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Alice Berger Hammerschlag
Photo taken from Baptism by Fire by the late, much regretted, Sam McCready

I have wanted for a long time (a very long time) to write about the painter Alice Berger Hammerschlag who had a big influence on me in my teenage years in Belfast in the 1960s. What has prevented me has been a lack of material. Alice was engaged in a research which could be called 'religious', 'spiritual' or 'intellectual'. Her friend Mercy Hunter says she had a 'complicated philosophy.' Her husband, Heinz Hammerschlag, tells us that she 'was an ardent collector of books, mainly on art and philosophy.' (1) But it is a long time since I've lived in Belfast and although I have had useful conversations with her friends - the dancer and choreographer Helen Lewis, the painter Neil Shawcross, the actors Sam and Joan McCready - I never felt I was getting a grasp on the development of her thought. The man who could have done most to help me, Heinz, died in 1998 while I was still living in France. The Ulster Museum has a collection of her paintings, many donated from the collection of her sister Trudi Berger, and a small archive of documents which I was able to see back in 2015 during an all too brief visit to Belfast. (2) But on the whole this essay will have to rely more than I would have liked on my own subjective impressions. (3)

(1) Mercy Hunter in an article in the irish Times, 2/11/1968; Heinz Hammerschlag in a note written for the retrospective exhibition, I think the one that took place in the Ulster Museum in 2000. I have both of these from the archive held by the Ulster Museum.

(2) For this I am grateful for the help received from Anne Stewart, Senior Curator with responsibility for the Fine Arts in the National Museums of Northern Ireland as well as to her colleague at the time Dr Vivienne Pollock. I've just learned of Vivienne's death in 2019. I'd also like to record my gratitude to Robin Lewis, Leslie Stevenson and Sam and Joan McCready for giving me access to their collections of Alice's work. Also to Neil Shawcross who passed on to me relevant material from the legacy of Joy Hammerschlag, who married Heinz after Alice's death and who fought, together with Heinz and Helen Lewis, to keep her memory alive. I think this material included the invaluable tape of Alice's conversations in 1964 with a group of schoolgirls, organised by their teacher, Mercy Hunter.

(3) I think of this essay as a work in progress. If anyone reading it has any relevant information to add I'd be very grateful to receive it.


Alice was born in Vienna in 1917. Her family was Jewish but apart from that I know nothing about them. What was their profession? Were they religious? I think we can assume from the good education both she and her sister, Trudi, received that they were reasonably well off. Trudi was a teacher of languages in York University. In an interview given in 2015 her student, Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres, says of her:

'Look, she was qualified to teach five languages at the university level. She was shorthand in five languages. She came from Vienna, you know, during the ... because she was from a Jewish family and she came in ’39. And she knew the von Trapp family. I got letters from the von Trapp family, the son talked to me when she died, you know, they were friends. So she just ... was incredible lady.' (4)

(4) Ortiz-Carboneres taught Spanish in Warwick university and the interview was part of a project entitled 'Voices of the University - Memories of Warwick, 1965-2015' recorded for the Warwick Digital Collections. Accessible at 

He says she died at the age of 87. A letter from Brian Ferran, then Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, to Ortiz-Carboneres dated 1998 refers to 'the will of Dr Trudy Berger ... in the gifting of twelve paintings to the collection of the Ulster Museum', so we can conclude that Trudi was the older of the two sisters, by at least six years.

Alice herself as a child was taught by Franz Cizek, well known as a pioneer in the teaching and appreciation of children's art. He had established a Jugendkunstklasse - 'juvenile art Class' - as a private venture in 1897. In 1904 (5) it was incorporated into the Viennese Kunstgewerbeschule  (School of applied arts). His work excited the interest of members of the Viennese Secession. When a group led by Gustav Klimt, who had broken away from the Secession in 1905 'to level the boundary between fine and applied arts, acting on their conviction that the arts formed an integrated and unified whole' organised an exhibition in 1908, the Kunstschau, it featured a room devoted to the work of children in Cizek's class. (6) This was at the beginning of interest in the creative capacity of children considered independently of their ability to imitate the work of adults. Cizek saw himself, especially with younger children, not so much as a teacher as rather a facilitator, providing the environment, materials, and encouragement to enable children to express themselves.

Cizek with a class of older pupils. Note the little loom. He encouraged the use of a wide variety of different media, including linocut which he may have invented as a cheaper alternative to woodcuts.

(5) This is following the account by Wilhelm Viola: Child art and Franz Cizek, Vienna, Austrian Junior Red Cross, 1936 (in English). According to a brief biography published online by the Austria-Forum 'His school was officially recognized in 1897, incorporated into the School of Applied Arts as an experimental school in 1906 (appointment as professor), and from 1910 as a special course for youth art. Cizek had a strong influence on the development of art education and gained many followers, especially in England and America. In 1914 he founded the association "Art and School" and the magazine of the same name, which was incorporated into the magazine "Die Quelle" in 1922.'

