The “Black House” Salon

The “Black House” Salon of Solingen: Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and her cultural salon


The salonnière: Erna Heinen-Steinhoff (1898-1969) – photographed in 1917
The salonnière: Erna Heinen-Steinhoff (1898-1969) – photographed in 1917

By the 1920s, Erna Heinen-Steinhoff (1898-1969) had already founded a cultural salon which she would continue to host at the Heinen family’s new home, the “Black House” in Solingen, from December 1932 onwards.


Historical photograph of the salon in the Black House, 1958: From left to right: Erna Heinen-Steinhoff, Hanns Heinen and Erwin Bowien.
Historical photograph of the salon in the Black House, 1958: From left to right: Erna Heinen-Steinhoff, Hanns Heinen and Erwin Bowien.

Regional and nationwide artists of great importance regularly frequented the Heinens’ salon, a tradition that Erna’s daughter, the painter Bettina Heinen-Ayech (1937-2020), continued during her stays in Germany during the summer months following the death of her mother in 1969. This would last for some 90 years with varying degrees of intensity.

 


Historical photograph of the salon in the Black House, 1956: From left to right: Hans van Els, Hanns Heinen, Fine Schweitzer and Heinrich Schweitzer in the salon of the Black House.
Historical photograph of the salon in the Black House, 1956: From left to right: Hans van Els, Hanns Heinen, Fine Schweitzer and Heinrich Schweitzer in the salon of the Black House.

Visitors to the salon included the painter Erwin Bowien (1899-1972), the cellist Ludwig Hoelscher (1907-1996), pianist Elly Ney (1882-1968), sculptor Lies Ketterer (1905-1976), writer Heinz Risse (1898-1989), glass sculptor Fritz Hans Lauten (1935-1988), journalist and art critic Hans-Karl Pesch (1930-2004), the composers Werner Krahnert (1935-2018) and Hallgrimur Helgason (1914-1994), the painter Amud Uwe Millies (1932-2008) and many more.

 


Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and Hanns Heinen in the salon of the Black House, 1960
Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and Hanns Heinen in the salon of the Black House, 1960

The large living room of the timber-framed house became a place of drawing, music, performance and discussion in the afternoons and evenings. Erna Heinen-Steinhoff acted as the perfect moderator at the heart of the proceedings.


Bettina Heinen-Ayech in the Small Salon of the Black House, 1952
Bettina Heinen-Ayech in the Small Salon of the Black House, 1952

Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): A session of the "Salon" in the Heinen house, 1960
Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): A session of the "Salon" in the Heinen house, 1960

Brief biographies

Kurzbiografien der Besucher des Salons (Auswahl)


Rabindranath Tagore (Rabindranath Thakur), 1861 - 1941

Cherishsantosh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bengal-born poet, painter and philosopher was the first Asian to win a Nobel prize in 1913. He penned the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh. As a committed social and cultural reformer, he is one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. He travelled throughout Germany several times. It was during one of these trips that he honoured Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon with his presence for an evening. At the time, the salon was still being held at the Bertramsmühle farmstead. Erwin Bowien wrote of how impressed he had been by the philosopher’s voice, which he described as a “delightful memory”. He was undoubtedly the salon’s most prominent visitor.


Sigrid Undset , 1882 - 1949

Erwin Bowien (1899-1972) -Sigrid Undset in the drawing room of the Heinen house, 1947
Erwin Bowien (1899-1972) -Sigrid Undset in the drawing room of the Heinen house, 1947

During a visit to the Black House salon, the Norwegian Nobel prize winner coined the pet name “Bo” for Erwin Bowien, a name the artist would henceforth be known by among those close to him.

Her father, Ingvald Undset, was an internationally proclaimed archaeologist. Her mother, Charlotte Gyth, was a watercolourist originating from a distinguished family of Danish lawyers. From a very young age, Sigrid’s parents aroused her interest in the Norwegian and European cultures that would later serve as the basis of her future novels. Sigrid Undset finally made her breakthrough as an author with the release of her tragedy novel “Jenny” in 1911. In 1928, she won the Nobel prize for literature for her “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy, which is now regarded as one of the major works of Norwegian literature. Her four-part “Olav Audunsson” novels about rural life in medieval Norway and its religious customs also saw great success among readers and critics alike.

