Every year in late June and early July the Braunschweig Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Braunschweigischer Kulturbesitz) hosts two sculpting workshops of the very special kind in the cloister courtyard of the former Benedictine Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Königslutter.
In the powerful environment of this outstanding cultural heritage site, the traditional sculpting techniques, that were used to give a unique appearance to the Imperial Cathedral in the first place, are brought to life. Not only does the building offer an inexhaustible source of inspiration, but also is it representative of a number of associations and values that have not lost any of their importance during the past 1000 years: strength and shelter, tranquility and spirituality, peace and contemplation, but also solidarity and cooperation.
The combination of these values with architectural heritage, hands-on experience of traditional skills and room to meet one’s own personal needs encourage a very intimate engagement with cultural heritage and lead to authentic experiences.
In the spirit of the famous medieval sculptor Nicolaus of Ferrara, who was appointed by Emperor Lothar III. to decorate his church with extraordinary architectural sculpture, every workshop participant creates his or her own piece of art by applying traditional sculpting techniques. It goes without saying that they get to work with the same regional limestone that was used to construct the cathedral back in the 12th century.
Previous knowledge or skills are not required. Those who are interested in giving sculpting a first try are just as welcome as those who have been practicing the art for quite some years already.
The participants are introduced to the art, craft and techniques of sculpting, learn about the use of particular tools and actively develop their own skills. The professional sculptor and artist Hans Reijnders imparts all the required knowledge, experience, support and passion. As a longstanding expert and practitioner, whose works can be found all over the world in private ownership, public space and museums, he knows how to treat the stone and helps the participants to develop that sense, too.
Norbert Funke is the founding father of this initiative. At the 2021 edition of the Summer Academy he shares the story about how he first made contact and invited Hans Reijnders to join a symposium titled “Sculptures for Königslutter” back in 2008. The work that resulted from that event can still be visited in front of the parish church near the market square. This was the beginning of a long lasting cooperation. 2021 marks the 12th year of the Summer Academy under the lead of Hans Reijnders.
Answering the question what he most appreciates about the Summer Academy, Norbert Funke illustrates that he enjoys the atmosphere in the cloister courtyard, the meditative spirit and the growing together of the group of returners. Some of the participants attended up to 10 workshops during the past decade and have become a family of sorts.
The appraisal of the participants draws a similar picture. They mention the wonderful setting under the lime tree surrounded by the old walls of the cloister, the pleasant sound of the church bells, encounters and conversations, the challenge of engaging with something new, understanding the characteristics of the stone, as well as calming down, relaxing and recharging batteries as their personal benefits.
At the same time, they take home a number of learnings after the week together. On the one hand, these are newly developed or improved skills related to crafting, the handling of material and the use of tools. On the other side, many of the participants notice that they seem to be more attentive to their surrounding and to details, that they enhanced their faculty of imagination and visual thinking, and that they feel a new sense of contemplation.
When it comes to the creative part of sculpting a piece of art, everybody comes with a first vision. In some cases it is still a rather open idea with the intention to let oneself be guided by the structure of the stone; others have prepared sketches or clay models. Host Norbert Funke knows that over the years most participants came with at least a certain idea of what they want. But he can also remember some cases where the artists let themselves be inspired by the sculptures of the medieval craftsmen that can be found in the Imperial Cathedral.
Those who have participated in the sculpting workshop before know at least one story to tell about the ups and downs in the creation of the sculptures. One bad stroke of the hammer can cause a whole art piece to shatter. Sometimes this causes bad frustration, and sometimes it feels utterly liberating. So, tact and patience are the key. And this is one of the lessons where Hans Reijnders can share his vast experience and provide the participants with a bit more of confidence.
The end of every workshop is marked by a closing presentation. In front of friends, families and interested visitors, the participants display their sculptures. Norbert Funke and Hans Reijnders cater for the appropriate atmosphere and setting. During a small reception there is time to interpret the works, recall the events of the week together and listen to the thoughts and stories that the experienced Dutch artists and workshop leader volunteers.
The TRANSROMANICA team thanks Norbert Funke, Hans Reijnders and all the participants of the early July Summer Academy session 2021 for their kind cooperation and support.