Preiss Ferdinand


Ferdinand Preiss was born on February 13, 1882 in Erbach and was the second of six brothers. His parents passed away when he was 15 years old. Friends and relatives took care of the children. Ferdinand lived in the family of the then-famous ivory carver Philipp Willmann, where he worked as an apprentice. He left the Willmann workshop and set off to France and Italy in1901. Preiss married Margaret Hilme in 1907; two children were born in this marriage.

In Baden-Baden, Preiss met Arthur Kassler with whom he founded The Preiss Kassler Foundry in Berlin in 1906. The factory produced ivory products. Ferdinand was artistic director of the company; Arthur was its commercial director. The company employed six then-famous ivory carvers. Initially, the company specialized in small figurines of children and statuettes in the classical style, often being carved from old ivory billiard balls. The figures of children and young women produced in small series were popular and successful in the sales. Then at the factory for the first time, ivory began to be connected with bronze casting (chryselephantine)

Preiss invented various ways to improve the quality of ivory carvings for producing the chryselephantine figurines. He revolutionized the production of chryselephantine statues with his use of a dental drill instead of the more familiar carving tools. It is assumed that he was the first to create machine tool capable of copying from the original and producing four copies instead of three. The finishing of the product was accomplished by hand carving.

The striking feature of the production was the perfect assembly of the ivory details and bronze parts. Most of the models were designed by Preiss himself, demonstrating his prominent skills both as model manufacturer and as the designer. Preiss himself made the finishing of the greater part of the figurines manually. Details of faces, open parts of the bodies of the figurines from ivory were elaborated with great scrupulous care.

Initially, bronze molds were manufactured by the Aktien-Gesellschaft Gladenbeck foundry in Berlin, and then by the foundry of the Preiss and Kassler company. Since the majority of their products were regularly exported to England and the United States, a small factory was created in England to assemble sculptures from the parts made in Germany to avoid import taxes.

Ferdinand Preiss focused on the images of athletes and actresses whose prototypes were his prominent contemporaries; he created several sculptures depicting children and miniature ivory nudes. His personal hallmark consisted of a facsimile signature: “F. Preiss”. All range of models had Aryan type of appearance. The sculptures were famous for the thoroughness of finishing of all the details. Brazilian onyx and Belgian slate were most often used for sculptures base. The combination of these stones provided green and black colors.

The firm closed with Preiss's death from a brain tumor on July 29, 1943. The old workshop in Berlin, which was housing the stock of samples, was gutted by fire resulting from a bomb attack shortly before the end of World War II.

Preiss is remembered as one of the greatest sculptors of the Art Deco era.