However, Sigrid Undset’s great creative period was brought to an end by the Nazi occupation of her country in 1940. She had to flee Norway as a result of her previous involvement with the resistance movement against National Socialism in the 1930s, reaching the United States via Sweden and the Soviet Union. In 1945, she returned to Norway, where she would die four years later. She was buried in Mesnali, a village 15km east of Lillehammer, where her grave can still be seen today. As one of four Norwegians to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sigrid Undset is regarded as one of Norway’s greatest authors of the 19th and 20th centuries. Norway honours her with her image on the 500 crown note. After many years of reconstruction and elaborate renovation work, Sigrid Undset’s former home in Lillehammer has been open to the public as a museum since May 2007.

The writer Ellen Marga Schmidt wrote about Sigrid Undset’s visit to the Heinens’ salon. See the tab “Eyewitness accounts”.

 


Musical director Hermann Assmann, 1890 - 1954

The Solingen-based composer and musical director Hermann Assmann was introduced to the salon at the Black House by Erwin Bowien.

 


Erwin Bowien, 1899 – 1972

Erwin Bowien, 1932
Erwin Bowien, 1932

Signature of Erwin Bowien
Signature of Erwin Bowien

Erwin Bowien first met the Heinen family in 1927 and became a regular visitor to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon. First at Bertramsmühle in Solingen, where he painted his first portraits of Erna and Hanns Heinen and then at the “Black House” salon. He was visited frequently by the Heinens during his exile in the Netherlands.

 

Upon his return to Germany, Erwin Bowien spent the last two years of the war in hiding with Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and her children in Kreuztal-Eisenbach in the Allgäu. He lived in the “Black House” in Solingen from 1945 onwards. From then on, he became an integral part of the family and co-organised the salons.

 


Dr. Johannes van Els, 1890 - 1984

Dr Johannes Van Els and wife in the salon of the Black House, 1958
Dr Johannes Van Els and wife in the salon of the Black House, 1958

Dr. Johannes van Els and his wife at the Black House Salon, 1958.

 

Dr Phil. Johannes van Els came from Düsseldorf. He worked for many years as a teacher at the August-Dicke school in Solingen. Even in his youth, he came into close contact with the artists now known as “the Young Rhineland”. A close personal friend of the Heinen family, he was interested in literature and art. He and his wife were regular guests of the salon at the Black House.

 


Dr. Eduard M. Fallet - Von Castelberg, 1904 - 1998

Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Dr. Edouard M. Fallet-Castelberg, 1964
Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Dr. Edouard M. Fallet-Castelberg, 1964

 

The Bern patron, art collector and local historian Eduard M. Fallet von Castelberg was one of the most important Swiss nationals to visit Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon from the 1950s onwards. Fallet von Castelberg, who for a time led Swiss Federal Railways, was Switzerland’s most prominent collector and patron of the works of Bettina, Bowien and Millies. He met Erwin Bowien a short time after the Second World War, during one of the artist’s first visits to Switzerland after the war. He hailed from the French-speaking canton of Neuchâtel by Lake Neuchâtel, where Erwin Bowien had also spent his youth. He helped the artist regain a foothold in Switzerland with the aid of Erik Thiebaud.

 

In 1954, he organised the first exhibition of Bowien's work in Switzerland after the Second World War, which he personally opened and brought to the attention of the Bernese public. From then on, he continued to provide a great deal of support to Bowien’s subsequent works with his publications and patronage of numerous exhibitions. The friendship between the two men lasted until the artist’s death. He was the first person to tackle the decipherment of Erwin Bowien’s autobiography, which was all but a barely legible manuscript the artist had written at great haste on his death bed. He authored the first monograph about the artist Bettina Heinen-Ayech “Bettina Heinen”, which was published in 1967 by Kleiner publishers in Bern in both French and German.

 

 

 

In many ways, he emerged as a sponsor of artworks in both Switzerland and Germany. Due to this, he became honorary president of the Berner Musikkollegium and first ever president of the Freundeskreises Erwin Bowien e. V. (Friends of Erwin Bowien Society), which he co-founded in 1976 at the Solingen Blade Museum. In addition to art history, his work took a turn towards regional history, particularly that of the historic Swiss town of Bremgarten near Bern. This is reflected in a series of books and writings. Aside from Bowien, his literary and artistic interests also turned to the Baroque sculptor Johann August Nahl and the painter Paolo (1894-1982).

