Future Text's participants interview Dr. Stefan Soltek, director of the Klingspor Museum, curator and art historian. May 9, 2019, Mainz
During our visit to Mainz got to know to several institutions closely related to text-based communication and typography. One of them was the Klingspor Museum – a museum of contemporary book art, calligraphy and typography in Offenbach (near Frankfurt). Thanks to the kindness of Guido Stemme, a German artist, designer and philosopher, we were able to arrange a meeting with Dr. Stefan Soltek, director of the Klingspor Museum, curator and art historian.
Natalia Łajszczak:Thank you for meeting us Dr. Soltek. Could you please say a few words about the Klingspor Museum?
Stefan Soltek:Yes, with pleasure. I have worked for the Klingspor Museum since 2002 and I must say that I’m very happy to work with the collections gathered in the museum. The collection shows us how all aspects of calligraphy, typography, and the book truly belong together. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the possibilities of understanding the communication aspect, and – as a matter of fact – I've learned to understand the aesthetical impact on information. It is very interesting to look back to the beginning of the 20th century to see how, especially here in Offenbach, artists were involved in craft and typography; how they developed ideas that had a strong visual impact on the scenery of visual typography. We have to remember that the 19th century was mostly about repeating things from earlier periods and only in this very moment around 1900 there was a new thrill to make type design more a question of a personal taste. This kind of thinking created a space for the interference of calligraphy and handwriting within the new typography. It was a really innovative approach at the time! There were a couple of people like Peter Behrens, Otto Eckmann, and Rudolf Koch, who proposed many new ideas and therefore prepared the foundation for a modern understanding of typography. All the interesting combinations of what is readable, unreadable or semi readable; texts and their understanding or not understanding, the phenomenon of a book and the structure of a book… All these variations, these possibilities are something you may think about within the Klingspor Museum.
I am an art historian. I never had training in typesetting, calligraphy, bookmaking, etc. So this is my disadvantage and therefore maybe I have a specific way of looking at those things, from the outside, from the art history background. But at the same time, I’m very interested in understanding calligraphy and the phenomena of writing or bookmaking as a part of art history.
The interesting thing about Klingspor Museum is that as an institution it fills the missing links between craft, typography, printmaking, type, and its art aspects. People like Peter Behrens, Otto Eckmann, and Rudolf Koch were genuine artists before they started to make a career in typography. At some point, they wanted to express their artistic ideas by writing and designing typography. The legacy of these artists is a very good base for understanding modern communication, where we can see the picture and the…hm, I am always looking for the right English translation for the word Schrift (laugh). We have a very big advantage in Germany for word Schrift, which includes both typography and calligraphy, the text generally, writing person and text inventing person.
Natalia Łajszczak: Oh, so it is a very broad term.
Stefan Soltek:Yes, very much so, this is a very capacious word, which I can’t ever find in English. The word writing is not so strict, so broad as Schrift. Furthermore, the expression Bild und Schrift – picture and writing – was very important in Offenbach back in 1910. The whole world of art nouveau was a question of involving everyday life into the art field. At the time, typography was also seen in a new way, as a part of necessity to re-design the world. This way of thinking gave typography a good push into a new direction; it could develop in a more free and artistic way. It was astonishing when Karl Klingspor [the founder of Klingspor Museum – editorial note] in 1892 would take a small foundry in Offenbach and when he came, maybe by intuition, into close contact with graphic designers, who – truth be told – were more artists than designers. Thanks to this the early fonts of Klingspor Type Foundry were influenced by the art they represented. And that makes it so interesting for us today to study and observe this period of history.
Natalia Łajszczak:Yes, it sounds amazing that you can study all of these here. And while we are talking about study opportunities, I would like to ask more about the educational aspect of the Klingspor Museum.
Stefan Soltek:Well, this is another cornerstone of Klingspor's mission. We have about 18 000 items in our archives, which is not much compared to the big library, but it is quite something if we take into account the size of this museum. We have small ex libris collection, rather large poster collection, we have calendars, we have tapestries with writing, we have all sorts of illustrated books, etc. Whatever makes a book interesting, even if it is a piece of written information, could be in the field of our interest.
But coming back to the pedagogical aspects of the museum's activities. I think we have to understand that a couple of years ago the whole industry of paper, printing and type making changed radically under the influence of new technologies. The digital world emerged and demolished lots of classical craftsmanship. A lot of people from the industry – potentially interested in our archives – have passed away and it was difficult for the Klingspor Museum to build a bridge between us and all this young professionals and digital designers as most of them lost interest in the history of their field. Lots of them do their work without any knowledge of their predecessors' work. Moreover, most of the schools, at least around here, pay very little attention to the history of type design, calligraphy and so on. As the museum had to learn that we had no longer clients with natural interests, we had to go out and find other audiences. It was a significant moment for us. So we would go and we would try to invite other people to come with their own interests and try to match those interests with parts of our collection. We invite people to be active in our space: they can have their festivals or meetings. That is how we found the link between the museum and other people around. It is a quite different attitude comparing to earlier times when we would just say hey, we are doing an exhibition! and then expect people to visit us. This is no longer the truth. Although very exciting, it is also much more exhaustive (laugh) to make the museum a living place…
Monika Marek:Before we started the interview you mentioned the calendar collection as well. I would like to refer to this as in the 70s or 80s in Germany there were published calendars where calligraphers and typographers were invited to create illustrations. As far as I remember, each year there was a calendar devoted to different things: constructivism, typography or just handwriting. This calendar was called Scriptura I think... Do you have these calendars in your collections, and if so, is it possible to see them?
