Stephan Balkenhol. Homage to Emma Hellenstainer, 2015
Stephan Balkenhol (Fritzlar, 1957) is a German artist. For his monumental sculptures of ordinary people, he uses techniques evoking medieval sculpture and folk art. He has created numerous works for public sites, especially in Berlin, paying tribute to unknown and ordinary people, thus contradicting the traditional understanding of the monument as a means to honor “famous people”.
Nevertheless, for his artwork in Meran/Merano, Balkenhol–a self-declared creator of sculptures that “never tell stories”–chose to commemorate a legendary personality: Emmerentia Hausbacher Hellenstainer (St. Johann in Tirol, 1817 – Meran/Merano, 1904), a true pioneer of Alpine hospitality. “Lady Emma”, as she was popularly known, owned hotels in Niederdorf/Villabassa, at the Pragser Wildsee lake and in the Vinschgau Valley, all of which were popular meeting places for philosophers, scientists and members of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. In 1907, her son renamed the Grand Hotel in Meran (where the well-known hotelier stayed regularly and died in 1904) in her honor the “Grand Hotel Emma”.
Still, Balkenhol wanted to avoid a romanticizing way of representing her. He drew inspiration from a portrait taken around 1895 by Ferdinand Behrens. In fact, the sculpture’s clothes and jewelry were created according to this image. Balkenhol opted for a female figure with stylized facial features and a deliberately unfinished appearance, making her look like an everyday woman.