 


Sigrid Genzken-Dragendorff , 1900 - 1985

The internationally proclaimed German-Swedish Haiku-poetess was born in St. Petersburg. She fled to Germany during the Russian revolution, where she travelled between Rostock, Berlin and Breslau. After the war, she first moved to Regensburg before finally settling in Fischach. She was a member of various literary groups, including honorary member of the Senryu centre from 1983. She was a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien society. She met Bowien and his pupil Bettina in Munich following WW2 and, despite the lengthy journey involved, became a regular guest at the salon at the Black House in Solingen from the 1960s. One of her final publications was a text about Erwin Bowien and Bettina Heinen-Ayech.

 


Otto Franz Gmelin, 1886 - 1940

Photo of a bust of the writer Otto Franz Gmelin by the Solingen sculptor Karl Reschke, 1923
Photo of a bust of the writer Otto Franz Gmelin by the Solingen sculptor Karl Reschke, 1923

 

Otto Franz Gmelin was a German writer and member of the poets circle of Bamberg. He was born in Karlsruhe in 1886 and died in Cologne in 1940. He was born into a family of scholars from Baden and studied philosophy and science in Karlsruhe and Heidelberg. Between 1911/12 and 1914, he travelled to Mexico, where he worked as a teacher for a German family. At the outbreak of WWI, he volunteered for military service, but was quickly discharged from the army on health grounds.

 


He obtained his doctorate in philosophy in Heidelberg in 1917. That same year, he found a post as a teacher at the Realgymnasium in the Wald district of Solingen. In 1918, he married Klara Ella Gmelin (née Stegmann). Due to his work as a writer, he met the young editor Hanns Heinen (1895-1961) shortly after his move to Solingen and the two would have a life-long friendship. Hanns introduced him to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s “salon”, where he became a keen visitor and befriended the painter Erwin Bowien (1899-1972). At the meetings, first at Betramsmühle and then at the Black House, Otto tried to persuade his friend Hanns Heinen finally to publish his prose works. He wrote the following to Hanns Heinen: “You are missing but one thing: vanity”. From 1936 onwards, he lived as a writer in Bensberg near Cologne. Gmelin primarily wrote historical novels and short stories. He remained friends with the Heinens and Bowien until his untimely death in 1940.

 


Professor Hallgrimur Helgason - Icelandic musician and composer, 1914 - 1994

Born in the small fishing village of Eyvavbakki on the south coast of Iceland, both of his parents were primary school teachers. At the age of 8, he learned to play the violin. After studying in Copenhagen for a short time in 1935, he studied at the Landeskonservatorium in Leipzig between 1936 and 1939.

From 1949, he studied music theory at the Academy of Music in Zürich. It was there that he met the painter Erwin Bowien (1899-1972). The pair became lifelong friends through Bowien’s ties to the Heinen family and Helgason’s visits to the artists’ colony at the Black House in Solingen. He obtained a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1954 and gave lectures in the Netherlands, West Germany, East Germany, Austria, Switzerland and all of the Nordic countries.

He was a founding member of the Icelandic Composers Association and the Copyright Society. He founded and led the Icelandic music magazine Tönlistin (=Music) from 1940 until 1947. He worked for the Icelandic national broadcaster between 1959 and 1966, and as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan between 1966 and 1974, then a guest professor at the Free University of Berlin in 1970. Additionally, he was awarded the Icelandic “Order of the Falcon” by the country’s president in 1963. From 1974, he was a professor at the University of Iceland, as well as a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society at Solingen’s German Blade Museum in 1976. He composed around 60 pieces, covering all genres.

He first encountered the poetic works of Hanns Heinen (1895-1961) in the 1950s when Erna Heinen-Steinhoff recited them during his visits to the salon. This inspired him to put the words to music, translating some of Heinen’s poems into Icelandic and using the lyrics to compose elegies.

He described his own musical style as free-tonal within a folkloric expression. Helgason also earned particular merits for collecting and scoring folk songs.

 


Max Kayser

One of the many writers in regular attendance at the Black House salon was the famous Solingen author Max Kayser, who wrote the popular novel “Die vom Platzhof”. The story takes place just a few kilometres away from the “Black House” in the Höhscheid district of Solingen. Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and Erwin Bowien really admired Max Kayser, so much so that Bowien wrote about him in his autobiography.

