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Museum Kunst der Westküste, Island of Föhr, Germany

Gabriella von Hollen-Heindorff structuralizing a tall coral piece for the Fohr Reef. Photos from the IFF Archive.

In June 2012 the Fohr Reef was unveiled at the Museum Kunst der Westkust on the island of Fohr in the North Sea off the coast of Germany and Denmark. IFF Director Margaret Wertheim was there for the opening of this magnificent addition to the growing archipelago of Satellite Reefs worldwide. 

More than 700 people contributed corals to the Fohr Reef - pieces came in from all over Germany and Denmark and from as far away as Holland, Luxemburg, Switzerland and Austria. In total more than 5000 corals were contributed, including a number of exquisite pieces of bobbin lace and tatting, both traditional handicrafts for which this region is famous. 

Displayed against the background of a stunning Red Sea, the Fohr Reef marks the apotheosis of the "rainbow style" of Crochet Reef curation. The IFF applauds this magnificent work from the women of northern Europe.

List of Contributors to the Fohr Reef

Fohr Reef webpage at the Museum Kunst der Westküste

The Fohr Reef installed at the Museum Kunst der Westküste, seen here with the IFF's Carnation Coral Mound by Marianne Midelburg and Sarah Simons.

The seeds of the Fohr Reef were planted in 2010 when Thorsten Sadowsky, director of the Museum Kunst der Westküste read an article in the German newspaper Die Zeit about the Institute For Figuring and our Crochet Coral Reef project.

The MKDW was then a brand new institution, just recently opened. Its mission was to focus around the theme of the sea and coast of the northern European nations, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Norway. In addition to housing a core collection of paintings depicting "the grandeur of the sea and the varieties of life along the North Sea coast" the Museum was committed to becoming a new hub for contemporary art.  Since the beginning, Sadowsky has interpreted his mission broadly, setting his sights on bringing to the tiny island of a Fohr a wide range of ocean-related artworks from across genres. A central concern of his curatorial approach has been cross-border dialog, for Fohr resides at the boundary of modern-day Germany and Denmark and throughout history the island has been claimed at times by both nations. Among its 9000 residents are native German, Danish and Fresian speakers. Sadowsky envisioned that a Fohr Reef would reach across not only national borders, but also cultural and social divides. The Crochet Reef's messages regarding the urgency of ocean ecology and the need for community engagement around the issue of global warming and its impact on marine life, spoke directly to the Museum's core concerns.

The island of Fohr, famous for its fairytale-style thatched reed roofs, sits off the coast of Germany and Denmark in the North Sea.

Workshops to kick-off the Fohr Reef began in January 2012 when the Museum hosted Margaret on a visit to the island. More than 200 people participated on that first weekend with a ferry-load of participants traveling over from Tondern on the Danish mainland. Many were expert handicrafters who had already begun to crochet innovative corals, adding local flavor to the crochet tree of life. It was clear that the Fohr Reef was going to be a very special multicultural endeavor.

Museum director Thorsten Sadowsky welcomes participants at the first Fohr Reef workshop.

Margaret Wertheim admires an elegant ruffled anemone at the first Fohr Reef workshop at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.

Over the coming months the Museum held workshops each week where women from the island gathered, with tea and cakes served by Angela Skora-Weckenmann and the staff of the onsite cafe Gretjens Gasthof. These gatherings quickly became a focus of community building with landfrauen and city women from the island's towns of Wyk and Alkersum bonding over crochet hooks. In Germany's rather formal culture, people who have known one another for decades often still call each other by surnames; at the Fohr Reef gatherings christian names rapidly became the norm. "The project became a beautiful embodiment of border crossing across many social lines" Thorsten Sadowsky notes. "It's a been very important way for bringing the people of the island together."

Wall signage listing the names of the more than 700 people who contributed to the Fohr Reef.

The project has also played a powerful regenerative role in the life of the Museum. Earlier this year the Museum was damaged by a freak fire and its major galleries were closed, including those in which the Fohr Reef and the IFF's Traveling Reef Collection were to have been exhibited. Growing the Fohr Reef has been a "beautiful kind of healing" process for the Museum as it recovers from the fire, says staff member Lea Heim. 

Lea is the one who has been handling all the incoming packages of coral and keeping track of the names of the Fohr Reefers. Some packages have arrived with no more address than "Fohr Reef, Alkersum, Germany." Local women have also been recipients of enigmatically  labelled bundles and the island's postmen soon got to know about the project and whom to entrust with the international tide of oddly-shaped mail.

Gabriella von Hollen-Heindorf and some of her Core Reef team curating the Fohr Reef.

With so much coral pouring in, curating the Fohr Reef was a major undertaking. Museum staffer, Gabriella Von Hollen-Heindorf spearheaded an-almost month-long effort, along with 15 other Core Fohr Reefers. A huge substructure was built by Ove XXX  the Museum's master carpenter. The entire structure breaks up into sections for transport and after its showing at the MKDW, the Fohr Reef will be exhibited at the Tondern Museum in Denmark.

Margaret Wertheim explores the Dr. Suessian wonder of the Fohr Reef.

As the curatorial team honed their room-sized sculpture, they realized the importance of upward thrust and various contributors took on the task of making ever-taller spires. "It really became a challenge" says Hollen-Heindorf, "who could make the tallest." At the same time the team understood the requirements of nuance and synthesis and they developed techniques for piling corals on top of one another, entwining pieces together, and balancing pieces at unusual angles. 

