Aspen’s Bauhaus Roots: Honoring Herbert Bayer’s influence | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s Bauhaus Roots: Honoring Herbert Bayer’s influence

As Christmas 1945 neared, Herbert Bayer made his first visit to Aspen.

The Chicago-based industrialist Walter Paepcke was in the early stages of his plan to transform this remote former silver-mining hub — its hardscrabble population dwindling to some 700 residents — into a utopia for the mind, body and spirit. Paepcke brought Bayer out to pitch him on using Bayer's visionary multi-disciplinary skills as an artist and designer to turn "the Aspen Idea" into a physical reality.

Bayer agreed and stayed in Aspen for the next three decades, hand-crafting the town's physical and cultural landscape driven by the Bauhaus ideal of creating a "total work of art."

As the world celebrates the centennial of the Bauhaus art school and movement in 2019, Aspen is looking back on how Bayer and the Bauhaus shaped Aspen as we know it today. Bauhaus 100 festivities include interactive art classes and competitions, art exhibitions, lectures and parties that will run through August. This massive, yearlong collaboration includes nearly every arts organization in the Roaring Fork Valley and has its official kickoff Thursday night at the Aspen Historical Society's grand opening for the exhibit "bayer & bauhaus: how design shaped aspen."

"We are one of the epicenters of the Bauhaus, and it is incredible that in this tiny place called Aspen, Colorado, we have this unbelievable foundation," said Aspen Institute curator and Bauhaus 100 committee member Lissa Ballinger.

'MAKE A TRIP TO ASPEN AND LOOK AROUND'

Bayer was a mountain kid with the high country in his blood. Born in 1900 in Haag am Hausruck, Austria, in the Alps, he was a lifelong skier and mountaineer — known as a boy for backpacking through the mountains alone with a guitar.

He entered the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany, in 1921, following the footsteps of his hero Wassily Kandinsky, who would eventually instruct the young Bayer in mural painting. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, this rigorous and revolutionary art school introduced a new educational philosophy to the world — combining all arts and crafts under one roof — and brought an unadorned and functional modernist design aesthetic to the fore in painting and fine art, typography and advertising, sculpture and architecture. It aimed for, as art historians Michael Siebenbrodt and Lutz Schöbe put it, "the creation of a new man for a new, more humane society."

Bayer was designated "master" of the Bauhaus printing and advertising workshop in 1925 as it moved to Dessau. Bayer left the Bauhaus in 1928 — along with Gropius and many Bauhauslers during a radical curriculum shake-up — and took his talents into the real world. He quickly made a name for himself in design, working with Vogue Berlin, directing advertising and painting.

A 22-piece photography show on display in the Paepcke Gallery at the Institute offers a glimpse of what Bayer was up to immediately after leaving Bauhaus. It showcases travel photos, still-lifes, architectural and landscape photos he shot during his post-Bauhaus travels in Europe — including a trip to the south of France with fellow Bauhaus master teachers Marcel Breuer and Xanti Schawinsky.

The Bauhaus art school closed in 1933, as Adolf Hitler assumed power, and as the Bauhauslers fled Nazi Germany, they spread the Bauhaus movement around the globe. Bayer's work, and that of many of his Bauhaus colleagues, was included in the Nazi's infamous "Degenerate Art Exhibition" in 1937. That year, Bayer made his first visit to the United States.

He moved to New York as a refugee in 1938. While applying his commercial talents with the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, Bayer's first splash on the American art scene came at a watershed 1938 Bauhaus exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Those who saw the show included, fortuitously, Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke.

A true believer in the Bauhaus principle of unifying art and life, Bayer embraced commercial work as well as fine art. He wanted to be a functional part of industrialized society and American capitalism. ("The artist needs business, and business needs useful art," he later quipped at the inaugural Aspen Design Conference in 1950.) That rare creative disposition and his Bauhaus pedigree suited Paepcke's needs for Aspen perfectly.

"Darkly handsome, deep-voiced, contemplative and familiar with the ways of commerce, Bayer, despite his frequent melancholy was the one artist who caused Paepcke no discomfort in the shared company of businessmen," historian James Sloan Allen wrote in his 1983 study "The Romance of Commerce and Culture."

With the war ended in Europe and Hitler vanquished, Bayer contemplated leaving New York for a return home to the Alps. Paepcke, in a May 1945 letter, made his initial pitch for Bayer to choose Aspen instead.

"Before you definitely move with bag and baggage and select a somewhat permanent residence in the Bavarian Alps or Tyrol, you ought to consider the American Rockies," Paepcke wrote, later adding: "Make a trip to Aspen and look around."

