Short Portrait: Hans und Ulrike Himmelheber

Hans und Ulrike Himmelheber
Hans und Ulrike Himmelheber

 Hans Himmelheber was born in Karlsruhe in 1908. His father headed the family´s furniture factory. Himmelheber grew up in a liberal atmosphere. His mother was dedicated to her appeal for Womens Rights and his father had a strong interest in art.

After finishing school Himmelheber did an apprenticeship in a bank. After moving to Paris he became strongly interested African art and began collecting. Since 1929 he continuously sold art objects to anthropological and art museums in Switzerland and Germany. This activity helped him finance his many journeys and researches of the next decades.

Himmelheber studied Anthropology in Tübingen, Munich and Berlin. Diedrich Westermann and Augustin Krämer were among his teachers. Before completing his Ph D thesis he did his first research trip which brought him to the Ivory Coast in 1933. A year later he graduated.

Himmelheber not only returned to the Ivory Coast (1934) but did further research trips leading him to Alaska (1935/36) and countries like Ghana, Congo and Cameroon (1937-1939). During these journeys Himmelheber already used photography and audio recording for his documentation, being ahead of his time. Moreover, he did a lecture series in the US in 1935.

During World War II traveling became increasingly difficult for Himmelheber, who was forced to join the German Army but also took up his medical studies in Freiburg. After the war he completed his dissertation on tattooing among the Inuit.

After 1945 Himmelheber took up his traveling again. During his life he did more than fifteen journeys to Western Africa, accompanied by his wife, Ulrike Himmelheber (* 1920), in five of them. Mrs Himmelheber wrote the book Schwarze Schwester (1957).
Throughout the years he published a number of books on African people. Moreover, Himmelheber wrote about African art and African artists. He also gave lectures about these topics and held visiting professorships (e.g. at Columbia University, New York).

Hans Himmlheber died in Heidelberg in 2003.

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