Schulim Krimper was an Australian furniture designer and cabinetmaker. He took the local Melbourne furniture market by storm during the 1960s and 70s with his modernist pieces. Krimper’s furniture and cabinets during that time had exceptional materials and artistry, making them instant collector’s items. His pieces are still highly sought after today and often fetch high prices in auctions and sales.
Early Years in Europe
Krimper was not a native Australian. He was born on the 28th of July 1893 in the village of Seret, part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bukovina in Central Europe. The son of Rabbi Jacob Wolf Neutuch, Schulim Krimper was orphaned when he was only nine years old. Fortunately, he was taken in by his eldest married sister.
At the age of 12, he started an apprenticeship with a local cabinetmaker, where he honed his skills and learned traditional techniques. It was also during this time that he acquired his love for using timber and natural finishes. He stayed with his master for nearly a decade and only left because of the outbreak of the First World War. During the war, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army as part of the artillery division.
After the war, Krimper travelled around Central Europe, working in a number of cities such as Prague and Vienna. By the 1930s, he had settled in Berlin, Germany, where he tried to set up his own business. However, this proved rather difficult since he was of Jewish descent. At the time, Hitler and the National Socialist party was in power in Germany.
In 1938, Krimper married Elsbeth Leipziger. It was also during that same year that he applied to emigrate to Australia. The Krimpers left Europe in November of the same year. On their way to Australia, they stayed six months in England where Krimper helped in the building of a refugee camp. He and his wife finally arrived in Melbourne, Australia on the 17th of August 1939.
Early Years in Australia
The war and post-war years proved very difficult for Krimper professionally. He was newly arrived in Australia and had little by way of reputation. That all changed, however, with the help of his friend Robert Haines, who was the assistant director of the National Gallery of Victoria at the time. Through his help, Krimper got the exposure that he needed, as two of his pieces were exhibited at the gallery. Krimper’s cabinets proved to be popular. This first exhibit was followed by a few more throughout the following years, cementing his reputation as a remarkable furniture and cabinet maker. At the end of the Second World War, Krimper became a naturalised citizen of Australia.
Rise to Popularity in the 1950s and 60s
By the time the 1950s came along, Krimper has risen in popularity. Aside from his earlier exhibits in museums and galleries, the main reason for his rise to fame was the furniture that he was creating. He had opened up a shop in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, where he would create exquisite pieces of furniture for his clientele. He focused on bespoke furniture, working on a commission basis for affluent clients in and around Melbourne.
He charged a high price for his custom pieces, and rightly so. What made Krimper’s work stand out was that he always used the best materials in his designs. While most other cabinetmakers at the time were using maple and pine, stained darkly with varnish and accented with other types of wood such as walnut, Krimper used top-notch Australian timber. He seldom used stains, opting to let the natural colour of the wood be front and centre. Often, he finished his cabinets and other furniture with only a light shellac varnish or just burnished with oil. Combined with his skill as a cabinet and furniture maker, this made his pieces quite exquisite and original.
So in awe were the clients of his work that they afforded him the kind of respect that was usually reserved for artists such as sculptors and painters. Krimper’s pieces were truly his own design and could never be mistaken for someone else’s.
Declining Health and Death
By the late 50s, his health started to decline. He suffered his first heart attack in the mid-60s. Even with his health issues, he never stopped working although his output did slow down. To compensate, he employed six assistants to help him. He never stopped working until the day he died. Schulim Krimper passed away on the 18th of August, 1971. His wife and daughter survived him.
Accolades and Recognition
Krimper received recognition as a designer, both during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1959, at the height of his popularity, the National Gallery of Victoria gave him a retrospective exhibition of his work. After his death, he was given a memorial exhibition in 1975, again by the National Gallery of Victoria. His work can be seen in a number of museums and galleries in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
Krimper’s design style is clearly mid-century modern. His cabinets usually had simple designs, with a focus on clean, smooth lines and ergonomically curved edges. He was also quite partial to low profiles. He excelled in coaxing out the beauty of the wood he used and crafted them with a level of finesse that often surpassed that of his contemporaries. He also used traditional wood crafting techniques that he learned in Central Europe and adapted them to his style. He never did like using carvings or painted finishes on his creations, opting instead to use the natural colours and texture of wood to give his pieces a distinct look.
Unlike other furniture designers in the same era, Schulim Krimper never mass-produced his creations. All his furniture was custom-made and quite limited in number, so they are considered works of art. As early as 1975, at the time of his memorial exhibit, the prices for Krimper cabinets started to go up. Those who own Krimper cabinets and furniture tend to hold on to them. They are sometimes sold privately, but Krimper pieces are rarely available on the public market. If you are a collector or prospector, don’t pass up an opportunity to get a genuine Krimper cabinet. As time passes, the works of Schulim Krimper would only get rarer and even higher in value.