Bayer didn't make it here until Christmas. But he wasn't the only Bauhaus luminary who Paepcke was trying to allure. That summer, Paepcke enticed Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius to make a trip here. Paepcke and Gropius convened a town meeting, where Gropius called for a long-range plan for Aspen that — in the Bauhaus service-based tradition — would be based on the functional needs, culture and traditions of residents while fostering physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Rather than tear down the dilapidated Victorian homes and public buildings from the mining era, Gropius called for preserving them.

"Restore the best of the old, but if you build, build new," Gropius told Aspenites at the town meeting.

Gropius wouldn't be the Bauhaus artist to stick around, conjure the new Aspen and save its historic architecture, but the Bauhaus founder drew inspiration from it after 1945.

"I felt elated like a boy coming to your miraculous place and could not get enough of roaming about," he wrote in a letter to Paepcke, later adding that he would carry with him the experience of hiking Buckskin Pass, which he wrote gave him "incessant stimulus."

Paepcke then got to work on a master plan for Aspen, not only for its structures and infrastructure, but for its social and intellectual life, imagining it as a high-minded culture-centric community modeled after a German "Kulturstadt."

He got Bayer and his second wife, Joella, to come for Christmas. Over dinner and drinks at the Red Onion, Paepcke convinced Bayer to sign on as a design consultant both for Aspen and for Paepcke's Chicago-based Container Corporation of America, which had made him among the wealthiest men in America.

Paepcke contracted Bayer at a total salary of $8,500 per year (roughly $112,000 in today's dollars). And, in a pitch that's been echoed by countless underpaying Aspen employers in the decades since, Paepcke noted that the mountain lifestyle of skiing and solitude was the ultimate fringe benefit. Those perks, Paepcke wrote, "I estimate to be worth roughly one million dollars a year."

'HE MUST BE A CITIZEN AND EDUCATOR'

Paepcke would get his money's worth. Bayer hand-crafted the town's rebirth as a cultural hub and ski destination in the years that followed.

The "bayer & bauhaus" exhibition at the historical society's Wheeler/Stallard Museum uses rarely exhibited Bayer pieces from its archives to illustrate the immense impact Bayer had on Aspen in the first decades of the ski era.

Through design sketches and architectural plans, the show demonstrates how Bayer conceived the 40-acre Aspen Institute campus — its conference buildings, lodging and interiors, its public art and earthworks — along with the original Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain. Bayer sketched out ski lift tower placements and on-mountain lodges. He restored iconic buildings like the Wheeler Opera House, the Hotel Jerome and the Isis Theater, along with Victorian homes throughout town.
On a smaller scale, he meticulously crafted marketing materials, programs and posters for the burgeoning ski resort, for the new Aspen Music Festival and for the Institute. He painted and designed materials for the pair of events that put the new Aspen on the international map: the Goethe Bicentennial in 1949 and the FIS ski championships in 1950.

Bayer even crafted postcards and designed the Jerome's stationery (adorned with his sketches of Snowmass Lake and the Maroon Bells) and created the original aspen leaf logo for the town, which lives on today in the logos for the city of Aspen, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Institute. The historical society exhibit includes a collection of Bayer's original aspen leaf pins, which he sold at ski instructor Elli Iselin's shop on Main Street.

This grand scope of multimedia work was driven by the Bauhaus school's ideal of integrating art and function to enrich lives. As Bayer once said, "The Bauhaus is not interested in l'art pour l'art but put ideas in the service of concrete communication."

On the Institute campus, he crafted earthworks that spawned the land art movement — completing his "Grass Mound" in 1954, his "Marble Garden" the following year and the masterful large-scale landscape work of Anderson Park over the course of a quarter-century (it was completed in 1973).

Though the Bauhaus has become synonymous with cold and sleek design, the earthworks underscore Bayer's deep connection to the natural world.

"The enterprise of actually interpreting the interaction of the Earth and its surface with the surrounding environment of air, light and architecture was the 'earthwork' itself," Arthur A. Cohen wrote in "Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work."

From his perch in Aspen, Bayer's diverse slate of projects also included spearheading the influential "Great Ideas of Western Man" advertising campaign for the Container Corporation, which commissioned well-known artists for full-page magazine advertisements (originals of the series are now on view in the Isaacson room at the Institute) and designing tapestries for boardrooms, hotels and private homes (one of these is on the mural wall at Elk Camp on Snowmass Ski Area for the 2018-19 ski season).

Bayer also stepped into the arena of public policy in Aspen. He was a founding member of the city planning commission, and chaired the board for five years. He championed strict restrictions on tree removal on private property, which remain on the city's books today. As Paepcke and his partners crafted the new Aspen, Bayer called for "higher density in the downtown and creating open space," kicking off the decades-long civic battle to quarantine development in and around Aspen.

