Klaus-Dieter Pohl was born on 10th December 1937 in Spandau Berlin. With the threat of war he was evacuated to his grandparents in Strigau, Silesia on the Polish border, while his mother remained in Berlin. He was captured by the Russians when trying to escape from Strigau. He was placed on a farm as POW in Czechoslovakia and worked as an unpaid worker to the end of the war. He was repatriated to East Berlin (Russian Zone) to a concentration camp, which was maybe near Neubrandenburg. He made contact with his mother who had survived the war but was in the British Zone. His mother ventured into the Russian Zone to get Klaus out quoting the Geneva convention that mother and child should not be separated. However, this was declined because Klaus had serious medical problems caused by malnutrition. She was, however, able to visit Klaus by bribing the guards with cigarettes. He was eventually released from the concentration camp and went to live in Falkensee (East zone). His mother met an English airman (Eric Kemp), married him and went to England 1947. His mother arranged that Klaus should cross the border from East to West with a paid guide. This was before the wall was built with only a strip of no man’s land to negotiate, but still a serious problem because those who were seen crossing were not taken prisoners but shot. He was fortunate because the group of seven and their guide crossed without incident. The British Red Cross took over and arranged escorts from there to England, first having to fly out from West Berlin (British Zone) in a DC 10. He arrived at 48 Barlow Street, Bradford, Manchester in 1948 and started school Sat at. Aidens junior school. This were not the happiest times for him because he couldn’t speak English and his mother made the mistake of sending him to school in lederhosen. He went from St. Aidens to Grange Street senior boys school. He was forever indebted to the science master who thought Klaus was very interested in the sciences and tutored him and five other boys to take up analytical chemistry. After a short time, he recognised Klaus was never going to make it as a chemist and guided him to biology. He arranged for Klaus to join Flatters and Garnetts Ltd., (Fallowfield) at the age of 16 when he left school. Flatters and Garnetts were established in 1901 to supply microscopical equipment. Wilfred Garnett, in some ways, took Klaus under his wing and placed him in the preservation department (as a worker and not as an exhibit). This turned out to be one of his life changing events because he was now surrounded by all interesting and fascinating animals and plants, which inspired him to find out as much information as he could get. The workforce at Flatters and Garnetts became an extended family to Klaus. He considered the time spent there to be some of the best times in his life.
Within three years, two heads of department left and with suggestions from the workforce, Klaus was given the position of head of the preservation department. He spent lunch time learning as much as he could about the other departments, such as Osteology, Dissection, Entomology and the slide department. It was the latter that interested him the most and the Head of Department (Gordon McKechnie), a true old fashioned British gentleman, would sit in the lunch hours producing slides of all manner of things. Two slides shaped Klaus’ career forever. One was a Johan Dietrich Moeller arrangement in the form of a star and the other was a John Dalton slide of a Rooster, Hen and Chicks. Klaus pondered how could the Victorians possibly manipulate such tiny objects into the images? It was at this point that Wilfred Garnett informed him that a large collection of sample tubes from the Reverend Calloway containing diatoms from the J.A. Long collection were to be archived by Klaus because the Reverend had developed some eye problems. With boxes of sample tubes of varying sizes in front of him he just had to have a dip into one and find out what were diatoms. From that point on, his life was focused on all things called diatoms. He was encouraged to try and make some mounts by Wilfred Garnet, he and Gordon McKechnie gave him as much information and help as they could even getting him access to the Manchester University Botany Department run by Dr. Friend. He arranged for him to have a 35mm photo copy of Schmidt’s Atlas, which he used daily. He would spend every Saturday morning in the Department looking at the diatom collection and identifying what he had mounted with what was in the cabinets or literature in the library. For eight years he tried out the various formulas given by the Victorians to make type slides. He was frustrated by the number of failures and decided to experiment and develop his own adhesive. This proved very successful with very few failures.
The van driver for Flatters and Garnetts was Frank Mountford who suggested that Klaus come to his house and meet his sister Sheila. After a seven year courtship (saving up to buy a house) they were married on 29th June 1963 and moved to Romiley in Cheshire. Deborah Kirsten Jane Kemp was born 11th June 1967. Sadly, Flatters and Garnetts went into liquidation and he was now out of work in a discipline that was not in high demand. For a while, he was unemployed. In 1970, Eric Leary Chief, technician at Salford University, called Klaus and asked if he would be interested in joining them in the Environmental Resources Department in Garside Street Salford as a technician. This was an interesting insight for him as to the methods and techniques in laboratories. In 1976, having seen a job advertised for a Production Manager with Philip Harris Biological, Klaus joined Philip Harris Biological in Oldmixon Weston-Super-Mare. This was as close as he could get to his initial vocation with Flatters and Garnetts Ltd. Because of political correction and changes in the school curriculum there was an inevitable decline in the way biology was taught and once again Klaus was made redundant. At the age of 50 he realised what a narrow street he had been walking and knew that he had to change his career, He now had a small number of clients who would order slides. A turning point in his career was a slide request from a friend in the U.S.A. who bought an arrangement of diatoms in the shape of a Christmas tree. He photographed it and sent it as a Christmas card to all his microscopy friends. Many of them asked where did the arrangement come from? Since then, he supplied the major companies: Turtox, Carolina Biological, Zeiss Jena, Olympus with slides, the most popular being the eight form test plate. With the advent of computers and the internet, he contacted many people throughout the world and was very much helped by Steven Gill who created a web page for him and provided many gems of information.