 


Lies Ketterer - Sculptress, 1905 - 1976

Lies Ketterer (1905-1976): Portrait head of Diana Millies as a child, 1966
Lies Ketterer (1905-1976): Portrait head of Diana Millies as a child, 1966

 

The sculptor Lies Ketterer (Florentine Luise “Lies” Ketterer) visited the Heinen home regularly. Born in Berlin, she moved to her mother’s home town of Solingen in 1913. Lies Ketterer created many works for public spaces. She was fond of sculpting animals and small children. Her most famous sculptures include “Lucky Hans and the ducat donkey” outside the municipal savings bank in Solingen, her sculpture of the regional poet “Peter Witte” and the “Steltlopers” in Gouda, Netherlands.

 

Ketterer was also a writer and wrote her own short stories. She was a founding member of Soroptimist International, Club Solingen, in 1968. Lies had lively exchanges with the other artists at the Black House. Particularly with Erwin Bowien, who commended her and her sister in his autobiography, and with Bettina Heinen-Ayech, with whom she organised a large exhibition at the Theodor-Heuss Academy in Gummersbach in 1971. Lies Ketterer modelled one of her famous children’s heads sculptures on Bettina Heinen-Ayech’s daughter Diana.

 


Dr. Emil Kronenberg, 1864-1954

Dr. Emil Kronenberg, 1864-1954
Dr. Emil Kronenberg, 1864-1954

 

Local doctor Emil Kronenberg was another of the Black House’s visitors. He was born in 1864 and followed his father’s profession, who had also practiced in Solingen. In 1897, he became a founding member and later president of the West German Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors. He joined Solingen’s Freemasons’ Lodge “zur Bergischen Freiheit” in 1909. There, he held the office of Master of the Chair between 1925 and 1927, and then honorary Chairmaster when the lodge was re-established in 1948. He was introduced to the Black House salon by his fellow mason Hanns Heinen and would attend regularly, with Erwin Bowien even painting his portrait.

 

 

 

Aside from his work as a doctor, Dr. Kronenberg supported various political, social and cultural causes in Solingen: for example, he posited the idea to establish an adult education centre (Volkshochschule) in the town in 1910, as well as a city library in Solingen in 1926. In addition to all these causes, Kronenberg was also an avid writer and poet. Due to his beliefs, he was expropriated by the Nazis and deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There, he was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945 and returned to his home on 28 June 1945. That same year 1945, he became a co-founder of Germany’s Free Democratic Party and led Solingen’s cultural circle from 1949. He received a visit from the German president Theodor Heuss in 1951. Dr. Emil Kronenberg died on 31st March 1954.

 


Fritz Hans Lauten - glass artist, 1935 - 1989

Fritz H. Lauten: Glass windows in the artist's studio of the "Red House" in Solingen
Fritz H. Lauten: Glass windows in the artist's studio of the "Red House" in Solingen

The well-known glass artist was born into a traditional glassworking family in Cologne, a tradition that Fritz H. Lauten would continue into its third generation. In the 1950s, he met the then art student Bettina Heinen-Ayech (1937-2020) at Cologne’s Werkschulen. Through her, he met the other artists in attendance at the “Black House” and became a regular guest. He began working as a freelance glass former in 1965 and enjoyed great success early on. He and his fellow artists founded the artistic group the Kölnerschule in 1971. His largest glass window can be found in Solingen’s evangelical church. However, it was only after his death that this work could be completed.

Unforgotten are the huge studio parties he threw each summer at his studio in the village of Kürten in the Oberberg region. He had built a unique, futuristic glasshouse in the forests near Kürten, which he used as his studio.
He manifested his friendship with the various artists at the “Black House” colony through his series of glass paintings which he singlehandedly fitted into the windows of the “Red House”, which served as the colony’s studio. They exist to this day and stand as a reminder of the greatest era of the “Black House” colony.

 


Werner Lehmann-Jenny, 1920 - 2007

Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Werner Lehmann-Jenny, 1971
Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Werner Lehmann-Jenny, 1971

 

The Swiss musician was born in Basel and grew up there. From a very young age, he showed a great talent for all things musical. At the age of 14, he changed from piano and violin lessons to flute and trained as a musician at the Swiss Orchestra School and the Conservatory of Basel. At 22, he gained the orchestral diploma for flute, with piano and violin as secondary subjects. In 1948 he was appointed to the Conservatory in Bern, where he taught the flute until 1990. In this way, the flautist Werner Lehmann-Jenny helped shape Bern’s music scene for more than 40 years. Beyond his work at Bern’s Conservatory, he taught in many other musical establishments across Switzerland and conducted orchestras in Basel, Bern and Langenthal. Werner Lehmann-Jenny demanded a high level of musical performance from his students. However, this was accompanied by his distinctive Basel-style sense of humour, meaning that he could end any fiercely contested lesson with a laugh.

