Willoughby: Bayer stepped beyond Bauhaus, enriched life inside my house
Legends & Legacies
Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer influenced product design through his work with Walter Paepcke’s Container Corporation of America. Bayer’s talents provided important contributions to Aspen. The Aspen Historical Society exhibits samples of his work, including his design of a popular atlas.
During the 1950s the corporation published an atlas that reflected new international boundaries established after World War II. Tasked with the challenge, Bayer produced an atlas unlike any previously published. It featured bright colors and well-designed presentations of information. Captivating, clear graphics drew the reader’s attention to each chart and map.
The corporation generously distributed the atlas, printed in 1953, to many locals including my family. The gift resided in our living room, one of few books I remember my father reading. Beyond maps, the book’s charts and graphs offered information about each U.S. state and other countries. Father studied every page and would recall isolated facts.
Before I could read, I looked through the atlas and managed to make sense of its contents. Irresistibly engaging, it reached half as high as my body. A reader could not take in a whole page at once — for that enjoyment, eyes had to roam around each giant page. A curious trip around a page may be rewarded with a list of products of Peru, for instance, or the climate in Madrid.
Fast forward to my college days, when I majored in geography—coincidence? A cartography assignment asked us to examine the best-designed atlases. Most of them came from Italy. What a surprise to see the list included Bayer’s masterpiece!
Bayer’s creative influence on Aspen outside the museum becomes visible in the context of history. When he designed the first Sundeck, he applied his favorite Bauhaus geometric shape, a hexagon. He designed the building with windows large enough and facing six directions to expose the 360-degree view from the top of Aspen Mountain.
Bayer’s tent no longer shelters the Music Associates of Aspen. But his hexagonal design created an airy, light feeling ingrained in concert-goers. When proposals for new structures teed up, the public demanded, “It has to have the same feel.”
I am not certain, but I think Bayer branded Aspen with its iconic aspen leaf symbol with a snowflake inside. All the early advertising materials for Aspen Skiing Co., which he designed, employed the icon. So did other promotional materials.
Walter Paepcke wrote the introduction to the atlas. In one paragraph he wrote, “We, in Container Corporation, believe that a company may occasionally step outside of its recognized field of operations in an effort to contribute modestly to the realm of education and good taste.” I know Paepcke’s and Bayer’s contributions enriched my life. I feel grateful that they stepped beyond their recognized fields.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The documentary “Bernstein’s Wall,” focused on conductor Leonard Bernstein’s work as an activist, will screen Saturday at Aspen Filmfest.