-looking letterheads, void of political references, were examples of that Gleichschaltung imposed on the design and printing industries.
This Gleichschaltung was applied uniformly across all media, trades, social organizations, ..., aligning and subordinating all to the dictates of the state in all regards. Indoctrination started in the schools, youth organizations, and trade schools that all apprentices attended. Der Buchbinderlehrling (The Bookbinding Apprentice) was the journal for apprentices with subjects included social studies, math, and science as they related to binding. This also included paper making, leather tanning and parchment making, cloth, and in-depth engineering of bookbinding machines. During its run from 1927-1943 one is struck by how insidiously this Gleichschaltung progressed in the years after 1933, with the apprentices thoroughly indoctrinated so that there was no longer any difference between the trade and ideology. In the same vein the teachers at the trade schools/art academies were  required to be party members, especially if civil servants, joining either out of conviction or expedience in some sort of Faustian bargain...

Typography for book titles from Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 9, Nr. 7, 1935.

While some of title designs may seem "innocent looking," this ideological aesthetic was applied not only to bindings, but also presentation materials, desk accessories, just about everything bookbinders made forcefully, with many examples in the trade literature of the time. Prominent among these was Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Under the pseudonym “Nicolli,” Ernst Collin wrote in Der Buchbinderlehrling what can best be described as a tragic review of 1933’s national bookbinding competition on Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He wrote that in binding this book the German bookbinding trade could demonstrate its commitment to Hitler and to taking on the challenges and demands that lay ahead. The trades, publishing, social organizations, and just about every other aspect of life were quickly brought to reflect the party line under “Gleichschaltung.” As a “servant” of the arts and crafts, bookbinding was given a special standing, and binding Mein Kampf in a dignified and appropriate manner was a way to demonstrate this standing. To demonstrate the new collective mindset, the names of none of the participants or winners were mentioned. Stating that this was not the place to describe individual bindings, he went on to write that given the nature and importance of the book it was clear that many of the bindings would include the black, white, and red of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich, with the swastika a key element. However, Ernst noted also that including these elements did not make for good design that would inspire and demonstrate respect. He concluded that the book could not become a playground for overwrought designs and gimmicks, challenging binders to think about and prepare themselves for increasing amounts of this kind of work. ([Nicolli]. “Ein Zeitgemäßer Wettbewerb.” Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 7, Nr. 12, 1933. (167-168))

While no images from the 1933 bookbinding competition were found in Der Buchbinderlehrling, below two, one by an Martin Lehmann, an apprentice/student of Franz Weiße, and one by a master and one of the leading teachers of the day (Professors at art academies and trade schools), Hugo Wagner.

Martin Lehmann's apprentice/student binding on Mein Kampf.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 10, Nr. 6, 1937.
In the article the image accompanied he described his motivations and design choices a "flag red" leather for the  binding, white type, and black for the eagle, all based on the Nazi flag. About the eagle he wrote that it was based on the Luftwaffe insignia because it was more "dainty," yet aggressive and full of life, ready to take up the fight against all that is false...

Martin Lehmann with Franz Weiße
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 11, Nr.11, 1938.

Binding by Hugo F. Wagner, Breslau, on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a teacher.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 10, Nr. 12, 1937.

Bindings by Hugo Wagner from Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindemeister (1941)


Otto Dorfner, Weimar, was another one of the leading teachers during this time, and will be featured in due time, also because he remained in the Soviet occupation zone (the DDR) after the war and continued working. One of Germany's greatest design binders, he studied under Paul Kersten, founded his school in Weimar, taught at the Bauhaus, and elsewhere, helped found the Meister der Einbandkunst... Below another binding on Mein Kampf by one of his students, Willi Fischer.

Binding by Dorfner student Willi Fischer on Mein Kampf.
From the Allgemeiner Anzeiger für Buchbindereien, Nr. 27, 1936.

Another teacher was Heinrich Lüers, Magdeburg, best known for Das Fachwissen des Buchbinders that appeared in several editions, including one postwar with a new introduction by his Gustav Moessner. It is very interesting to compare the editions, especially as the politically charged ones have been scrubbed out. Lüers also edited Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindemeister (1941) for the Reichsinnungsverband des Buchbinderhandwerks (the national bookbinding guild), a pamphlet produced by the BDBI describing the trade and requirements designed to attract new apprentices and others. Like Lüer's book, this too was republished after the war in a sanitized edition. After all, why waste an otherwise significant text, and Das Fachwissen is one of the best of its genre and incredibly comprehensive.

Lüers concluded his pamphlet by stating that during the (still rather young) war, bookbinding had proven itself to a secure trade, and able to withstand any crisis and serve the German people. He ended with a quote by Hitler praising the German trades...

Below, Franz Weiße (Wiemeler's teacher), Erhard Klette, Otto Dorfner, and Hugo Wagner jurying the 1938 apprentice competition. Dorfner and Wagner appear to be wearing party insignia on cravat and lapel, and Klette was an influential publisher in the field, including the Archiv für Buchbinderei and the Jahrbuch der Einbandkunst.

Franz Weiße, Erhard Klette, Otto Dorfner, and Hugo Wagner jurying the 1938 apprentice competition.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 12, Nr. 5,1938.

See also this post about Frieda Thiersch's similar work during this period, "Hitler's Bookbinder." Her biography, Frieda Thiersch und ihre Handbuchbinderei (1968), by Fritz Krinitz mentions little and illustrates even less of her work from this period.

So, imagine if this scenario were to return... No, let's not go there.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Renate Mesmer on her Apprenticeship in Germany


Renate at AAB
Listen to Renate Mesmer, Eric Weinmann Head of Conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. talk with Steve Miller at the OxBow PBI about her bookbinding apprenticeship in Germany.

Previously, she was Assistant Head of Conservation at the Folger, Director of Book and Paper Conservation at the Centro del bel Libro Ascona, Switzerland, and Head of Conservation at the Speyer’s State Archives in Germany. She, like many apprentices of the day started at  age 16, earning her Meister in bookbinding from the Chamber of Crafts of Palatinate in Germany. She has been very active teaching at Paper and Book Intensive (PBI), for the Guild of Book Workers (GBW), American Academy of Bookbinding (AAB), and elsewhere.