Once we were properly satiated from the stollen tasting, we then departed for the Erzgebirge Mountains. Our first stop in Eppendorf was at the headquarters of Björn Köhler, a world renown master woodworker.
From the second I walked into his gallery I had the biggest smile on my face, as his creations are absolute masterpieces! Björn was born with the gift of craftsmanship, however it was not until 1991 (thanks to a Christmas manger) that “Köhler” became a household name not only in Germany, but around the world. From his first days of working with wood, it was the challenge of crafting his own collection to combine traditional workmanship with modern style fundamentals that inspired him to keep going. Conceived on the drawing table and refined in countless drafts, the delightful charm of these figures actually lies in their simplistic, yet elegant form.
After we had a chance to look at all of his creations, Björn then took us into his workshop so that we could see exactly what the woodworking process is from start to finish. He explained his formula for success is that he becomes engrossed in the very essence of the wood and then jubilantly creates something unlike anything else that exists. While the figures differ from the traditional woodwork found within Erzgebirge folk art, they nevertheless still embody the proud heritage.
He begins many of his days by wandering inside the nearby forest. Before he has even chopped the wood, he has already envisioned the figures inside of the trees. In my opinion, it takes a great deal of talent and experience to turn the art of nature into such extraordinary treasures!
The environment inside of the workshop is stress-free, because the painstaking initial selection of native wood stock, its temperature-controlled storage, and the slow drying process never allows for haste. While we were there we even saw a yoga class taking place for the employes. A patient devotion is a continuing thread running throughout and is apparent at every turn. There is no one piece exactly like another, but each perfectly complement the others. The fragrance of wood mingled with the humming of the lathes and the occasional clank of ironworking permeates the air. The lathes first turn out cylinders from prefabricated squared pieces of wood, their edges smoothed down with sculpting and chiseling tools. These pieces are then lathed into their respective forms. One inattentive movement of the hand and the piece is ruined. Perfection here is defined solely by one’s visual and technical artistry. Craftsmen and women are intently focused on the process and take immense joy in their craft. Piece by piece a segment is assembled and the design must be continually and precisely matched to the grain of the wood. There is no better way to emphasise the difference manual craftsmanship really makes in this age of automation. The unfinished glued bodies still do not have their smooth surface that is typical to the Björn Köhler figures. Thus, they are given a special varnish primer and then polished again manually as the last step.
Just in case you were wondering, there was no way I was going to leave the Köhler headquarters without purchasing something. After much thought, I bought a set of three angels for myself, my Mom, and my Grandmother.
Björn Köhler and his staff warmly welcome you to visit them in Eppendorf if you should find yourself in the Erzgebirge mountains. They invite you to put yourself right in the heart of their creative process experience and they would be honored to share with you information regarding the area and its people, their various different crafting techniques, and their faithful devotion to a living craft with roots and traditions reaching far back in time.