Stefan Soltek: Yes, of course, we have the Scriptura calendars collection. I would have to ask the librarians how many of them we have, but yes, sure.
Natalia Łajszczak: And while we speaking about archive accessibility... we know already that you have a very rich archive, who can access the museum's collections and how? Is it open to the public or do you have to be a researcher?
Stefan Soltek: Well, it depends on what you call the public. They are not exposed directly to public view, but if you have a special interest in seeing or study any of our materials, for example, letters written by Rudolf Koch, we can – to a certain extent – show them to you.
Monika Marek: So what is the procedure?
Stefan Soltek: The best way is just to contact us via mail and tell us exactly what you want to see. Of course, we need some time to prepare the materials for you so it's good to contact us at least a few days earlier. We have a homepage, where you can find basic information about our activities and materials we have. I think that it is a good starting point for you knowing more about what you interested in.
Natalia Łajszczak: And do you have any digital archive?
Stefan Soltek: No, unfortunately, we have neither the infrastructure nor men power or money to digitize our archives. It is rather an old school business (laugh).
Olga Kulish: You have a lot of different examples of very good combinations between typography, calligraphy and picture design. How are these collections used now? I mean, how to take them into the present design so they won't stay only as artifacts of the past?
Stefan Soltek: That is a very difficult question… If I understand correctly you are asking about the perspective for artists or designers to use parts of our collection as an inspiration and source of knowledge about the former artists, yes? Or are you thinking about visitors in general?
Olga Kulish: I’m thinking about if you thought of any way of presenting Klingspor's materials using multimedia to make the work more accessible?
Stefan Soltek: You know, there are 5 people in the Museum and we have a lot of work already, so there is no one who specializes or thinks about presenting the work on the internet. We are rather conservative about this. Although I have to say, that just now we are going to get a WLAN system in the museum so that people can have the internet information while looking at things here. But we are not prepared for a proper presentation of our contents on the internet. And I doubt whether it makes sense to do it.
Natalia Łajszczak: Why have you got doubts?
Stefan Soltek: Because I'm not a big fan of going through a few hundred pictures per minute (laughs). I'm not sure if it is good for anybody... If you have a proper interest you will visit us anyway.
Olga Kulish:(laughs) To touch the paper and feel the structure.
Stefan Soltek:I’m pretty old you know, but even the ones who are much younger and work with me in this building have a distance to the idea of digitizing our collection. I think that, after the first burst of excitement, we pretty much lost the fascination with the internet. Ten years ago we all thought “Oh it’s wonderful, we have to have everything on the internet!” and meanwhile I’ve asked myself “what for?”. Of course, we are not completely rebellious against the internet as we had some collaborations with different institutions. We are more like “taking the opportunities when they come across” people. For example, just recently we were co-running a big project at transferring Paul Stein's books to the internet. Thanks to the encouragement of director Peter Reuter, Giessen's University Library has completely digitized this unique collection. The outcome of this project was both an analog and digital exhibitions, the second one is still accessible for everyone. Collaborations with Giessen's Library were very interesting, but further developing this idea requires a lot of resources that we do not have. So at the moment, it is not our basic idea to develop exhibitions of Klingspoor collections on the internet. However, I can easily think of a group of students coming here and saying that they study graphic design and interactive design and we are willing to show our materials online. We have created a new institute – Klingspoor Schrift Gestaltung on type design. This institute is run by the university next door and ourselves. They give lectures here at our place and they promised to digitalize all our type specimens. So this is a pretty big deal and it is very convenient for us as we don't have to develop all the infrastructure, they bring all the infrastructure with them and say: we will do it for you. So as I said we are not systematically doing that, rather we take chances wherever we can.
Monika Marek:I agree. At the beginning of the new media era, people wanted to digitalize everything and now it is time to ask if it is needed. Maybe not.
Olga Kulish: And what do you think about the future of text-based communication?
Stefan Soltek: Of course the future has already started. During the last year we conducted around 250 courses and workshops with young people, so we are pretty much updated on how the future might look like. People are interested more and more in the craft and manual experiments, art schools are re-opening their old printing shops, which were out of order for years and decades. I think that people get bored with new technologies and they feel the need to return to old crafts and objects: bigger or smaller. I can see that they want to get into a relationship with their hands and the whole body in order to create. These needs lead straight to Rudolf Koch and his books. Or to Paul Stein. It is a very natural and brand new process at the same time. Knowing the basics of writing, being in connection with your whole body while doing this is a good way to discover yourself.
About Klingspor Museum: For more than a century Klingspor Museum has been collecting valuable pieces of calligraphy, typography and artistic books. Among others, we can find works of such typographers as Rudolf Koch, Otto Eckmann or Peter Behrens. By organizing many exhibitions, the Klingsopor Museum makes its resources available to the general public. Through its work, the museum promotes a belief that the art of printing still is, and will be in the future, a key element of communication. This belief seems to stress that it is more necessary to be pass on historical roots of typography and calligraphy.Klingspor Museum has a rich archive that is available to researchers, students as well as anyone interested in art book design, calligraphy or typography.
All interested are invited to contact the museum directly.http://www.klingspor-museum.de/
Digitization of Paul Stein's artistic books by Giessen's University Library:https://www.offenbach.de/microsite/klingspor_museum/rubrik-4/content-iv.32-paul-stein.phphttps://digisam.ub.uni-giessen.de/ubg-ihd-sbps/nav/index/all?s=title