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When I first became a decorative painter, I was only vaguely aware of my family history. I knew there were many decorative artists on my father’s side of the family, but I didn’t know that I was a fifth-generation painter until after I had started my company.

The day I finally got a clue, I’d been in business for less than a year and was rummaging through my grandfather’s garage in Hof, Germany. My father’s cousin, Karl Heinz, had given me a big bag of paint brushes, since I was the only artist working in the family, and it had piqued my curiosity. In my Opa’s garage, I found a few treasures tucked away that told a story.

I found a sign for his business, hand painted on glass.

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The translation is Max Gotz, Master Painter, First Floor.

I found envelopes of colored metallic powders, cigarette tins full of brush tips and invoices from two generations. First, my grandfather’s. Hello Bauhaus! Love that design. So German!

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I found my great-grandfather’s invoices, too. Look at this beautiful design! Think William Morris might have been an influence? Arts and Crafts for sure.

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Even better, the invoices have been used as scrap paper to transfer drawings to another surface. How do I know this? Do you see those two faint birds on the sheet? Their outlines are created by tiny holes that were made with a pin or an awl. This is the back of the paper, showing the actual drawing.

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This is a technique called pouncing, where a drawing is transferred to another surface by creating those tiny holes, then pressing graphite through the holes to reproduce the  image.

But whose drawings are they? My grandfather’s, my great-grandfather’s, or someone else’s?

I love the idea that we’re all linked together, that all of us are connected by an invisible web. These bird drawings remind me of that because now they’ve pulled in more members of my family, not just the artists.

My brother is an avid birder, as are both of my parents. Were other members of the family interested in birds as well? The above invoice seems to name the birds. Look how carefully they’re drawn, especially the detail in the top bird’s wings and legs.

Here’s another set of drawings.

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These weren’t labored over, they’re quickly sketched by someone who knows birds. You can see he’s familiar with bird anatomy and wing structure. He’s drawn birds before and is proficient at capturing their gestures.

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This is the final sheet. It’s upside down to see the birds more easily.

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Again, drawn with skill and familiarity. Is it just a coincidence that these birds are here? Or is it a sign of a deeper interest? I’ll never know, but it sure makes me wonder.

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If you look at the invoices, you’ll see the the address on all of them is Wörthstrasse 13. I named my company Woerth Street Studio to create a deliberate connection to the past.

At the end of the day, though, I look at these papers and realize that the connections were there long before I recognized them. They draw the family together, creating links between us, yet at the same time, they extend far beyond us, forming bonds with others we already know or may never meet.

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