 

 

 

He also performed in several solo concerts throughout Switzerland and beyond. Having played the flute at Erwin Bowien’s first exhibition in Bern in 1954, the two artists became close lasting friends. He would also later befriend the Heinens, including Bowien’s most prominent pupil Bettina Heinen-Ayech, thanks to this friendship. And so, Werner and his wife travelled to Solingen regularly to enrich the colony with their presence.

 


Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt, 1848 - 1930

Adolf H. Neufeldt in Arabic costume in the Algerian desert town of Biskra, 1912
Adolf H. Neufeldt in Arabic costume in the Algerian desert town of Biskra, 1912

Signature of Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt
Signature of Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt
Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt on his trip to Egypt in 1913/14
Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt on his trip to Egypt in 1913/14

Adolf Neufeldt was Erwin Bowien’s maternal grandfather and was an important figure in the life of the artist. The grandfather he revered came from East Prussia, from a family that had originally moved to East Prussia as Mennonites from Groningen in Holland in 1525 and was originally called “Van der Niefeld”.

They had set off for pastures new due to a lack of land in their homeland. Frederick the Great favoured their settlement and granted them special status in Prussia. As they had previously done in their homeland, the family of Mennonites drained the overflowing banks of the Vistula delta by digging various ditches and dykes. Born in 1848, Adolf Neufeldt became an apprentice in his father’s prosperous plumbing business.

 


The Villa Neufeldt in Elbing around 1904
The Villa Neufeldt in Elbing around 1904

Adolf Neufeldt was Erwin Bowien’s maternal grandfather and was an important figure in the life of the artist. The business expanded gradually and evolved into a metalware factory with an enamel works and a toy-making department. The Neufeldt family’s products won prizes at the 1875 industrial exhibitions in Königsberg and Kassel. They were later displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878 before winning further awards at the Sydney World’s Fair in 1880. By 1887, the company was employing 300 workers. The company saw continuous expansion through the acquisition of land and building projects. The family went on great journeys, travelling to Greece and Constantinople in 1885 and New York in 1893. Both the parents and children were musical. Adolf Neufeldt was able to step aside from the business aged 45 when it became a limited company. The family then settled in Freiburg im Breisgau, where they built a sizeable neo-renaissance style villa in 1895.

 


"Wandervogel" by Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt
"Wandervogel" by Adolf Heinrich Neufeldt

The bicycle was the wayfarer Adolf Neufeldt’s favourite mode of transport. He often cycled over the Alps to Italy, although the country was not as safe in 1900 as it is today. But Adolf was fluent in Italian and wore a full beard, meaning he was often mistaken for a Garibaldian. He crashed his bike in the Maggia valley near Locarno in 1904, but escaped without a scratch. All ten of his children eventually moved out of the family home, and following the death of his beloved wife Marie Luise in 1902, he sold the villa in Freiburg. He went to live with his son Hans in Kiel, but later alternated between Interlaken, Jachenau and Meran. From there, he often travelled to visit his children and many grandchildren

 

In 1905, he travelled all the way to Sicily by bike, then through Tunisia and Algeria in 1909. 1910 saw him travel through France and over the Pyrenees to Northern Spain. At 64 years old, he embarked on his final cycling tour through Algeria in 1912. In the years 1913-14, he was invited to travel with Norddeutscher Lloyd to Egypt, going as far as Aswan. Many essays were written about what were considered rather extraordinary journeys at the time, to places such as Lourdes, Tunisia, the Atlas mountains, Constantinople and Egypt. They were published in instalments in various magazines and special prints. The unusually eclectic, active grandfather with many great interests died at 7.30pm on 10th September 1930 at the age of 83. His grave can be found in Meran. Adolf Neufeldt was a guest at Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon when he visited his grandson Erwin Bowien in Solingen.


