Volume 12, Number 2, May 1990, pp.7-9

Zora's Column

by Zora Sweet Pinney

Good news...The Senate vote on the bill banning the production and importation of cadmium and lead paints (Bill S-1112, an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act), has been pushed back to 1991. That gives those of us who are concerned with the loss of these pigments more time to inform other conservators and artists about the impending issue.

There are two bills. The one sponsored in the Senate by Senator Chafee would completely ban cadmium, and according to the latest information is in limbo and will probably not pass.

The other was due to be voted on June 2nd and has now been rescheduled for sometime in 1991. I'm asking you to express your concerns on paper, relative to this bill. When you write your letter keep in mind that we have two problems involved in the use of cadmiums. One is the contamination of the water when brushes and palettes are cleaned, the other is tube disposal. The questions of whether the use of cadmium in the arts is meaningful, whether too little to be concerned with is generated by clean-up, and if there is some way we can dispose of the used up tubes safely are part of the dilemma.

In my last column, I exhorted your participation in the political process, particularly when you feel strongly about an issue. Your voice IS heard in that arena. So now you have two banners to carry and two letters to write, if you don't want to bear some of the responsibility for the demise of the NEA and cadmium.

Cate Swan sent a note to the WAAC Newsletter editor some time back giving a list of nine senators, sponsoring Congress Bill S- 1112, to contact. (I've added John Chafee's address, in case any of you would like to write to him as well.) The letters should be addressed to:

The Honorable Name (Room number in parenthesis)
Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

The names and room numbers are: Max Baucus, MT, Chairman (SHS 706 Hart)
Dave Durenberger, MN (SR 154 Russell)
James M. Jeffords, VT (SD 530 Dirksen)
George Mitchell, ME (SR 176 Russell)
Daniel P. Moynihan, NY (SR 464 Russell)
Quentin Burdick, (SHS 511 Hart)
Frank R. Lautenberg, NJ (SH 717 Hart)
Harry Reid, (SH 324 Hart)
Joseph I. Lieberman, CT (SH 502 Hart)
John H. Chafee, RI (SD 567)

Cradle of European Brushmaking

Zora is researching the history of artists' brushes with the publication of a book in mind. She and Edward, her husband, spent the month of March in Europe researching the subject. -Ed.

Some remarkable adventures were our reward in our quest for the hidden history of artists' brushes. In fact the search has been so intriguing that we sometimes hope we may never find all the pieces. Each part we've encountered so far has sent us on our way to other explorations...other avenues and other countries.

Early this year I was told there were three museums in the world devoted to brushes. One in Bechhoven, near Nuremberg, Germany, one in Japan "in a valley over a hill" near Hiroshima and one rumored to be somewhere in Poland. As Edward and I couldn't visit all three, with any sort of success in three weeks, we decided to leave the Orient for another time, and opted for the Nuremberg area and Poland.

Bechhoven is called by some the "cradle of European brushmaking" and the location of our first goal, the Deutsches Pinsel und Bursten Museum. Over the telephone and through correspondence we made an appointment to meet with Hans-Friedrich Bieringer. He is a trained master brushmaker, director of his own brush manufacturing concern, and the young man who opened the museum five years ago. Mr. Bieringer suggested that we rent a car in Nuremberg, which is about 37 kilometers distant, and plan to spend about a week in the Bechhoven area because there is so much to see in the vicinity.

Our indoctrination to the world of brushmaking began with an excursion through Mr. Bieringer's factory. He explained that a licensed Master Brushmaker must attend school for three years. After which, as an apprentice, they must also attend the school for two weeks, three times each year. Then they must pass a stiff examination in order to earn a Master's License. The state trade schools in the area around Bechhoven and Nuremberg are qualified to offer this kind of education.

