Collector Profile: Dr. Erika Pohl-Stroher
Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher: The Life of a Remarkable Collector
BY MARK GRIFFITH-JONES | NOV 16, 2021 (FOR SOTHEBY’S)
Scientist, geologist, collector, museum patron, and businesswoman, Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher (1919-2016), was the granddaughter of Franz and Marie Ströher, who founded German hair care and cosmetics giant Wella AG, bought in 2003 by Procter & Gamble. Erika was born in Wurzen near Leipzig and grew up in Rothenkirchen in Vogtland, in the foothills of the Saxon Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) – later part of East Germany. She studied chemistry and biology at the University of Jena, gaining her doctorate in biology. Her interest in science became evident from early childhood, when she developed her lifelong fascination for rock minerals and crystals. Whilst visiting the spa in Bad Gastein in Austria, she was taken with the beautiful quartz souvenirs available there, which she supplemented with specimens from the Ore Mountains closer to home. After the Second World War, the Ströhers fled Russian-occupied Saxony, settling in the West in Hünfeld in Hessen, where Erika’s father reestablished the Wella factory. However, Erika never lost touch with her beloved native Saxony. In 2004 she presented (note added here: a part of) her minerals collection (by now comprising more than 90,000 specimens from around the world) as a permanent loan to the Technische Universität Bergakademie, Freibergand founded both the interactive museum Manufaktur der Träume (Factory of Dreams) in Annaberg-Buchholz from her collection of Ore Mountain folk art and crafts and the Pohl-Ströher Repository in Gelenau, where folk art, historical toys and Christmas and Easter items are displayed twice a year. Whilst minerals and folk art took up much of her time in later life, Erika was also a lover of paintings and books. As well as inheriting pictures and objects from her father Karl, she and her husband Gerhard Pohl were avid collectors in their own right with wide-ranging interests.
A PRECIOUS COLLECTION OF SIXTY YEARS
The minerals shown at terra mineralia are provided by the “Pohl-Ströher Mineralienstiftung”. In 2004, the native of Saxony Erika Pohl-Ströher decided to give her unique collection as a permanent loan to the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. The collection of Dr. Erika Pohl-Ströher is regarded as one of the most valuable and significant private collections worldwide.
At terra mineralia the precious specimen are permanently on show for the public since October 2008.
Dr. Erika Pohl-Ströher collected the minerals in her collection over a period of more than 60 years. The specimens are arranged according to geographical regions. Considering that Dr. Pohl-Ströher had no intention of exhibiting her mineral collection and therefore did not make a conscious effort to ensure that she obtained specimens from all over the world, she has succeeded remarkably well in setting up an extensive, comprehensive and magnificent collection that includes minerals from every continent. Her main interest was in collecting crystals which were beautifully shaped and diverse in color, rather than impressively large. She therefore paid great attention to aesthetic formations, which has resulted in a collection of great beauty.
Dr. Pohl-Ströher’s collection grew especially during the time when those responsible for the Freiberg Mineralogical Collection only had limited possibilities to obtain new specimens. During the German Democratic Republic era, the people of East Germany had very limited opportunities to travel to important mineral sales exhibitions in order to purchase new specimens, and neither were there any funds available with which to purchase such wonderful specimens as those that were being avidly collected by Dr. Pohl-Ströher at the time. Fortunately, they were able to complete their collection of systematic minerals, thanks to an international system of bartering, but it was almost impossible to obtain specimens of the same excellent quality as those that Dr. Pohl-Ströher had. Her private collection has therefore complemented and enlarged the existing, scientifically important, Geo-scientific Collections of Freiberg Alma Mater enormously. This donation has been a unique and excellent opportunity for the University to obtain such excellent material, because even today, financial resources for purchases are very limited.
A large portion of Dr. Pohl-Ströher’s collection consists of showpieces of the highest quality. The richness of color and the shapes of the excellently formed crystals overwhelm visitors. These magnificent minerals from all over the world are a delight for laymen and collectors alike. The collection consists of both historic and new collection sites.