At the IFF, one of the inspirations behind the Crochet Reef project has always been the absurdist aesthetics of Cat in the Hat. Without having heard of this whimsical American creature, the women for Fohr have perfectly channeled a Dr. Susseian aesthetic.

Drawing of a medusa by Ernst Haeckel and tatted "radiolarian" by Gertrud Krichau Andersen.

Another major visual influence on the Crochet Coral Reef project has been the German oceanographer and scientific illustrator Ernst Haeckel. In the late nineteenth century, Haeckel's gorgeous drawings of marine creatures (often depicted with lavish curling tentacles and hyper-real symmetries) helped to launch the art nouveau movement.  Haeckel's scientific masterwork was a vast illustrated taxonomy of microscopic radiolarians. On Fohr, the IFF was presented with a piece of handicraft that echoes Haeckel's imagery - an exquisite tatted doilie made by Thorsten Sadowsky's Danish mother-in-law, Gertrud Krichau Andersen. Gertrud, who is now 84, took up lace-making in her 60's and has since become a master of both tatting (orkis in Danish) and bobbin lace (kniple). 

Southern Denmark is famous for both crafts and at the Museum of Tonder, where the Fohr Reef will be exhibited later this year, there is a large collection of traditional bobbin lace and lace-making tools.  Amongst this collection are also a number of pieces of "hair work" which are realized through methods akin to bobbin lace but are woven from human hair. At the IFF, we are mesmerized by these works and are honored to discover the threads of connection that link these uncanny feminine masterpieces to the Crochet Coral Reef project.

Pieces made out of human hair at the Museum of Tonder in Denmark.

Detail of the Fohr Reef at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.

Coral pieces in the Fohr Reef were contributed by participants across Germany and Denmark and from cities in Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria.

List of cities and towns that contributed

Germany: the islands of Föhr, Amrum, Sylt
Plus cities and towns: Achim, Arlewatt, Aschersleben, Aschaffenburg, Auerbach, Bad Bramstedt, Bad Wildungen, Bargteheide, Barsinghausen, Braunschweig, Bergen, Berlin, Bernsburg, Bielefeld, Boostedt, Borstel-Hohenraden, Bosau, Brannenburg, Breklum, Bremen, Bruchhausen-Vilsen, Bruchköbel, Bünde, Chemnitz, Cloppenburg, Dassendorf, Detmold, Dissen, Dortmund, Dresden, Durach, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Ebersberg, Edemissen, Ense, Eppstein, Erfde, Erfurt, Erlangen, Erlenmoos, Eschenstruth, Essen, Ettlingen, Eutin, Fechtel, Fehmarn, Flensburg, Frankfurt/M., Friedrichsdorf, Fritzlar, Gelbing, Geesthacht, Glückstadt, Gnissau, Greifswald, Gronau, Groß-Wittensee, Guben, Gütersloh, Haltern am See, Hambühren, Hamburg, Handewitt, Hatten, Hatzfeld, Havetoft, Heidelberg, Heiligenstedten, Helmstedt, Helsa, Helmstedt, Hemmingstedt, Hemmoor, Husby, Husum, Hütten, Igensdorf, Ingolstadt, Kappeln, Karlsruhe, Karwitz, Kernen-Stetten, Kiel, Koblenz, Kölln-Reisik, Köln, Kronshagen, Laboe, Landwehr, Langsdorf, Leck, Lingenfeld, Löningen, Löwenstedt, Lübeck, Magdeburg, Mahlstetten, Mainz, Meldorf, Mildstedt, Molfsee, Mölln, Moorrege, München, Münster, Neuenkruge, Neukirchen, Neumünster, Neustadt, Niebüll, Norderstedt, Odelzhausen, Oelde, Oldenburg, Osnabrück, Osterholz-Scharmbeck, Osterode, Owschlag, Peine, Pinneberg, Poyenberg, Quickborn, Rastede, Ratingen, Recklinghausen, Regensburg, Rheine, Risum-Lindholm, Rosenheim, Rübeck, Salzgitter, Sankt Augustin, Schkeuditz, Schöningen, Schönstedt, Schwelm, Schwentinental, Seevetal, Solingen, Speyer, Stade, Staufen, Steinfeld, Storck, Stuttgart, Tecklenburg, Telgte, Velbert, Waiblingen, Walzbachtal, Wedel, Wenningstedt-Braderup, Wertheim, Westensee, Westoverledingen, Wildau, Windischeschenbach, Winsen an der Luhe, Witten, Würzburg, Züschen, Zwickau

Denmark: Abenraa, Århus, Assens, Bylderup-Bov, Haderslev, Hellebæk, Højer, Kirke Hyllinge, København, Løgumkloster, Mogeltønder, Ribe, Skærbæk, Sønderborg, Tinglev, Tønder

Switzerland: Aeugst am Albis, Davos, Schlattingen, Zug, Zürich

Austria: Bregenz, Kematen 

The Netherlands: Kerkrade


Detail of the Fohr Reef at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.

Three Heike's -  members of the Core Reef Team of the Fohr Reef at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.

Detail of the Fohr Reef at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.

Lea Heim and Gabriella von Hollen-Heindorf, who co-ordinated the Fohr Reef at the Museum Kunst der Westküste in Germany. 

Margaret Wertheim leading at the first Fohr Reef workshop at the Museum Kunst der Westküste.