Jews Gate, Coburg

“Kronberg,” Marilyn wrote in her scrapbook, “is on my shortlist of beautiful and romantic places along with Niagara-on-the-Lake”. Medieval timbered houses crowd along the narrow streets like eager fans in a queue for tickets. Here and there, trees create a small shaded footprint beside a white-washed building. Courtyards with murmuring fountains provide a quiet respite from crowded streets. We stayed here, only fifteen kilometers from Frankfurt, before we travelled east to Coburg to meet with the designers from the Goebel Porcelain Company.

Coburg is a much larger, more elegant, small city. Parks and squares border broad avenues. Three- and four-storied buildings coloured green, gold and pink smile aristocratically down on flower beds, statues and promenades. Not surprisingly, Coburg was a city state until 1939, complete with its own prince and many official buildings. Public spaces remind you of a time gone by. Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, came from this area and there lingers in the air the soft scent of refinement mixed with the fumes of cars crawling along the avenues.

Following the success of the collector plate series that I had designed for Christian Bell Porcelain, I had been approached by an American agency of Goebel Porcelain, the makers of the famous Hummel figurines, to sculpt some Mennonite pieces. I had sent several Mennonite country examples off to Germany three months earlier for their mould makers to examine. We were royally received by a young man from the factory. He had entertained us the night before our meeting with the Hummel design people with dinner at an up-market, truly German, restaurant called the Lorelei. He had introduced us to white asparagus and Franken wine.

Our host, Mr. Henning, led us to believe that the design chief was extraordinarily pleased with my models, and so I was excited when we were ushered into an elegant company dining room the next day. The wood paneling provided a background sheen for the gleaming silverware. White linen on the tables proclaimed that we were in for a special treat. A waiter with a domed trolley made his way through this luxury dining room dispensing large portions of beef and pork.

After a massive lunch with a number of glasses of Franken wine, we returned to the director’s “studio”. It was there that I saw for the first time their version of my Mennonite models. Yikes! I was appalled. They had produced prototypes that looked like Hummel figures, all round and bulbous. The only tip-off that these figures might be related to my work was the dark coloured clothes. It might be unkind, but accurate, to say that the models looked like they had been fed steroids.

After several other tries to bring what I thought was necessary to these prototypes, I had to accept that they loved the Hummel look. I have always enjoyed the Black Forest Hummel characters, but now I cannot pass one without remembering my figurines that never happened.