Herbert Bayer was born in 1900 in Haag am Haustruck, a small Austrian village near Salzburg. Bayer had hoped to attend the Art Academy in Vienna. However, his father’s death in 1917 ended that dream. After a series of internship in Austria and German, he enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1921 as a student (apprentice), then as a journeyman, and eventually as a teacher (young master). He moved to Berlin in 1928 where he excelled both as a designer and an artist and established himself a critical reputation that led to numerous commissions and projects. He immigrated to the United States in 1938, first settling in New York and then a few year later in Aspen in 1946. The next 29 years in Colorado were among the most prodigious and creative years of his life. He spent his final ten years, 1975-1985, in Montecito, CA, where he painted some of his most profound paintings while continuing to produce innovative designs.
While many luminaries such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, are associated with the Bauhaus, the work they produced, especially once they relocated to the United States, departed from the true ideals of the school. It was Bayer who remained faithful to the tenets as outlined by Gropius. Throughout his life he put his varied talents to the service of his client, whether it was major corporations, the town of Aspen, or the general public experiencing one of his buildings, earthworks, paintings or advertisements. Throughout his life, Bayer claimed that he was a painter, despite excelling in a multitude of disciplines that included typography, photography, advertisement design, exhibition design, sculpture, earthworks, architecture, landscape design, city planning, and corporate image design.
Starting in the 1960s he decided to translate some of his paintings into tapestries. Bayer, whose training at the Bauhaus had focused on mural painting, was familiar with the impact of large-scale work. He wrote, “In interior design, I find the possibility of very large sizes in tapestries to be of great advantage… The natural dye of the yarn results in a richness and depth of color which is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain with a painted pigment.” After leaving a major imprint on the Container Corporation of American, Bayer was hired by Atlantic Richfield Corporation to be in charge of all design matters related to the company. This included designing the actual building, the logo, the furnishings and to supplying the artwork.
Another development of Bayer’s during his Bauhaus tenure was the adoption of lower case, sans serif unitary alphabet for all published material. He continued with this practice throughout his life. Consequently all titles to his works were printed in lower case.
To see more of Herbert Bayer’s work, visit the Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive at the Denver Art Museum, the largest Bayer collection in the world (over 8,000 works and related documents), including the 85-foot sculpture, articulated wall, located off site in the Denver Design District. Many more works can be seen at the Aspen Institute campus where he was the original designer, integrating buildings, sculpture, earthworks, and murals into a total design.