Hans – Karl Pesch, 1930 - 2003

Bettina Heinen Ayech - Hanns-Karl Pesch, 1978
Bettina Heinen Ayech - Hanns-Karl Pesch, 1978

From a young age, Hans Karl Pesch was closely linked to the Heinen family and the artists of the “Black House”. Born in Stuttgart on 10 January 1930, his father was also an editor. After volunteering at various newspapers, he got a job as an editor at the Rheinische Post in Solingen in 1954, where he become head of the publication between 1961 and 1972. He then took over at the district editorial office of the Bergische Morgenpost in Remscheid-Lennep. He always signed off his articles with “hkp”.

Hans Karl Pesch was a regular guest at the “Black House”. He followed the work of the artist colony’s protagonists like no other journalist: Erwin Bowien, Bettina Heinen-Ayech and Amuf Uwe Millies kept no secrets from him. From early on, he had the opportunity to follow the artists’ development. He was impressed by the courage and potential these wilful artists displayed, particularly that of Bettina Heinen-Ayech, whom he had visited when reporting in Algeria. This brought her artwork to an international audience.

But Hans Karl Pesch had his own creative side. He painted and wrote absurd pictures and texts as well as small miniatures which he called “the Egos”. These were always a highlight for visitors to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff's salon and the meetings of art lovers arranged by her daughter Bettina. He also had great respect and affection for his colleague Hanns Heinen and helped his daughter Bettina sift through her father’s literary work following his death.

Pesch was a long-time president of the Bergisch Professional Association of Visual Artists. To preserve the work of Erwin Bowien for posterity, he became a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society in 1976 and would remain its vice-president until his death. He wrote monographs and many other texts about Erwin Bowien and Bettina Heinen-Ayech. Until his untimely death, he was responsible for editing the newsletter “News from the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society”.

 


Carl Reschke, 1872 - 1961

Historical photo, 1920s: The only work by Carl Reschke in public space in Solingen in the entrance hall of the former municipal clinics.
Historical photo, 1920s: The only work by Carl Reschke in public space in Solingen in the entrance hall of the former municipal clinics.

The East-Prussian sculptor Carl Reschke was living in Solingen in the 1920s and worked at the town’s vocational school. The sculptor was introduced to the Black House salon by Erwin Bowien. He also occasionally worked for the Berlin Porcelain Manufacturers and created many beautiful grave designs. Ewrin Bowien wrote in his autobiography: “The portraits (that Reschke painted) were reminiscent of Schadow and Hildebrand”.

 


Dr. Heinz Risse, 1898 - 1989

The writer had achieved international renown with his work and was regarded in the literary world as one of the most critical and idiosyncratic interpreters of the German past and present in the Bonn Republic. As a winner of Solingen Civic Foundation’s culture prize and the Immermann prize, he was very close to Bowien and Bettina Heinen-Ayech and visited Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon regularly.


Helmut Schaeffer, 1911 - 1989

Like the German president Walter Scheel, Helmut Schaefer was one of Erwin Bowien’s pupils at the Schwertstrasse Gymnasium in the 1920s. So impressed by his art teacher, he felt painting was his calling and never denied his close relationship with Bowien’s work. Having become editor of the Solinger Tageblatt, where he would be chief editor for many years, he joined the Black House salon in the 1950s, becoming part of its circle of intellectuals.

It was only after his retirement from active professional life that Helmut Schaeffer organised his own art exhibitions, always referring to his teacher Erwin Bowien, to whom he had also closely emulated in his artistic expression.

 


Mathias Ludwig Schroeder, 1904 - 1950

The workers’ poet and writer Mathias Ludwig Schroeder (often spelled Schröder) was born in Sulzbach near Saarbrücken in 1904 and was killed in an accident in Hilden near Solingen in 1950, where he had been living and working. Known as the “Rhenish Owlglass” because of his sense of humour, the writer was a good friend of Erwin Bowien’s, who introduced him to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s art and literary salon at the “Black House” in Solingen. He supported Bowien in his literary career in 1945 and helped him through a difficult period of his life. Mathias Ludwig Schroeder began writing in the 1930s. He penned works such as “Poets and Workers”, “Peter the Soldier Boy”, “The Girl on the Horse”, “The Confessional”, “The Laughing Hammer” and many more.

