The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 14, 2015

December 14, 1911

Hellmuth Weissenborn (1898-1982) an artist, was born in Leipzig.  "[H]is natural skills as a painter, engraver and illustrator ...[were developed along with] his wide learning in art history, philosophy and anthropology. Having studied under Walter Tiemann at the Academy for Graphic Art and Book Design, Leipzig, and obtaining his doctorate in 1925, he had joined the staff there in 1928, becoming a professor." Within another decade he, his Jewish wife, and his son were refugees in England.

Much of the information we quote we found in the obituary of his second wife, Lesley MacDonald (December 14, 1911 to May 22, 2001).

"....When war broke out, his wife with Florian joined her mother in America, Hellmuth being interned for six months at Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man." Hellmuth during this period of necessary confinement,  experimented with engraving in the dark. "
After internment in 1941 he was appointed a visiting teacher at Ravensbourne College of Art, in Bromley, where he stayed until 1970, also working at his studio in Kensington."

Lesley MacDonald ...met Hellmuth in 1943, when he had his first solo show of pastels and graphic art at the Archer Gallery and Baynard [Prim] asked him for a marine alphabet engraved on wood. 

Lesley was one of the two spirited Macdonald girls, the elder of two daughters of Francis Macdonald, manager of Martin's Bank in Wallasey, Cheshire, and his wife Jessie.

Francis, her father, died of tuberculosis when Lesley was 21. She had by then left Wallasey High School
[and]... moved to London, where Frances [her sister] was studying [art] .... In the capital, Lesley worked for Baynard Prim as a secretary-cum-personal-assistant, developing an interest in publishing and meeting authors.

Baynard Press was notable for its School Prints, for which it used many famous artists, and for its excellent standard of printing.


In 1946 Weissenborn and Lesley MacDonald were married. They also started  their own press, reviving a defunct imprint, the Acorn Press, which became "
one of the most interesting private imprints to flourish after the Second World War."

Hellmuth later recalled that they were both interested in printing and that, although he had no business experience, Lesley had a good knowledge of the industry, of paper manufacturers and book-binders. We were both devoted to producing books as perfectly as possible so that we took the plunge.

When they revived Acorn Press, the Weissenborns aspired to continue the tradition of handpress printing started by William Morris and to match the quality of production press production achieved by Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press (a friend of theirs), Francis Meynell at Nonesuch Press,....and others.....


In 1949, Hellmuth illustrated Richard Friedenthal's Goethe Chronicle with 15 of his wood engravings. He was to work as an illustrator for 30 London publishers as well as for Acorn Press. One of his and Lesley's most ambitious undertakings was their joint translation of Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen's Simplicius Simplicissimus, the first English version of the German baroque novel published in 1669. Translating took seven years and Lesley became fluent in German. John Calder published the book, illustrated with 45 wood engravings, in 1964.

A further development at Acorn Press was the association with John Randle, from the early 1970s. Randle, then production manager at Heinemann Educational, was beginning to make himself independent through the Whittington Press. He was keen to print using some of Weissenborn's original boxwood blocks. After that, a string of books was published partly under the sign of the Acorn Press, partly with the Whittington Press, notable examples of the collaboration being
Ruins (1977), Roads Rails Bridges (1979) and Proverbs (1979).

By the time of Hellmuth's death, in 1982, his work was being shown quite often again in Germany, with a big exhibition at Guteberg Museum, Mainz, in 1980. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, Lesley attended a retrospective show, the minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher greeting her off the plane and addressing the assembled private-view audience.


Here is one of Hellmuth Weissenborn's engravings of a cat, and you can see more of his work here.

Image result for "Hellmuth Weissenborn" cat

It is the Christmas season and pleasant to recall another picture from the Weissenborns' life to end our essay:

If you were among the chosen few, on the first Sunday in December every year for 34 years until 1995 you would be invited to Lesley's Christmas Acorn Press party in Harley Gardens, west London. There, in her elegant house, would be displayed for inspection and purchase many fine specimens of Acorn Press publications plus pictures by Hellmuth made on their frequent, widespread travels.

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