Step-by-step he demonstrated the making of artists' brush heads for us (the section from the bottom of the ferrule to the tip). He showed us many techniques including how the finest quality sable, bristle and school brushes are made, with many other natural hair, bristle and fibers as well. He even encouraged me to try my hand and I learned how much education, skill and experience I was lacking. My respect for the art grew enormously.

Next we were shown how the brush was attached to its handle with an adhesive that complies with U.S. Government specifications and is subsequently crimped. In their factory, the rules of thumb for the relationship of the length of the ferrule to the handle for oil and acrylic brushes is approximately 1/5th of the total, and for watercolor brush ferrules it is about 1/3rd.

Very few artists' brush manufacturers dress their own hair. To acquaint us with that phase of the process, the following day Mr. Bieringer took us to visit one of the largest "hairdressers" in Bechhoven. "Hairdressers" in brush manufacturing have a relationship to our perception of the term. They wash, cut, dry and comb natural hair. We were told that there are twenty-seven steps that are completed before the hair is shipped to the brushmaker.

With rare exception, the hair used in artists' brushes is from the tail of the animal. At international auctions the furriers buy the skins and the tails are purchased for brushes. One of the exceptions is the hair that is called "Sabeline" which is normally made from the hair inside the ears of oxen. We are told that the best quality comes from South America...somewhere. For those of you who have any qualms about using natural hair and think about switching to synthetics, perhaps you might enjoy how an artist friend feels about the issue. He observed that in the wild animals have a short life span but in their contribution to art their role in the greater scheme of the world is immeasurable.

After three days and evenings devoted to observations and demonstrations of the physical aspects of the craft, Mr. Bieringer shared some of his information on the history of brushmaking.

Caspar Buhler, who was born in 1751 in Nordlingen and lived from 1789 in Konigshofen, practiced brush crafting and was a carpenter by trade. It is said that he learned this skill during a journey in France and when he returned to Konighofen, near Bechhoven, he devoted his life to the art of brushmaking. He trained his two sons and his stepson in the skill and died in 1799. In 1810 the sons moved to Bechhoven where they continued in their fathers' profession. They were very secretive about their techniques, materials and their sources of supply. Only family members or a closed circle of friends were permitted to work with them.

In time the circle expanded and a cottage industry came into existence. Some of the little workshops developed into factories as the years passed and today many of the large factories still use homeworkers as part of their personnel base. The cottage workers, very often, are experienced older or handicapped people or mothers with young children.

Finally we were able to visit the brush museum. It is regularly open from March through November, on Sundays and Fridays from 1PM until 4PM, and January through December, by appointment only. (If any of you are interested, I'll be happy to send you an illustrated brochure.)

In the museum, both brushes and brooms are shown. In most countries the trades are grouped together, with sub-groups covering the various natural divisions.

The first room exhibits raw materials and their origins with examples of bundles of dressed hair and the animals mounted on shelves around the periphery. In the next room is mounted a broad variety of unusual and historical examples of brushes. In another room are found historical brushmakers' tools and equipment and the steps in the production of a brush.

Upon entering the fourth room, you find Fred and Lena, a couple seated at brushmaking benches intent on their work. (They are startlingly realistic manikins.)

Other rooms contain different kinds of brushes and brooms, both historic and contemporary. Some have technical or industrial applications and some are for other, more homely tasks.

Historical documents, books and catalogues are available for study, and as in all museums, the information was far more than we were able to absorb in a few hours. Even though we had the best possible guide in Mr. Bieringer, we know a great deal more time should be spent here and plan to return.

Nuremberg was our next stop. We spent two days interviewing manufactures whose history intertwines with what we found in Bechhoven, but whose emphasis on types of production is very different. Those two days were clearly not enough to devote to that area. But time was running out, and we were eager to go on to Poland to talk with brushmakers there and try to locate our Polish Museum.

Driving through Prague and Brno in Czechoslovakia on our way to Cracow, Bielsko-Biala, Lublin and Warsaw in Poland was an adventure. But that's another tail.

Zora Sweet Pinney

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