The Human Being Connected: Nature, Art and Technology

September 9, 2023

We visited the German Hat Museum in Lindenberg. It was fascinating to walk through three hundred years of hat fashion. Not only did we learn about how hats were made, but how the town of Lindenberg changed because of it. In the 16th century, grain production was vital to the lives of the families in Lindenberg, but not enough grain was grown to feed every family. The population needed another form of income to survive. They solved this by processing the remaining corn stalks and weaving straw braids from them to sew simple hats. Families, mainly women, worked at home and sewed through the night making hat after hat. Children were also involved in the process as mothers set a target for how many meters of straw the child needed to braid each day. This continued in this way until the first hat factories were established in 1830, and by 1900, 3,000 people were working in hat factories in the area around Lindenberg. They used industrial methods to produce many different shapes of hats, turning them out in large numbers. By 1931, almost 8 million hats were produced in a year including 5 million men’s hats. Hats were shipped as far away as the USA and South America. However, when fashion changed, the straw hat industry was in crisis. They tried using felt, leather, acrylic fibers, and fur. Soon only one hat factory was left. At the end of our visit, we were able to try on many different styles of hats, I had gained an appreciation of all that was involved and looked at hats in a new way.

Another example was the Car and Tractor Museum in Uhldingin near Lake Constance. As with the hat museum, the development of cars and tractors also mirrored changes in society. The museum traced the motorization of agriculture within 100 years of life in the countryside including showcasing tools, technical implements, household appliances, and doll houses. The first tractors were produced by Britain using stationary engines, and then portable steam engines pulled by horses became common for about 100 years. In the late 1880s, petrol engines provided an alternative to steam. Many advancements were developed in the American Midwest and then sold in Germany. John Deere was a favorite, and its familiar green and yellow machine is still used on German farms. In addition to the tractors, there was a collection of 100 automobiles including horse-drawn carriages all the way to the 20th century. Especially interesting was the history of the Volkswagen with many versions of the beloved Beetle and the familiar VW van. After visiting this museum, I was much more interested in the tractors being used on the local farms of southern Germany. 

I had a similar experience in the History Museum of Valmiera, Latvia. Housed within the Valmiera castle ruins, exhibits showed everyday life in the local villages. Of particular interest was the exhibition of activities at home, showing developments in bread baking, sewing and laundering of clothes, basketmaking, and woodworking. As with the other museums, here, too, we could experience the changes in industrialization. 

In each of these experiences, there was a relationship between using materials from nature, animals to pull carriages, and an emphasis on creative art design, As a craftsperson myself, I especially value tracing the process and appreciating both the simpler form as well as the more sophisticated industrial design. The transformation over time in these industries is well worth understanding. In addition to the practical processes described above, there were also artistic exhibits that were fascinating, particularly sculpture and glasswork.

The sculpture of Peter Lenk, a German artist, with his realistic yet fantastic images of human bodies, makes fun of politics and historical events displayed in open-air areas around Bodensee (Lake Constance). He depicts German politicians involved in sexual play while also making a sharp ironic point. His work is shown in the central square of a number of communities, but he is given free rein to choose his topics even though they might cause discomfort and criticism. I would have appreciated a detailed booklet about each one as I wasn’t familiar with most of the politicians or situations. Yet, I could substitute a figure out of American politics and still appreciate what he was doing. 

In the Valmiera Museum, I especially enjoyed the exhibit showing the remarkable experimentations of Anda Munkievica in glass. She works with texture and imagery to express deep thoughts about nature, light, and life.

She wrote the following to capture her experience of working with glass and its relationship to light.

“Light flows, emotions flow, glass flows and the river closes. Likewise, time and thoughts. Everything flows and changes, everything is in motion. Where and how. everyones own decision. Time also flows every moment, and every moment we make choices. Therefore, we are co responsible for what happens around us. There is only one law and that is conscience. Glass is a material that carries the light in it.

My granddaughter Katherine Bingaman is a good example of a person who incorporates Nature, Art, and Technology. She is graduating with her degree in engineering, and she is also a world-class knitter. She creates designs, makes up her own patterns, and is always working on her next project. Visiting with her during my time in Germany was a highlight of my summer.