patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer.
Elisabeth Klemke was born in Spring 1930 in Altona when it still belonged to Denmark. She huddled in the basement, digged in the ruins, draw paintings, was “honoured” for her drawing inspite of and during a period of bitter cold weather. She studied and taught in Hamburg, worked, loved and suffered until her death in Bad Oldesloe in 2007.
Elisabeth was born in March; the third child out of four children. Their beloved brother was killed in the war; the memory of him is being kept alive in a picture in grey-brown. He has her face or perhaps she has his. Their father’s face. He was a senior teacher in Hamburg and a descendant of a saddler from the Reeperbahn. His conduct is more than uptight.
Her sisters were learning a trade, quickly getting married, moving into the city, bothered by the tram noise. Elisabeth wasn’t up for this. She was religious, has fantasy and love which she not only shares yet aims to spread around. She studied music at the music conservatoire, studied religion, and because she could not start teaching with only these two, she also became a maths teacher. She would have preferred to have studied art however, this combination was not allowed for the teaching degree.
On 27th January 1958, when she was a student teacher, she wrote her pedagogic exam on parchment paper, about the topic ‘Introduction of the musical education according to [Carl] Orff in lower secondary school at a scientific secondary school for girls.’ The work comprises 71 pages. The typewriter where she typed her paper on remained loyal to her throughout her whole life and helped her forty years later when her hands let her down.
Elisabeth took great delight in her work. Only once, after returning from her holidays, she did not arrive on time because she was stuck in the snow in Yugoslavia. Despite all exhaustion, she will take her bad conscience to the grave. She loved what she did because she did what she loved. She never worked.
Her mother soon died and she was alone. Her sister’s children lived for a long time. She sought after the highest form of giving. Eventually she found what she was looking for in taking, adopting. Then a dog arrived from the animal shelter, who helped her get rid of the flu she laid up yearly.
She thrived and blossomed yet still became ill before her retirement. Elisabeth has Parkinson’s disease. She suffered for 16 years, deteriorated, endured everything, helpless, more than brave. She paints. She draws. She played the piano, every Tuesday in a trio. The pastor later enquired how a delicate, quiet, reserved person can teach at a grammar school and lead an entire orchestra every year. The answer surprised him and it also did not, because he had known her. The answer is: In her unique way.
Those who met her were given a piece of her, stopped, paused, kept something. In the end, she had disappeared, unforgettable in honour. E as she was named every now and then, helped others whenever she had a chance to; always the good in sight. Terres des Hommes, WWF, Red Cross. She sent care packages with coffee and chocolate to the poor in Eastern Germany (DDR). Finally, posthumous, she became godmother to a key of the new organ in the Peter-Paul church in Bad Oldesloe.
Elisabeth painted and drew. She drew with watercolours, oil chalk, coal and pen. In the early years she made monolithic silhouettes with captions. Later on, she painted whole worlds with only one black line. She relocated her studio into the basement. One does not know the reason for this. Perhaps it was because she could not handle the heat in the summer. However, the winters are rather long and now the summer is also dark.
She was also affected by depression. Side effects from side effects from interactions or something like that. Who knows. Who wants to know. Elisabeth wants to go. However she cannot. She is worried.
When she dies, her hand lies in the one hand that once lay in hers, weak and naked, at life’s other end.
It is difficult to say, whether a hobby is still a hobby if you consider that she presented some of her works at various exhibitions, sold some and practical full-time work was involved in creation. She was called retiree, senior or pupil.
Many pictures don’t have a title. Their presentations are actually enough,” she concludes.
She draws with chalk, oil and coal. She paints sadness and solitude, ugliness and beauty. Sometimes it is difficult to bear her works, at least for me as not a completely impartial observer. Her people are always a bit too sharp, I think, and the colours too soft in my opinion. She listens to me and is glad that I react to her works. I must not enjoy her works. They are her works, so they should please her. And if she doesn’t like them, then they will be altered or are thrown away.
Her art is tremendous, particularly because you must keep in mind that she paints and draws freehand. A hand, which is stricken by Parkinson’s disease, therefore shaking constantly, and already was before she began to dedicate herself to art so passionately.
“Some social conditions are upsetting.”
She draws many landscapes and birds. Sad people. Youthful joy. Her drawings (black/white) tell of a world that is more beautiful, more colourful than this one, yet because we don’t know it. Some of her pictures can be rotated and hide a new perspective, perhaps in which a little bird sits and performs a song for its world. A quiet song of peace or even a loud song for joy.
She plays piano. She acquired her grand piano early and has never left it. She still sits playing piano when she can no longer raise her head from her chest. On top of it all, she has been eroded by osteoporosis but her eyes shine cheerfully at me. She also smiles, tired but honestly, what I still bravely try to endure even when she passed away long ago. Previously her bright sky-blue eyes sparkled at me. Not only me.
For as long as she is able to, she draws islands. Her little path to freedom. With a line, sometimes even with two. She creates without a plan – which island finally reveals itself is decided by her hand alone. She follows the flow, playful and free. From this emerge intricately detailed fairytale worlds, a distant world in the past, where for a moment you desire to be. She also draws trees and the life in them.
Snippies is the name she gave to the little characters in her sketch-pad. She draws from passion, at the table, in bed and against her solitude, in which no one can visit her.