"He came here with all of these modernist ideas and he integrated himself into the community and became a huge part of what we know today as modern Aspen," said Ballinger, who spearheaded the local Bauhaus centennial celebration and who will serve as queen of Aspen's Bauhaus-themed Wintersköl celebration Jan. 10 to 13.

Bayer and Paepcke also championed an ill-fated "Paint and Clean-Up" campaign in 1946, which provided fresh paint jobs for residents of the tumbledown Victorians in the West End and elsewhere. Their choice of colors — pink and bold "Bayer blue" — attracted few locals to sign up.

"People were like, 'What? I don't want to paint my house pink!'" Aspen Historical Society curator Lisa Hancock said.

Aspen itself became a Bayer canvas — its public spaces and policies, its private homes and the trees in their yards, the story the town told about itself through marketing — the artist's hand touched them all.

"It was my intimate involvement in the aims and physical needs of the city as an organism and of the ideas for the humanities which first encouraged me as a designer to assume architectural responsibilities," Bayer wrote of Aspen in his book "Herbert Bayer Visual Communication." "An architect will function well if he can participate in the problems of the community in which he builds. This calls for the understanding of its economy, it population, its general nature and morals. He must be a citizen and educator, assume civic duties in wrestling with the issues of a town or region which are the background of his activity."

'MOUNTAINS AND CONVOLUTIONS'

Mountains themselves were among Bayer's lifelong obsessions as an artist.

He began a series of mountainscapes titled "Mountains and Convolutions" in 1944, shortly before his first visit to Aspen during a stay in Stowe, Vermont. The visual inquiry is the subject of a comprehensive, 28-piece exhibition at the Resnick Gallery at the Aspen Institute. Working on "Mountains and Convolutions" for a decade, Bayer came to depict mountains as living organisms — as things in very slow motion.

"I saw the mountains not in their textured and detailed shapes, but suddenly saw them as expressions of interior forces, as undulating forms whose motion is caused by forces of time and geology," Bayer would explain in a 1973 interview. "Of course, we do not see this motion, but if we could make a time lapse painting of mountains stretched over millions of years, we would see this motion."

The early mountain paintings tend toward geometric shapes. In a series of seven lithographs, titled "Seven Convolutions," he studied and perfected ways of suggesting motion with undulating lines. In his "Undulating Landscape," from 1944, mountains and valleys follow grids and arrows. But after Bayer settled in Aspen, the works grew steadily more fluid and abstract. Using simpler-looking marks and a basic color palette, Bayer perfected ways of suggesting mountains, lakes, trees, forests and cloud shadows with stark and effective gestures.

"I have pursued a number of simply undulating motions which could or need not resemble mountains anymore," he explained.

This distinct style also made its way into some of his most-loved commercial work, including his "Ski in Aspen" posters from the late 1940s and '50s. As evidenced in a progressive series of sketches, watercolors, paintings and prints of a "Ski in Aspen" poster on view at the historical society, he combined his moving mountain aesthetic with the figure-eight lines of ski tracks to craft a vibrant, kinetic vision of skiing Ajax.

The "Mountains and Convolutions" series culminated in one of Bayer's best-known local public artworks. His iconic "Sgraffito Mural" on the south-facing wall of the Koch Building — which Bayer and Fritz Benedict designed — on the Aspen Institute campus, made in 1953, offers an abstracted vision of his mountainscapes made from simple etchings on the building wall.

And in his hugely influential "World Geo-Graphic Atlas," also published in 1953 and now on view at the historical society, you can see how his deep study of our mountain topography helped Bayer revolutionize the way that maps and atlases convey information.

"Having always been interested in mountains, I'd never seen anything that satisfied me," he said in a 1982 interview with Arthur Cohen. "There were those traditional watercolorists of mountains and there were romantic mountain painters, and that wasn't what I was looking for."

'I GET IDEAS'

The Bayers first settled in April 1946 in a house on Francis Street, next door to one of the Paepckes' homes (yes, Bayer painted it pink). Bayer also immediately got to work on building a new Bauhaus-style flat-roofed home and art studio atop Red Mountain — then a sparsely developed and wild space — and moved into it in 1955.

"I live in the middle of nature and see few people when I am up here at the studio," he later said of his idyllic Red Mountain workspace. "When I take a walk that enlightens me and eases my mind; I get ideas."

Bayer's studio was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, bathed in natural light and held grand mountain views, as the locally based artist Richard Carter described it. In a recent interview in his riverside studio in Basalt, Carter, who worked as Bayer's assistant in the 1970s, recalled how Bayer kept the Red Mountain workspace immaculately clean, lined it with Oriental rugs and how Bayer would don a suit with an apron and ascot for a day's work. The elderly Bayer would still create from early morning into the night, jumping between commercial and fine-art work including paintings, architectural models, tapestries, maquettes, silk-screens and earthworks.