 


Ellen Marga Schmidt, 1919 - 1983

Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Graphite study of Ellen Marga Schmidt in the salon of the Black House, ca. 1950
Erwin Bowien (1899-1972): Graphite study of Ellen Marga Schmidt in the salon of the Black House, ca. 1950

A short time after the end of the war, the prominent journalist and writer met the painter and author Erwin Bowien at a writers' conference at the moated castle of Hackhausen in Solingen. He introduced her to the salon held at the Black House, which she attended regularly. She instantly developed a close relationship with Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and her husband Hanns.
Erwin Bowien used the meetings to realise a series of beautiful drawings and graphite studies by the artist. Ellen Marga Schmidt wrote a lively report about the Black House salon in Solingen in “News from the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society” (Issue no. 05 - 1982) with the title “One place – and one reality”.

Schmidt was born in Remscheid in 1919. In 1947, she won the Uellenberg prize of the city of Wuppertal. Aside from her work as a writer, she was a lecturer at the German School of Booksellers and a consultant at the German Broadcasting Archives and Hessian Radio. She passed away in Usingen, Taunus, in 1983.

 


Hermann Schmitz, 1902 - 1965

 

The Solingen-born dialect theatre playwright (Höhscheider Bühnenspiele) Hermann Schmitz was a special friend to Hanns Heinen, Erna Heinen Steinhoff’s husband. He was born in 1902 in the same parish at the Neuenhaus farmstead, very close to the “Black House” and lived in the vicinity all his life.

The daughter of the poet, Helga Schuhmacher, wrote of her father: “... After leaving school, he had to work - like his father and brother - as a pocket knife maker in the ‘cottage’, i.e. the workshop of a scissor sharpener ...” His youth was overshadowed by the First World War. After 1933, the family faced political danger, as they had previously spent their evenings with like-minded people sorting and packing leaflets. Almost all of there acquaintances and relatives at the time were like-minded. In the evenings, they would discuss (including Hanns Heinen and his family) the victims of political persecution and later the war. There, new writings and stories were exchanged. After the war, he felt even more dedicated to the theatre and playwriting. At the age of 18, he had already founded a theatre association together with other young people from the Höhscheider workers' sports. This would later become known as the Höhsdheider Bühnenspiele. Theatre was his passion.

 

 

 

From its very beginning until 1963, Hermann Schmitz was the director of the troupe. They mainly performed comedies and operettas, as they wanted to avoid shallower forms of entertainment. Hermann Schmitz was at his happiest when people were being entertained and forced to reflect on what they were watching. Not only did he run the shows, he usually even took part on stage. Hermann Schmitz, who was a lover of the German classics, Brecht and Tucholsky, probably got the impulse to write plays himself from the dialect play “The Neighbours” by Max Kayser. Kayser was the chief of the steel factory on Friedrichsstrasse where Hermann Schmitz worked, and the Bühnenspiele did several productions of the play. His literary works made him so well known that in 1958, a postcard “to the author of the comedy Ferdinand Graf von Pilghausen, Mr Hermann Schmidt, Solingen” reached his address. Public attitudes to dialects slowly began to change after the war. It was now thought of as a real loss if people weren’t speaking their native tongue, and speaking “Plattdeutsch” (Low German) was no longer seen as a sign of being uneducated. His wish not only to perform on the small stages in the Höhscheid-Widderter area but before a larger audience came true...”

 


Dr. med. Richard Topp

The former leader of Solingen’s public health office was a great philanthropist and art lover. He and his wife Käthe were regular guests at the Black House. Erwin Bowien would always remember how, on the day of West Germany’s currency reform in 1948, Dr. Topp used his first Deutschmarks to buy a painting from him. During his many years of friendship with Erwin Bowien, Topp collected a great deal of Bowien’s works. Dr. Topp would become a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society in 1976 and was present at its opening ceremony at the German Blade Museum in Solingen.


Dr. Ernst Woltemas, 1913 - 2008

Ernst Woltemas was a pupil in Erwin Bowien’s art class at Solingen’s Schwertstrasse Gymnasium and remained close to his former teacher throughout his life. Through Bowien, he gained access to the Black House salon after the war. He was a great asset to the group because he was so cultured and well-read. He was a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society and was an active supporter of it for many decades. In the 1980s, he went on an extended trip to the Netherlands to retrace Erwin Bowien’s steps there.

 


Dagfinn Zwilgmeyer, 1900 - 1979

This Norwegian poet studied psalms and published a series of well-known “Norwegian Psalm Books”. He visited the Black House Salon in Solingen and remained close to Erwin Bowien to his dying day. In 1976, he made a final trip to Solingen to represent Norway as a founding member of the Friends of Erwin Bowien Society and attended its opening ceremony at the German Blade Museum in Solingen.