Manfred Kuettner: It’s a Long Story

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This article was originally posted on Userblogs on 7/6/2017.
By Manfred KuettnerMore from this author

Part I

"I'll become a miner." Manfred Kuettner made this decision when he learned, while he was looking for an apprentice position, that every miner was entitled to 10,000 kilograms of lignite-coal briquettes every year. He wouldn't have to risk his life anymore stealing coal at night in the freight yard. Moreover, there was chocolate for the young fellows and schnapps for the older pitmen - if the quota was met. The adventure underground with pick and shovel by the light of a carbide lamp could begin.

Manfred Kuettner

The three years as an apprentice were followed by three years of higher-level study, at the end of which he passed the examination to become a mining engineer.

In 1968, however, the government of the then-Soviet-occupied part of Germany made a decision that had far-reaching grave consequences: energy would no longer be obtained from the indigenous lignite coal, but from petroleum provided by the Russian big brother. The resulting redefinition of the activities of the Planning Bureau for Coal put an end to Kuettner's work as a design engineer. From now on, drawings for data-processing equipment were to occupy his drawing board.

It was at this time that Kuettner saw in an exhibit the impressive creations in brass of a Leipzig artist, the portrait of the artist, and the tools he used in his work. And that was it! To be able to produce such magnificent objects instead of having to design machines that read punched paper tapes - there was no comparison. Two weeks later, Kuettner started in the metal workshops as a 're-trainee in the adult-training program,' and that was the end of fifteen years in the mines.

The theoretical knowledge could be acquired by independent study autodidactically. The amazing objects made of the most diverse metals on display in the museums of arts and crafts bore testimony to the high level at which the most various work techniques had been mastered in earlier times. Kuettner resolved that he, too, would use the interesting material for creative work that was produced by covering metal with melted glass. However, the corpus brazier did not want to work with the precious metals, but solely with copper. But now a suitable object had to be found, one that would enable its maker to demonstrate his talent more as a draftsman than as a painter as he made use of the strip-enamel technique. And preferably a three-instead of an only two-dimensional object. Because it would not be made of a precious metal, but of a non-ferrous metal, the object could also be somewhat larger. That possibility would, though, quickly encounter limits, owing to the size of the muffle furnace that Kuettner could buy.

Kuettner wanted to remain chiefly a corpus brazier, not to become an enameler. The 2000-watt furnace that was commercially available had to suffice for the amateur. The size of the muffle was modest: 27 x 16 x 9 cm. So what could be fired in the furnace wouldn't be huge. What big thing can be made out small things???

On his book case there stood a globe: a sphere - surely the most wonderful of the geometric bodies. The globe's surface was regularly divided into many individual sections. Individual sections - that was it! A sphere constructed of tile-like parts. Every tenth degree of latitude and longitude marking the boundaries of the sections. Kuettner quickly determined that the muffle furnace permitted a scale of 1:10,000,000 between the globe on the bookcase and the one in his imagination. He had to make a globe! And it would have a diameter of 1.28 meters.

It was a brilliant idea. When he was a schoolchild, Kuettner had to walk around in the classroom showing the other pupils his precise geographical drawings. Now he could depict the continents between the oceans with an artistic craftwork. And it wasn't even necessary to make a model: the model stood readymade on the bookcase. Through use of the fascinating strip-enamel technique, the brazier's corpus delicti would become a decorative object appropriate for display in a large space, an object whose usefulness would not be insignificant and whose validity would be timeless.

The creation of Kuettner's world began in 1968 AD. The Globusverlag, a publishing house that also made globes, supplied the printed templates in the form of the globe's segments, which had to be enlarged to the desired size. The possibilities available then were primitive and the procedure that he carried out at home with the enlarger and the light table for the 578 individual segments was consequently time-consuming. Five hundred small tablets for the names of the countries and cities were to be produced using little etched copper plates. For every place name, hand-drawn letters had to be put together in order to transfer them to film and then work on them further like stereotype plates.

Along with the pleasure in his creative work, there grew in Kuettner the desire to earn a livelihood for his wife and children as a self-employed person, instead of a wage worker. To achieve that goal, it was necessary for him to complete training as a master craftsman. The period of time required to do that could be shortened by years if he passed the examination with distinction. Kuettner did it. In 1973 he opened his 'Workshop for Art-Craft Working in Metal' in beautiful Wernigerode. The diploma declaring him to be a 'Certified Artist-Craftsman' secured for him an exceptional authorization from the Ministry of Culture to buy non-ferrous metals, which otherwise were allocated. With his diploma and a supply of metals, he could henceforth make and sell a variety of objects for home decoration made of brass and copper. The sheet copper for the globe was now available and the years-long forced halt of his project's execution was at an end.

