Klaus-Ingo Müller:
A Brawny Individualist - Delicate Tracery in Steel
Grit Boehm
HEPHAISTOS 11/12, 1995, pp. 12-13
Tr: Mike Spencer


For nearly 17 years, Klaus-Ingo Müller was forbidden by court injunction from pursuing any skilled trade. He could find release for his inner impulse to creative expression in metalwork only in his spare time and as a "hobby". He recognizes one positive facet of those difficult years: "I had time to mature."

A Brawny Individualist - Delicate Tracery in Steel

Hasenholz is a community of some sixty souls eastward of Berlin. The closer I come to my destination, the more my ingrained accomodation to the ways of the city feeds my anticipation of rural idyl. Great oaks and spreading fields of grain line the roadside. The last kilometer is an old, narrow lane with cracked and bumpy pavement.

A powerfully built, full-bearded man is busy outside a little whitewashed building with a huge oaken door. My gaze falls upon a sculpture composed of many arrowhead-like elements, snakeing upward, one atop another, striving toward the sky. I'm standing in front of the smithy of Klaus-Ingo Müller. He's totally absorbed in his work until I speak.

In former times, a forge fire glowed in every village -- there were horses to shoe, ploughshares and other rustic tools to be made. The manual labor demanded sturdy, powerful men. And that's how everybody imagines a blacksmith today, even though the times have changed and the blacksmith with them. But today I'm standing before a man built in that older image.

At the age of 27 Klaus-Ingo Müller couldn't suppress his inner desire any longer: He wanted to learn to be a creative craftsman. Personal circumstances had kept this deisre long in the background and at first he learned the slater's [tile or slate roofing -tr.] trade. In this occupation he worked in villages throughout the area and at that time, the forge fires were still burning. "I sucked up every bit of it everywhere I went! I couldn't get enough!" he says of his gradually growing attraction.

Finally he began a serious hunt for an apprenticeship in art smithing and ended up with Günter Ebig, one of Fritz Kühn's students. For three years, until he was 30, he learned the basics as well as the tricks of the craft. The Master was much impressed by his student's elan and took him along whenever he went where there was somthing new to be learned. After hours, he gave Müller free rein in the shop and that's when he began making his first sculptural pieces, an example of which is "Zerrissene Seele". ["Torn Soul"]

Müller wanted to work as an independent artist and applied for permission to the appropriate government office. His prospects were promising but then the call-up to army service intervened. Müller refused military service on ethical and health grounds, was convicted and served with an injunction forbidding work in licenced, skilled occupations. His dream evaporated. There followed smalltime jobs -- as a dairy hand or woodcutter -- just to put bread on the table and, insofar as possible, to "satisfy the compulsion and longing to do creative craft work -- to make things." The injunction lasted 17 years. He was finally allowed to build and equip his workshop in Hasenholz in 1973 as a "hobby forge". The sculpture that stands before his shop was the expression of his joy in finally having his own forge. Now fifty-three and father of a family of seven, Müller says,

From the beginning, I've thought of myself as an artist rather than a tradesman but I have great respect for all the old techniques of the trade, for they're the basis for embodying my ideas. But as an artist, I want somthing of myself to pass into the work. Otherwise I wouldn't be an artist any longer.

The years that I was banned from the craft [Berufsverbot] were bitter ones, but I had time to mature. I believe that now I can fulfill my own expectations but, unfortunately, there's no longer time enough to translate all my ideas into reality.

Müller describes himself as somthing of a loner because he assumes a posture "that perhaps alienates people, because I say what I think bluntly and without beating around the bush." So he works alone, calling on his sons for help occasionally when need be. There's little time for his own work -- he has to feed the family. Still, he's an optimist. He'd like to expand his rather parsimonious shop to include gallery and office space so that "the neighbors can really see just what I do." And he'd like to do some show pieces that could attract people to his work and win more paying customers.

However much of it can be realized, Müller has a plan for the future and, artist or blacksmith, is hard at work on it. Even though he speaks of himself as a loner, he's no hermit. He takes part in professional groups and likes to show his work and compare it with others'. Accordingly, his work was to be seen at the World Congress in Aachen and two of his pieces were in the Whitsun exhibit at Ulm.

It would be a mistake to anticipate coarse and heavyhanded work on the basis of his laborer' physique, for his pieces are delicate and harmonious of line and precisely thought out. "When I make somthing, I know before I begin precisely what I want to say and how I want to say it. I make a model and sketches. I don't like just carelessly whacking [? Rumpinkern auf dem] steel around."

Farmers still bring him plowshares from their old equipment. Müller practically jumps on the opportunities to do this kind of work. When people say, "But that's the worst kind of drudgery!", he replies, "I just like to forge iron, however hard the work. I do it because I get to stand at the fire and anvil. A hard baulky job is just one more source of joy!"

That makes it pretty clear that Klaus-Ingo Müller is a blacksmith, body and soul.

Copyright © 1995 HEPHAISTOS Internationale Zeitschrift für Metallgestalter. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for educational or other not-for-profit purposes.