On a trip to Steepholm, Klaus met Betty and Bernard Hartley. This started a life-long friendship. Bernard came from the North of England, had a wicked sense of humour but yet a real gentleman. They talked for many hours on the subject of diatoms, sharing their knowledge and collecting from the wild. Bernard‘s eyesight deteriorated from diabetes. He gave his diatom collection to Klaus, which also contained the R.I. Firth collection.
Klaus died on 28 May 2022 from a long illness. He is survived by his daughter Deborah and her family.
Autobiography written by Klaus Kemp and modified to the third person by Linda K. Medlin
Kemp K.-D. & Paddock, T.B.B. A description of two new species of the diatom genus Mastogloia with further observations on M. amoyensis and M. gieskesii. Diatom Research 3: 311-323 (1988).
Kemp, K.-D. & Paddock, T.B.B. – Chambers within the valve of Diadema, gen. nov. Diatom Research 4: 39-45 (1989).
Kemp, K.-D. & Paddock, T.B.B. – An illustrated survey of the morphological features of the diatom genus Mastogloia. Diatom Research 5:73-103 (1990).
Kemp, K.-D. & Paddock, T.B.B. – Diademoides nom. nov., a new generic name for Diadema Kemp & Paddock. Diatom Research 5:199 (1990).
From strewn material to an exquisite work of art, either intricate or simple. Please find below links to videos of him and his arranged slides.
Directed, filmed and edited by Matthew Killip’, narrated by Klaus
Article by Martyn Kelly that features images by Klaus Kemp
Memories of Klaus from friends and colleagues.
Linda K. Medlin: I first met Klaus at one of the British Diatom Meetings and was immediately impressed with his talent of arranging slides. It was really interesting to listen to his stories about how to arrange the valves. Shortly after the birth of our daughter, Megan, he presented Dick and I with a slide arranged in honour of her birth. I was really touched by his thoughtfulness. My most important memory of Klaus was the time he “saved my bacon”. I accidently broke a Moeller slide that I had on loan from the Natural History Museum in London. Klaus offered to remount it for me. He carefully lifted the cells from the Canada Balsam and cleaned them, remounted them in hyrax and on an SEM stub. Needless to say the NHM was truly glad that he saved the day so to speak, and that they got two mounts from the original preparation and I didn’t get in trouble for breaking a slide and never did it again!!
Richard M. Crawford: It must have been in the early 1980’s that Klaus appeared on the scene of diatom studies in Britain and he came from the wonderful group of amateurs whose enthusiasm, knowledge and craft were such a stimulus and amazement to those of us studying diatoms for a living. He was also exotic having escaped from the dark side of Berlin but came to stand, in my eyes at least, as a link between two of the most productive countries in terms of diatom literature.
Klaus first appeared at one of the diatom meetings we had over a long weekend at a Field Studies Council centre somewhere in the UK and in October/November when there was local collection and lab study during the day and cosy chats around the fire in the evening. I was studying a single genus that turned out to be something of a can of worms. It was no wonder that I was amazed at how well people like Bernard Hartley, Bob Firth and John Carter knew their diatoms. Then when Klaus gave us a demonstration of selecting single specimens and transferring to a specimen slide, my humbling was complete.
Klaus became one of us immediately and he must fitted into life in Britain right from the start. He was such good company and enriched diatom study and the company, thereof, enormously. Klaus was someone special and I wish our paths had crossed more often.
T.B.B. (Barrie) Paddock: Klaus was an excellent light microscopist who worked making decorative and ornamental slides of selected species that he sold to people in the United States. I worked with Klaus on several different projects/species. He always looked out the specimens, mounting them for me and I made the morphological studies. This collaboration resulted in 4 publications.
Klaus seldom referred to the time before he lived in England. He was very close-lipped about his previous life. But he did tell me that he had lived in Strigau, and of the panic that ensued when the news came that the Russians were coming. He told me how he had opened the cage of the budgie to let the bird fly around the room, opened the windows to let it leave, spread seed all over the table, and then had fled with his family. He then spent some time on the road in a refugee column being protected from the Russians by the Panzers.