Part II

The experimentation with the new material began. The enamel had to be transparent so that the courses of the rivers that were etched into the metal would remain visible. When it was melted on the copper, the local enamel used for jewelry, which was made of cheap raw materials, proved to be unsatisfactory for the intended purpose. In fact, it was unusable. But thanks to a relative who worked in West Berlin, it was possible to smuggle high-quality enamel across the border between the sectors, first in quantities suitable for test firing, later in the required amounts. Unexpectedly many attempts were necessary before satisfactory nuances of color for a blue planet were obtained when transparent blue was melted on the red copper, whose color stubbornly gleamed through. It was comparatively simple to find the right color tones on the warm background for the continental areas.

The correct recipes were found and now the supporting bases for the enamel could be prepared: 578 plates made out of 1.2 mm- thick sheet copper. When they were cut out, it had to be kept in mind that, when the individual segments were later joined together to make a sphere, the joints between them had to have a uniform width of 3 mm. Long-forgotten knowledge from his school years had to be resurrected. Of course, the plates had to be curved, and correctly, with a radius of 0.64 m. That was done using pieces of shaped iron in a hand-operated screw press.

When the first test firings were done, it quickly became clear that the copper name plates could not be held in position by tragacanth alone, but would have to be soldered to the curved segments of the globe to prevent them from shifting location. All of the well-ordered 500 name plates that had been waiting to be used for years were soldered onto the segments which already bore the etched rivers. The boundaries of the continents were to be re-produced with as much accuracy of detail as the bending of the strips allowed. Innumerable bits of wire had to be bent on the nail board, then heated until they were soft, and then, as is unfortunately necessary for copper in contrast to the precious metals, the resulting oxide scales had to be removed from them, so that they could finally be fitted to the curved surfaces of the globe segments. Bending, heating, scouring, searching for things and finding them, dressing, and fitting - that was a demanding labor that seemed as if like it would go on forever. In contrast to the name plates, the strips were supposed to be held in place solely by the enamel.

The creation of the world continued its course. Now the enameling of the 576 trapezoidal segments could begin. (The two polar disks would have to be enameled later in a different kiln because of their large size.) The first firings were a disaster. It turned out that the material at the corners of the name plates had become so thin because of the etching process that the molten enamel could and did creep over the corners and between the letters. Thicker sheet copper should have been used so that the corners would still be high enough after the etching. A realization that came too late and that was enough to make Kuettner want to pull his hair out. All the name plates that had been attached up to that point were soldered in place for all eternity. Now professional advice was needed.

This was given by a certified enameler who was summoned to help. Following her suggestion, Kuettner put frames of copper strips around all the name plates. Not an artistically felicitous solution to the problem but an unavoidable one. Now he could continue with the enameling. Preferably starting with ocean regions that were free of name plates and copper strips.

The segments with densely populated areas posed the next problems. Before firing them, a sufficient quantity of enamel had to be applied to the backsides of the segments with closely positioned name plates. Whether the estimate was more or less right or was completely wrong could be ascertained - joyfully or with horror - only after the fired segments had cooled off and a curvometer could be applied to them (the radius had to still be 0.64 m!). It was necessary to position the curvometer crosswise because the curvature had to be correct in every direction. Very, very often that was not the case. Then there was no alternative to crunching corrective re-shaping using the screw press, grinding away or thickening the backing enamel, and then firing them again.

Then it was done. The 578 enameled, polished, and gold-plated parts of the earth's surface were finished, and ready to be assembled. The sphere that would support them was made of polyester reinforced with fiberglass and equipped with an electro-mechanical motor located within it. The individual segments were attached to the sphere with dispersion binder and the spaces between them were then pointed up. The axis of this globe was encased in stainless steel, given an inclination of 23.5°, corresponding to that of the earth's spin axis relative to the ecliptic plane, and provided with a foot so that it could later be installed at some chosen site. In 1988, after 20 years, the re-creation of the world was concluded.

Part III

There it stood, the beautiful new world. The embodiment of ten thousand hours of Kuettner's life. In the garage intended for a house trailer. Conceived for display in a large space. Made without a commission. A television channel produced a program about it.

King Juan Carlos of Spain had invited both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic to participate in the 1992 World Exposition in Seville. The government of the latter state was struggling to gain international recognition. Surely it would want to adorn its pavilion with such a strongly symbolic work, thought Kuettner, and so he offered his globe to the German Democratic Republic's Ministry of Culture. A year later Germany was re-unified. There would be only one German pavilion. The plan for it was finished, and it didn't include the Kuettner globe.

No Kuettner globe?! So the Kuettners got themselves a truck, loaded it with the globe, food, a chemical toilet, and a rod for hanging their clothes on, and drove off to the Andalusian city of Seville. There the astonished Commissioner General of the German pavilion was shown what he was going to miss out on. Five days later the EXPO 92 opened - with a 'world' exposition in the German pavilion.

That was the start of an odyssey that still hasn't come to an end. Seville - Magdeburg - Berlin - Hannover - back to Berlin. There, in the German government's Press and Information Office, the glass-on-metal globe has been more parked than exhibited since the EXPO 2000. It hasn't yet found its final home. Too few people know that the world can be theirs.

By Manfred Kuettner [Volume 24, Number 4, August, 2005]
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Manfred Kuettner

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