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How one artist's ivory creations helped create an Art Deco revolution.

Byline: By Jeffery Muse

It was apparent, even in the 1930s, standards were slipping and with more and more mass production, so was quality.

This would be reflected in cheaper goods and services, but to many people just making ends meet through inflationary years removed any benefit there may have been.

By the middle of the next decade as Europe gradually got back to normal, prices were rising alarmingly as even essentials were in short supply.

The death of Ferdinand Preiss in 1943 from a brain tumour was marked when his prediction that his beautiful Art Deco figures in chryselephantine would rise dramatically in value was proved right.

This was partly due to his superb craftsmanship but also to the fact that many of his models had been banned at home, because all women had to be at home and raise the next generation of good German citizens, according to Nazi doctrine.

There were to be only 10% female students, but Preiss preferred to ignore this to suggest his lithe figures were already liberated, possibly singers or dancers, sportswomen or entertainers with wonderful bodies to match. They were nothing like the dowdy, submissive mother-figures much of the State literature extolled.

It was as if Preiss, single- handedly, kept the company afloat as on his death, at 61, the business of Preiss and Kassler was soon wound-up and when, in February 1945, the workshop sustained a direct hit in Ritterstrasse almost everything was lost.

All papers, moulds, precision tools and equipment was destroyed and along with so much else, the whole area was bulldozed.

His partner, Arthur Kassler, together with his son Hans opened a button making factory as after the war there was bound to be considerable demand for clothing.

Ferdinand Preiss had been born in Erbach, approximately 10 miles outside Frankfurt in the centre of the ivory business, which had begun in 1783 under the auspices of Count Franz I.

The young Preiss had already started art classes with his uncle Philip Willmann when both parents died close together and so the six children were dispersed to live with relatives or friends.

Having already known his uncle well, Preiss went to live with him and began as a journeyman to gain business acumen. He set his sights high and had dreams of opening a workshop in Switzerland, but was persuaded Berlin was more affordable and more sensible by his wife and Arthur Kassler's, the man he had approached with a view to working together.

In 1907 the Preiss and Kassler Workshop for Ivory and Art began at Lenbacherstrasse 1 making small ivory figurines. Ivory was imported in vast quantities from the Belgian Congo, and these beautiful models were sold by weight and height.

It was very dissatisfying, allowing so many carved figures to be valued for the amount of dentine they contained and he began experimenting by adding gilt bronze accessories.

The first were shown in 1910 by Kionsek at the Leipzig fair but soon the country was gripped by war and ivory became scarce.

When production began again in 1919 ivory was still difficult to obtain so both partners scoured the area for local hotels offering new pristine plastic snooker balls in place of the cracked and dirty ivory ones. Though small, these were quickly made into jewellery and sold in hair dressing salons and were very popular.

Production of figures began circa 1925 and chryselphantine figurines in ivory and bronze were so popular, the partners couldn't keep up with demand. Hans Kassler opened a workshop in England with German craftsmen to cope with the full order book because ivory statues sustained a 30% import tax, but by importing the pieces and assembling them here this was avoided and large numbers were sold through Waring & Gillow.

For all antiques and works of art advice, Jeffery Muse is on 029 2072 7980.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 22, 2007
Words:643
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