academic sculptor Majka Wichnerová


How did you get into medal making?

I've always loved to paint, and at the age of twelve I decided to pursue art instead of math, which would have made my dad happy. I enrolled in an art club and right after ninth grade I entered the Václav Hollar Art School in Prague. In the fourth year I got married and my husband Jiří, who was an engineer in physics and chemistry, and I went to Israel. After two years we moved to Germany, where we settled down. I then studied sculpture, free sculpture in architecture, with Karl Hans Burgeff in Cologne. There, as they say, I got a sniff of medal making. Professor Burgeff was an excellent medal maker, from whom I picked up the technique of engraving in plaster. To earn money for my studies, I ran an art club for children and adults.

Didn't you miss your original homeland?

At the time of my exile, when it was very difficult, I remembered my happy childhood – the beautiful hot summers spent with my grandmothers in Hasina and Trutnov, the absolute silence, disturbed only by the ticking clock. And that gave me strength in a foreign country. I had many exhibitions in Germany and my husband discouraged me from returning, but despite everything I had built up in Germany, I moved to the Czech Republic permanently. It was like winning the lottery for me. To come back to a place with beautiful nature where you were happy is just priceless.

Your kingdom is your grandparents' house in the village of Hasina on the outskirts of the Central Bohemian Region…

My cottage is my home and I am very happy here. I have adapted it to my life, but I still remember exactly what it was like when I used to come here for holidays to my grandparents. I don't have a studio, but there's light, lots of windows, so it's good to work. The floor is tiled, so it's easy to wash after working with plaster. When making plaster models for medals and coins, I don't need a big space, but the cottage is small – some models I keep and others, even if I regret it, I throw away.

I am practically a globetrotter, but nothing could happen to me better than to return to Hasina after my exile. I'm happy here, just don't look at my hands. I enjoy manual labor, and what I can do, I do myself. I even laid my own floors. Because I'm a sculptor, I do everything without gloves. I only wear them when I'm working with roses that have thorns.

In your garden there are roses, lavender, perovskies, rudbeckia, zinnias, boxwoods, birches, willow, hazel and redwood. Love for nature also radiates from your commemorative medals from the series Guardians of the Czech Mountains…

I say my garden is another sculpture because it is also made with hands and imagination. I like to see something being created under the hands. I try to make still lifes – a corner here, a corner there – that I can rediscover again and again. Every now and then I'll mow a meadow – you can see it's not an English lawn, but it's such a nice job. It's the little things that caress my soul. Since spring, I've been out in the fresh air all summer. The garden is my second living room. I stretch out on a deck chair and am able to stare at the sky for an hour. I enjoy looking at the birds, for which I have about twenty-eight birdhouses, and I feel good. What more could I want? When I remember how stuffy and very dense the world is, how poor people live in cities like ants…

There's a pack of cats in your garden. How did you get it?

I've always loved cats. Probably because I was born under the sign of the lion. I came to Hasina with one cat, and somehow it all came together. I got a sick cat from my cousin, I rescued another, another was a birthday present, … I call them social cases. I've already stopped the shelter because of my age, but the ten cats I have here, I try to serve. I confess that I'm actually subletting to them – they have their own door, they come and go as and when they want. I'm their ATM, cleaner and can opener, but they give me a lot back. There's nothing better than seeing a cat curled up in a ball, contentedly sleeping deeply. An animal has feelings, and if someone abandons or mistreats it, it's not good in the world. We need to treat animals differently. No matter if it's dogs and cats or chickens and cows.

You love your home, your garden and your cats. How does that fit in with a medal-winning career?

When I prepare for a competition for the Czech National Bank, for example, I think about the topic for a long time. Then I sit over the plaster for three to five days and the garden has to wait. I have to work under pressure. I try to do quality work and enjoy it. I don't consider myself a great artist and I'm not trying to reach artistic heights. I've never made a career on purpose. I put my family first and my art second. If I only wanted to do art, I wouldn't have gotten married.

I've always told my family that I won't be another Picasso, and I don't have to be. Medal making for me is a craft I can do in the kitchen with my cats. I'm a craftsman because I work with my hands and sometimes I use my head and eyes to do it. Either it will be liked then or it won't. I don't have to please everybody.

Even though you've had a difficult life, you're optimistic. What are your plans for the future?

Medal making is a hobby for me and makes me happy. In a way, it makes my old age more enjoyable. I am proud to say that I was born in the first half of the last century. I am self-sufficient and I hope to be self-sufficient for a long time. Life is a struggle in which there is no room for self-pity – once one starts feeling sorry for oneself, that is the beginning of the end… I will repeat myself, but I am happy and content!


Czech Mint