On July 2nd – my mother’s birthday – I had great joy: Not only my dear mother had a very big birthday that day (and was with us!), also in the Museum for Saxon Folk Art in Dresden (Museum “Jägerhof”) an exhibition about Emil Lohse (her grandfather and my great-grandfather) was opened. And there’s a special story behind it.
Like me, my great-grandfather was a draftsman with heart and soul, he was also a drawing teacher (at the ‘teacher seminary’ in Dresden, meaning he taught drawing and trained art teachers there), he was a scissor cutter (his scissor cuts are well known in Saxony and are, to a large extent, in the silhouette museum at Lichtenwalde Castle near Chemnitz), illustrator and, from 1940, at the will of museum founder Oskar Seyffert, head of the Museum for Saxon Folk Art in Dresden. Then as now, this house is dedicated to the rich creative traditions of the region and exhibits painted and carved furniture, toys, clothes and traditional costumes as well as crockery and many other handcrafted objects from Saxony, and is thus in the tradition of similar museums founded on such topics from the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, there are always interesting special exhibitions that are thematically related to the museum’s focus.
My great-grandfather was always present in our family. Above all, his fine, precisely observed and carefully composed silhouettes hung on our walls at home, the furniture of the Lohse family, which my great-grandmother had been able to take with her to Western Germany, for a certain time stood in our living room – beautiful pieces based on Biedermeier style and the ‘Dresden Workshops Furniture’ in cherry wood. I was fascinated by them and Emil’s silhouettes and it became clear to me as a child: the Lohse family apparently seemed to have had taste. It was also my first contact with someone who was obviously gifted like me, because my talent for drawing was also evident in my childhood and I realized: it must have come from him, Emil Lohse, my great-grandfather. Unfortunately I never got to know him (whereas I have vague memories of my great-grandmother Flora Lohse): He died long before I was born, in 1949.
In the apartment of my grandmother, Emil’s daughter, who lived across the street from us, stood my great-grandfather’s paper cabinet. A cabinet like that is a piece of furniture with several same-size drawers, in which artists can store and protect their works. And Emil’s cabinet was in my grandmother Maria Rüber’s bedroom, between two beautiful old Louis Philippe cupboards, and I always walked past it when I was watering flowers in the room when my grandmother was traveling. I admired the beautiful cabinets with their wonderful wooden surfaces, and between them stood Emil’s cabinet, tidy, actually office furniture and therefore a bit strange in such an environment. I remember there stood a replica, made of plaster, of his hands on it.
When my grandmother died in 2007, she bequeathed me Emil’s cabinet and its contents in her will. Her words in it were: “He (Thilo) will probably know best how to deal with the contents”. Well, and there it was. Emil’s cabinet. In the middle of my Berlin apartment, in the living room of a young illustrator starting his career. I carefully opened the drawers and saw a huge amount of illustrations in various techniques on different topics and notes in folders and caskets. I closed the drawers again in awe, because how should I face this vast amount of heritage, also family heritage? The many documents that bore witness to my ancestors and their lives? The data about things also disputed in the family, the letter of entry into the NSDAP, without which it would probably not have been possible for him to continue the museum’s leadership in the terrible times when Emil Lohse was its director. The self-declaration after the war as to why he joined – as he writes, at the very last second. I was shocked by a portfolio with drawings of destroyed Dresden, in which mountains of corpses along the streets had been documented by him in drawings. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the many wonderful and beautiful botanical studies he made (animals and plants were his passion), the careful observations of the country and its people from many study trips with his pupils from the seminary. Now I’m a draftsman myself. When I ‘read’ his drawings (which appears possible to a certain extent)… I think I see a person who, ultimately, must have been too sensitive to completely surrender to the Nazi ideology, a way of thinking of brutes. But of course I don’t know if that’s true, and to what extent he fell for it here and there, like so many people of his time – I never got to know him and the impression from his drawings cannot be completed by personal and emotional ones. So this part of the family history will probably remain unsolved, but at least I think I got the impression that Emil must have been smart enough not to let himself be carried away to the very worst deeds. At least that’s my big hope.
Over the years I have looked at the contents of the cabinet and found that there were so many illustrative treasures and historic documents stored in it that I could not imagine how I, as an individual and private person, would be able to ever lift and share them with other people. And so at some point the idea of offering it to the museum, where he himself was director, came up. Especially since there were also a few things about the Museum for Folk Art itself in the cabinet. When Kathi Loch came to the museum as its director, I dared to try it and offered her Emil’s cabinet and its contents. And luckily, the museum was interested in it! So, in January of this year, my husband and I brought it there, to the town where, a long time ago, it must’ve stood before (probably more in Emil’s Dresden apartment than in the museum itself). The handover took place in a beautiful ceremony with champagne, and of course we were happy about the lively interest in Emil’s heritage. But it got even better: barely two months had passed when Ms. Loch called me and told me that the planning of an exhibition with Emil’s cabinet was already in process! I was completely overwhelmed by the speed with which this new object in the museum’s collection was being taken up.
Then one week ago, on July 2nd, was the big opening, of which you can see pictures above, and I can say: It turned out to be a really, really great, interactive exhibition, in which Emil Lohse’s work and life, contemporary history, but also that of his family is brilliantly processed and taken up. Parallel to the exhibition, a scientific employee will continue to evaluate the contents of the cabinet in a ‘show workshop’ (at the table with the green plate in the background of the first picture). How so much scientific work has already been able to take place in such a short time, and how much creativity has gone into the great exhibition concept (for which Atelier Ampel from Basel is responsible) is a complete mystery to me – but I’m sure: Emil Lohse would love the exhibition, as a teacher and interested in didactics he would appreciate the interactive aspect of it very, very much. And as I stood in the exhibition, I felt: they might all be looking down on us from a cloud – Emil, Flora Lohse and my grandmother Maria Rüber, Emil’s daughter – and are united and happy about their return to Dresden, the city in which they’ve been home for so long.
And admittedly I’m a bit proud of having achieved that.