Jump to content
I Forge Iron

Fritz Kühn's "Wrought Iron" and "Karl Blossfeldt: The Complete Published Work" - A Dual Review


Recommended Posts


Fritz Kühn (1910-1967) was born in Berlin into a metalworking family and earned his certificate as a Kunstschmied (master artist blacksmith) in 1937, just before the outbreak of World War Two. After the war and the partition of Germany, Kühn continued to work as a smith, a sculptor, and photographer. Although (like Samuel Yellin) he died in his fifties, his career was a decade later than Yellin's and thus overlapped the transition from prewar traditionalism to postwar modernism. While Yellin's aesthetic was retrospective and looked back to medieval and classical models, Kühn more readily adapted to the modernist aesthetic while successfully integrating traditional techniques. Although his mature career was spent behind the Iron Curtain and thus was not broadly known in the West, he published six volumes on metalwork and another six on photography. This article concerns his fourth, originally published as Schmiedeeisen – Vom Werden eines Handwerks (English: Wrought Iron: On Becoming a Craft) and illustrated with his own photographs.

Kühn derived great inspiration from the nature photographs of Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). Blossfeldt was a self-taught photographer who built his own high-magnification cameras to capture the forms and patterns of plants; his photographs -- and later his teaching -- had a enormous impact on the art world. His first book Urformen der Kunst (English: Art Forms in Nature) was published in 1928, the year after Kühn received his Kunstschmied certificate. Kühn himself explains his use of Blossfeldt's work:


It is said that Nature is the master of all masters. For our creative work, Nature provides us with a inexhaustible fund of suggestions, for Nature possess the greatest abundance of designs. It is our task to convert them, with due attention to craftsmanship, into iron.

"To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower" - what marvels are contained in just the little things of Nature! Karl Blossfeldt showed in his book Urformen der Kunst greatly enlarged illustrations of parts of plants which were often in reality very small, and in so doing demonstrated that even in the smallest seed certain strict laws of design apply. But Karl Nierendorf, in his introduction to that book, rightly emphasized: "What distinguishes works of art from Nature is a result of the creative act: the character of an individual design newly created, not imitated or repeated. Art springs directly from the most prevalent dynamic force of the time, whose most visible expression it is." The aptness of Blossfeldt's work can be graphically illustrated. When designing a bar of a certain grille, I adopted a number of ideas suggested to me by a photograph in his book depicting a plant (see page 14). Such experiments in iron are necessary, even if there are no orders on hand for them, because they enrich one's stock of designs and can in due course be turned to good account by creating items of distinctive character. We can still admire many beautiful old works of craftsmanship and by studying them gain a wealth of ideas which in turn can be creatively applied. "New coins can be minted from old gold."

It is notable that this combination of studying old work and making test pieces is exactly parallel with Yellin's methodology, especially his famous "sketches in iron".

Here is the illustration Kühn describes above:


Here are some of Blossfeldt's photographs of flowers, followed by some of Kühn's own flowers in iron:





A Blossfeldt photograph of vine tendrils, and a Kühn grille in a public house:



The value of Wrought Iron is not limited to Blossfeldt-inspired details. Here, Kühn shows his solution for combining decorative detail with innovative construction, for a gate that is both elegant and strong, yet needing no diagonal bracing to keep it from sagging.



I would wholeheartedly recommend Wrought Iron on its own. Kühn's designs are clean, his craftsmanship inspirational, and his text instructive. Adding Blossfeldt's Complete Published Work -- which brings together the previously mentioned Urformen der Kunst with his later Wundergarten der Nature (English: Magic Garden of Nature) and Wunder in der Natur (English: Magic in Nature) in one volume -- cannot help but to challenge smiths of all levels of experience and skill both to refine their own craft and to look more closely at the world around us for inspiration for our own designs.

Kühn, Fritz. Wrought Iron. New York: Architectural Book Publishing, Second English Edition, 1969

Adam, Hans Christian. Karl Blossfeldt: The Complete Published Work. Cologne: Taschen Bibliotheca Univeralis, 2014

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...