Paul Zimmermann (German, b. 1939) has about 67 years of experience and is considered one of the first German blacksmiths to create innovative and contemporary designs in the field of traditional blacksmithing. His son Heiner (German, b. 1969) grew up in his father’s forge and is a second-generation blacksmith and international ambassador of the field. The Metal Museum is fortunate to have work from both Zimmermanns in our Permanent Collection.
Paul was born in Pliezhausen, Germany, to farmer parents. In 1953, at the age of fourteen, he began a 4-year apprenticeship in blacksmithing with G. Schairer. Afterwards, he spent time abroad in Switzerland studying under sculptor Hajo Pentecost. Several years later, he received a scholarship in 1962 from the Foundation for the Promotion of Young Talents in Vocational Education, and Paul used the money to spend two semesters at Luisenschule in Munich. The following year, he passed the master craftsman’s exam at the Munich Chamber of Crafts in 1963, and that same year, he established his own shop, Atelier Zimmermann, in his hometown of Pliezhausen. The shop specializes in creating custom architectural metalwork for public and private spaces and conserving historic works.
Watch this video to see Paul forge a rose from a single bar of steel.
Paul exhibited work and taught many workshops and classes in Europe and the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s, and his design philosophy is “Shape is limitation – design is disclosure” (1). Paul was the first non-British blacksmith to be awarded the title of Associate of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths (A.W.C.B.) and is also well-known for his commissioned grave markers. Paul still works on commissions at his forge in Atelier Zimmermann.
The Metal Museum currently has a grille, a sculpture, and a rosette made by Paul Zimmermann, all of which are currently on permanent display. “Grille Study,” currently hanging in the Museum’s Keeler Boardroom, was made by Paul at the 1984 Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America (ABANA) conference in De Pere, Wisconsin. It is part of a collection of demonstration pieces from 1980s ABANA conferences that the organization donated to the Museum. Paul also created a rosette for our 10th Anniversary Gates, and in 1994, he donated “Untitled” to the Museum, which is on display on the porch of our Library building. You can see very similar shapes and styles in all three forged pieces.
Heiner Zimmermann made his first forged piece, a sword, in his father’s shop around the age of twelve. In 1987, at the age of around sixteen or seventeen, he asked his father to officially educate him in blacksmithing, but at first, Paul refused, saying, “I believe you don’t have the personality to become a blacksmith” (2). However, Heiner’s mother intervened, and his father decided to formally instruct him in traditional blacksmithing techniques for three and a half years.
In 1991, Heiner won two scholarships from the Foundation for the Promotion of Young Talents in Vocational Education, the same scholarship his father had won thirty years prior. He used these funds and reached out to artists he knew to plan a journeyman trip (3) between 1992-1996. During this period, Heiner studied under:
Olaf Punt, Blacksmith, Norway
Alfred Habermann, Blacksmith, Czech (worked in Italy)
In 1998, Heiner passed his master craftsman’s exam and also became a certified welding specialist. He began working at Atelier Zimmermann officially in 2002, and since 2009, he has been a Professor of Arts and Craft in Metal Art at the HDK - Academy of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. To learn more about Heiner’s background, his work, and where he believes the blacksmithing craft is going in the 21st century, listen to his interview on BlacksmitHER Radio!
"Liquide Collection: Round White" is a forged steel sculpture in an abstract, cylindrical shape, with steel squished at center and white milk paint applied to the bottom half. It was made by Heiner Zimmermann in 2016 and included in the international traveling exhibition FORGE, which was curated by Delyth Done, Hereford College of Arts, Hereford, UK, and made in conjunction with the Ruthin Craft Centre, Ruthin, UK. This exhibition came to the Metal Museum in Spring 2018. Following the close of the exhibition, Heiner donated “Liquide Collection: Round White” to us. According to Heiner, "A big drive in my work is to reveal visual moments in the process of working with metal that are usually exclusive to the maker. Part of my process is an investigation of my material beyond destruction, to a point where I can reward myself by creating a new aesthetic” (4).
According to Wikipedia, a journeyman is a worker (in this case a blacksmith), skilled in a given building trade or craft, who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship. "Journeymen are considered competent and authorized to work in that field as a fully qualified employee. They earn their license by education, supervised experience and examination. Although journeymen have completed a trade certificate and are allowed to work as employees, they may not yet work as self-employed master craftsmen."