Shortly before Christmas 2016, we received the sad news here in Freiberg that Dr. Dr. h.c. Erika Pohl-Ströher had died at home in Ferpicloz on the 18th December 2016 at the age of 97. With her passing, TU Freiberg is losing a patron who, through the permanent loan of a large part of her mineral collection to the university, facilitated the establishment of the world-renowned terra mineralia exhibition in Freiberg Castle and the Mineralogical Collection Germany in the Krügerhaus. These visitor magnets have welcomed over 850,000 people since 2008. Within the space of a few years, the entire area around Freudenstein Castle changed into an attractive part of the Freiberg urban landscape. The collection enriches the university’s teaching and research in a unique way.
Erika Ströher was born on 18 January 1919 in Wurzen in Saxony and grew up in Rothenkirchen in Vogtland. Her life was significantly shaped by the company Wella, whose foundations were laid by her grandfather in 1880. Erika Ströher studied chemistry and biology in Jena, and obtained her doctorate in biology. From a young age, she was also interested in minerals – while visiting the spa in Bad Gastein, she was taken with the beautiful quartz souvenirs available there. She began to collect periodically. It was only after the children left home that she became a passionate collector – following minerals from the Alpine region, the Ore Mountains and other regional sites, she turned her attention to Eastern Europe, Africa and America. From the mid-1990s, her main interest was in mineral deposits from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She brought together more than 90,000 specimens from across the world. In this way, she built up an extensive collection over 6 decades, organized by regional criteria and characterized by its premium quality and aesthetic appeal. Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher developed an international network of exchange partners and dealers across the world, constantly receiving details of exceptional mineral discoveries. In this way, she was able to continually add new and attractive specimens to her collection. In order to preserve her life’s work, she and her children sought a suitable venue to exhibit her collection, where a majority of the collection could be displayed taken care of, but also used for scientific research and teaching. On account of the TU Bergakademie, the choice was made in favor of Freiberg. In 2004, the green light for the terra mineralia exhibition was given with the founding of the Pohl-Ströher Mineral Trust in Switzerland and the conclusion of a permanent loan contract with TU Bergakademie Freiberg. Through the renovation of Freudenstein Castle a special venue for exhibitions and events was created and opened at the end of October 2008. Those treasures not on display are stored in a spacious depository where they are permanently accessible for research purposes. At the end of 2012, the Mineralogical Collection Germany in the Krügerhaus was completed. Throughout the entire duration of our partnership with Dr Erika Pohl-Ströher, what impressed us most was her humility, reserve and warm-heartedness.
One of our donor’s greatest desires was to inspire as passion in young people in particular for the natural and geological sciences through the presentation of her minerals. She regularly kept up with news about the development of our exhibition and contributed her own ideas as well. She was especially delighted when the ‘mineralinos’ kids’ club was established and a variety of school and holiday programs were developed. With 350 school groups per year and over 1,000 day visitors to our holiday initiatives, the programs have enjoyed great success. We are pleased to have been able to fulfil our donor’s wishes.
Dr Pohl-Ströher received numerous honors for her commitment to the geosciences. In 2004, she was awarded the Stein im Brett by the Berufsverband Deutscher Geologen (Association of German Geologists). The Free State of Saxony awarded her the Saxon Order of Merit in 2005 and TU Bergakademie Freiberg named her an honorary member of the university senate. In 2008, she received an honorary doctorate from TU Bergakademie Freiberg’s Faculty for Geosciences, Geotechnical Engineering and Mining. In 2013, a new and very rare hydrous copper zinc calcium arsenate discovered at Dr Pohl-Ströher’s favorite site of Tsumeb in Namibia was named Erikapohlite after her.
The world of minerals wasn’t her only interest, however. She also established two further exhibitions in the Ore Mountains, not far from Freiberg: the interactive museum Manufaktur der Träume (Factory of Dreams) in Annaberg-Buchholz from her collection of Ore Mountain folk art and crafts, and the Pohl-Ströher Repository in Gelenau, where folk art, historical toys and Christmas and Easter items are displayed twice a year.
We will always honor her memory and legacy.
TU Bergakademie Freiberg Rector’s Office
Republished as courtesy of Terra Mineralia Museum and the Pohl family