(6) Megan Brandow-Faller: 'An Artist in Every Child—A Child in Every Artist': Artistic Toys and Art for the Child at the Kunstschau 1908' West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall-Winter 2013), pp. 195-225

The fact of attending Cizek's classes doesn't necessarily suggest a comfortably off, or cultured background. According to Viola: (7) 

'Professor Cizek finds that children from the poorer sections of the city are generally more creative than the children of wealthy parents. A richer environment is as a rule destructive to what is creative in the child. Too many books, pictures, visits to theatres, cinemas etc are bad for the child. The child is so rich in is own imaginative world that he needs little else.'

(7) The pages in Viola's book are unnumbered.

The fabric designer Patricia Kalmar Wilson was part of Cizek's juvenile class from 1926. She was born in 1916 so she would have been there aged 10 to 14 and we can assume she would have been contemporary with Alice. She says that:

'There were about 50 students in my class ... Every once in a while something was printed in the paper about Cizek's class, and anyone could apply; hundreds did apply, and it was very difficult to get in  ... You had to submit work that he would look through, and, with Cizek's knowledge, he could see if there was potential there or not. If children had already begun to imitate work they had seen, he would not bother with them.' (8) Viola quotes Cizek as saying 'I reject school children who are admired for their skill. Skill can be a hindrance to the creative in art.' Alice, apparently, won a prize at the age of nine (9) so we might wonder how she got in!

(8) Interview in Peter Smith: "Franz Cizek, The Patriarch', Art Education, March, 1985, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 28-31 

(9) According to a brief account of her life in Die Uns Verliessen - Osterreichische maler und bildhauer der Emigration und Verfolgung, catalogue of an exhibition given in the Austrian Gallery of the Upper Belvedere in Vienna, May-July 1980.

Two pages from L.W.Rochowanski: Die Wiener Jugendskunst - Franz Cizek und seine Pflegestätte, Vienna, Wilhelm Frick Verlag, 1946. The captions read: (Left) 'This leaf indicates the stage of origin. The child, who is perhaps five years old, has a pencil, a chalk or a brush dipped in paint and is surprised to see that this instrument leaves traces on the paper when it is moved back and forth. These traces of movement are recorded with great joy. The hand is now slow and observant, now passionate. These emerging structures are not yet given an expression.' (Right): Little Peter visited St. Stephen's Church with his father. He was also allowed to go up the tower, he enjoyed the roof of the cathedral and all parts of the building. His picture emerged from this visual experience, it contains the sum of the forms captured with the eyes, they have become a whole, a new creative form.

In Belfast, Alice often helped out in the little art gallery run by the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts in a basement in Chichester Street. She herself had three solo exhibitions there, in 1958, 1962 and 1966. Sometimes children would wander into the gallery off the street and Alice always kept a stock of paper and drawing materials for them to use. When she launched the New Gallery in 1963 she brought in the painter Neil Shawcross to run a children's art class. Though 'art class' may not be the right word. Neil himself was deeply influenced in his own work by children's art and like Cizek he saw himself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. In 1968 the New Gallery held an exhibition of children's art under the title 'Child Art'. 'Child Art' is the title of Viola's book.

Alice went on to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of applied arts). In an article in the catalogue of her solo show held in Belfast in 1966, Kenneth Jamison, (10) after talking about her period with Cizek, says:

'The professors encountered later at the Academy and the Kunstgewerbeschule were mainly conservative academics with the important exception of Professor Loeffler (11) who valued highly the creative imagination already emancipated by Cizek. This period of training is summarised by the phrase "Studied Vienna Academy of Arts and Kunstgewerbeschule". Biographical notes have a way of being thus brief and inscrutable and in the next phrase we are told that the artist "now lives and works in Belfast". Between these two dates nothing is recorded, but I know that between Vienna and Belfast lies a period of intense personal experience.'

(10) Jamison had been art critic of the Belfast Telegraph. In 1962 he became exhibitions officer for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland when it took over from CEMA. He was director of the ACNI from 1968 to 1991. I worked under him for a while in the 1970s. He died in 2016.

(11) Berhold Löffler, 1874-1960, ceramist (I suppose that's something other than a potter) and graphic designer associated with the Vienna Secession. He was in charge of the 'Fachklasse für Zeichnen und Malen' (Specialized class for drawing and painting) in the Kunstgewerbeschule from 1907 to 1935.

This suggests that Jamison knew things from Alice which she didn't want him to pass on. As he also says in the article, she was reticent about her past experience while, he argues, expressing it powerfully in her painting. Cizek himself also taught adults in the Kunstgewerbeschule, running a course in the 'General Principles of Form (Allgemeine Formlehre)' (12) and he was behind an art movement called 'Viennese kinetism' or 'kineticism' which, in the little I've seen of it, rather resembles Italian Futurism. I shall be returning to his thinking shortly.

(12) Peter Smith: 'Lowenfeld in a Viennese Perspective: Formative Influences for the American Art Educator'. Studies in Art Education , Winter, 1989, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter, 1989), p. 110.

Bookplate designed by Alice's teacher Berthold Löffler for a well-known Viennese citizen (misspelling his name)