With his extraordinary work ethic, the vast scope of media he worked in and his businesslike approach, Bayer taught the young Carter — 26 when he began assisting the Bauhaus master — what it meant to be a working artist.

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"Because he worked on so many different things I think he had developed a management style of how to do it," Carter said. "He was all over the place."

Carter worked for Bayer until 1975, when health issues forced Bayer to move to sea level. After suffering a heart attack during a trip to Zurich that year, Bayer recuperated in Europe and then settled in Montecito, California. As he and Joella left Aspen, they donated much of their archival material and artwork to the historical society, of which he was a founding board member. He died in 1985.

A creative heir to Bayer, Carter adopted Bayer's cross-disciplinary approach — making fine-art paintings as well as commercial work and doing Hollywood film production design. As part of the yearlong Bauhaus centennial celebration, Carter will be exhibiting his early Bayer-influenced paintings from the 1970s in June at the R2 Gallery in Carbondale.

Carter is thrilled to see Aspen join the global art community to celebrate the Bauhaus and embrace Bayer's legacy so publicly in 2019.

"A lot of people don't know what Bauhaus is," said Carter, who also will give a talk at the Aspen Art Museum in May. "It's an important cultural landmark and we are tied to it. Anywhere that's tied to it — Chicago, Berlin, Dessau — they're all doing a big deal. So of course we should do a big deal."

atravers@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO …

What: ‘bayer & bauhaus’ grand opening and holiday cookie exchange, presented by Aspen Historical Society

Where: Wheeler/Stallard Museum

When: Thursday, Dec. 20, 4 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: This free community event includes the annual cookie exchange, caroling with pianist David Dyer, hot chocolate and mulled wine, remarks by museum director Lisa Hancock and tours of the new exhibit. Guests are encouraged to bring a dozen cookies or more to exchange; aspenhistory.org

*

BAUHAUS 100 EVENTS

Thursday, 6 p.m.: Bauhas Throw Collection Launch Party and Discussion, Maker + Place

January 8-June 29: Bauhaus Material Display, Pitkin County Library

Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m.: Bauhaus Evening: ‘Why Bauhaus? Why Aspen? Why 2019,’ Limelight Hotel

Jan. 10: Bauhaus-themed Wintersculpt, Aspen pedestrian mall

Jan. 11, 9 a.m.: Youth Art Kamp: Inspired by Paul Klee, Red Brick Center for the Arts

Jan. 11-13: Wintersköl, ‘Aspen: Original by Design’

Jan. 16, Feb. 13, March 13, April 10, 11 a.m.: ‘Herbert Bayer: Mountains & Convolutions, 1944-1953’ walking tour, Aspen Institute

Jan. 25, Feb. 22, March 22, noon: Bauhaus 3-D Printer Programming, Pitkin County Library

Feb. 5, 5:30 p.m.: Time Travel Tuesdays: Paint ‘Bayer’ Number, Wheeler Opera House

Feb. 12, 5:30 p.m.: Aspen’s Characters: Conversations with Herbert Bayer & Fabi Benedict, Wheeler Opera House

March 5, 12, 19: Masterpiece Mine: Inspired by Bauhaus, Red Brick Center for the Arts

March 12, 7:30 p.m.: Bauhaus Evening, The Temporary at Willits

April 9, 6 p.m.: Bauhaus Evening, Ann Korologos Gallery, Basalt

May 7, 6 p.m.: Bauhaus Evening: A conversation with Richard Carter and Lissa Ballinger, Aspen Art Museum

June 5-July 18: Great Ideas of Bauhaus: Print Exhibition, Red Brick Center for the Arts

June 6: Bauhaus Ball, Wheeler Opera House

June 6-July 5: Carbondale Arts Bauhaus Exhibition, R2 Gallery, Carbondale

June 6-14: Bauhaus to Your House furniture workshop, Anderson Ranch Arts Center

June 11: Bauhaus Evening, Red Brick Center for the Arts

July 1-5: Bauhaus Bonanza, Anderson Ranch Arts Center

July 9, 7:30 p.m.: Bauhaus Evening, Limelight Hotel

July 17: Architecture Lecture: Heike Hanada, Aspen Art Museum

Aug. 8-Sept. 6: Bauhaus Textile & Graphic Art Exhibition, R2 Gallery, Carbondale

Through June 10: ‘Herbert Bayer Photographs, 1928-1934,’ Paepcke Gallery, Aspen Institute

Through June: ‘Herbert Bayer: Mountains and Convolutions, 1944-1953,’ Resnick Gallery, Aspen Institute

Through March 2020: ‘bayer & bauhaus: how design shaped aspen,’ Aspen Historical Society

bauhaus100aspen.org

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