David Mann: Klaus Kemp became famous for his slides of arranged diatom frustules and his skills have rightly been celebrated featured in a number of articles and videos. A few decades ago, he used to attend the British Diatomists’ autumn meetings and that’s where I used to meet him. They were truly ecumenical events, bringing the ‘professionals’– those of us who got paid to work with diatoms in some way – together with the ‘amateurs’, who didn’t (and indeed often spent a lot of their own money studying and enjoying the organisms they loved). Not put off by a lack of fume cupboards and protective equipment, they boiled up their diatoms in a chimney or a shed in the garden to prepare material for microscopy. Their knowledge of diversity often surpassed that of the professionals, so also their diligence in searching for unusual and interesting species. Their experience was vast, from years of spare-time diatomology, and their microscopical skills fantastic.
Over the years, the number of amateurs has fallen by attrition: Klaus, his mentor Bernard Hartley (who, like Klaus, was a northerner but lived in SW England), Horace Barber, John Carter, Bob Firth, and several others, have all gone; most not replaced by younger recruits. I miss their wisdom and their sense of humour, and I also appreciated very much their help in finding diatoms for study. Recently Klaus sent me a slide that confirmed an extra location for a ‘rare’ diatom, Diademoides that he studied with Barrie Paddock. Undoubtedly, Klaus’s special gift, which he demonstrated to us in meetings, was the preparation of arranged slides, but I will particularly remember Klaus’s chuckle and his (and Bernard’s) ability to bring people down to earth with a friendly ‘that’s rubbish’ (or other words to that effect!).
Pat Sims and David Williams: Among the many fascinating and unique items that can be found in the Natural History Museum’s diatom collection, is a folio-sized (broadsheet) book authored by Johann Diedrich Möller (1844-1907), Lichtdrucktafeln hervorragend schöner und vollständiger Möller’scher Diatomaceen-Präparate (1891-2). Möller’s book is a series of 59 photographic plates illustrating numerous prepared diatoms valves, individually selected from various gatherings and arranged in sets, some to illustrate similar-looking diatoms, others from a specific place or specific fossil deposit. The final plate in the book, plate 59, has diatom valves arranged in such a way as to form kaleidoscopic images of intricately symmetrical patterns. Other diatom slide makers followed Möller, creating diatom arrangements yielding images of bicycles, buses or trains, even whole scenarios with people going about their daily business. To accompany Möller’s book, there was a series of slides, the source of the printed photographs, and a guide, Verzeichnis der in den Lichtdrucktafeln Möller’scher Diatomaceen-Präparate enthaltenen Arten (1892, which documents just the first 28 plates). To arrange diatom valves in this way takes a great amount of skill and a certain amount of patience – as well as a steady source of diatom valves! Few people nowadays have the skill or patience, never mind the time, to learn this craft – Klaus Kemp carried on this tradition of slide making and, at the time of this interview (2015), was described as its “only living practitioner” (http://experimentwithnature.com/03-found/the-diatomist/#.YtrbYL3MLcs) – maybe, but he was certainly one of the last.
Much has been said of Klaus’s abilities in making slide preparations, or “compositions”, as he referred to them – and justifiably so. When asked if he thought of himself as an artist, his response was clear enough: “Not really” he said, “because my work is strictly geometric, not free in form. I simply like orderly patterns” (https://www.frameweb.com/article/klaus-kemp-arranges-microscopic-organisms-into-intricate-patterns), (possibly because he was German??) And perhaps from the perspective of scientific study, although his compositions might be startling, they are of less interest. Yet Klaus was not simply a preparator – he had a keen eye for a unique specimen, especially those that represented species yet to be described, those unknown to science, or species that have been named but remained poorly known. With Barrie Paddock, Klaus described some six new species of Mastogloia as well as the new genus Diadema (the name was later changed to Diademoides for purely nomenclatural reasons). But hidden away in the acknowledgements of a great many published papers, as well as being the mounter, Klaus’s name appears as the ‘locator’ or ‘discoverer’ of the specimens discussed, as the person who was first able to recognise that this particular specimen before him had never been examined by any other living soul. He was generous in these matters frequently passing the specimens to those who could study them in more detail, with the electron microscope, for example. And so species have been named after him, such as the beautiful Entogonopsis kempii P.A.Sims, J.Witkowski, N.I.Strelnikova & D.M.Williams (2015, p. 24, figs 171-178), and, in a paper currently in review, a new species of Kittonia – and many others awaiting publication. This generosity of spirit means that these extraordinary specimens are now preserved in a Museum for anyone to examine them in the future. And some of his more decorative “compositions”, of choirs and Christmas trees and bicycles, are preserved there as well – together, Klaus’ slides leave a fascinating legacy to a skill fast vanishing.