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Friedl Pfeifer, Walter Paepcke, Herbert Bayer and Gary Cooper at the Four Seasons Club, circa 1955


Bayer’s Shape of Aspen

By Christine Benedetti

Photo from Ted Ryan Collection courtesy of Aspen Historical Society | Poster Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society


The Bauhaus student is celebrated in a new exhibition at the Aspen Historical Society.

The Bauhaus movement affected almost everything we touch, from influencing Steve Jobs and what would eventually become the iPhone, to what we see: Herbert Bayer, an iconic student of the Bauhaus and former Aspen resident, assisted in creating a typography that was sans serif, without the upsweeping brushstrokes, at the end of letters. “He would look at a cup and say, ‘How can I make this better?’” says Lisa Hancock, curator for the Aspen Historical Society.

The focus on functional design was at the heart of being a Bauhausler, the movement descendant from the German design school that ran from 1919 to 1933. “It was a reaction to the Victorian frilliness,” say Hancock. “This was post-World War I, postindustrial, and people were casting off their Victorian morals and aesthetics. They were creating good quality art and design that was for everyone, not just the wealthy.”

Specifically, this played out in Aspen in a very public way. After being settled as a mining town in the late 1890s, and subsequently losing most of its population following a silver crash, Aspen reemerged on the global radar in the mid-1940s when Walter Paepcke, a Chicago businessman, and his wife, Elizabeth, put their energy into making it a utopian place, where mind, body and spirit were all balanced. They enlisted Bayer to execute, inviting him to design the Aspen Institute, restore the Wheeler Opera House and create marketing and promotional materials for the Aspen Skiing Company and Aspen Music Festival and School.

He did it so well that Aspen has been growing in stature and notoriety ever since.

An early draft of Bayer’s promotional poster for Aspen, 1947

2019 is the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, and it’s being celebrated around the world and in Aspen with a year of events and awareness. The Aspen Historical Society exhibition Bayer & Bauhaus: How Design Shaped Aspen explores how Bayer’s innovative vision still affects the Aspen lifestyle today. Aspen wouldn’t be Aspen without Bayer, from its sculptural Earth mounds on the Aspen Institute campus to iconic geometric fences in the West End. The exhibit, featuring dozens of never-before-seen works, catalogs his career and taps into his creative thinking process with a series on progressions, showing pieces evolve from infancy to final product.

Bayer’s profound influence is sometimes less revered in the town’s historical arch; it’s unnoticed and effortless, yet ever-present—just the way he would have liked it. Opens Dec. 4, Tue.-Sat., 11am-5pm, $10, Wheeler/Stallard Museum, 620 W. Bleeker St.