Travel often becomes an opportunity to learn about people who were important during their lifetimes but are now relatively unknown. Everyone alive probably still recognizes these names: Mark Twain, Cosimo de’ Medici, and Leonardo da Vinci. Their celebrity didn’t die when they did. But what about Mari Sandoz, Bradford Brinton and Herbert Bayer? During their lifetimes they were important. Mari became a celebrated writer, Bradford was a business tycoon and collector, and Herbert became a legendary Renaissance Man, but most people today, like me, would ask “Who?” if their names came up. I learned about each of them for the first time on our summer trip, and all deserve not to be forgotten.
Herbert Bayer was born in Austria in 1900. He moved to Germany as a young man and became an architect when he was accepted at the still-influential Bauhaus school. Because he also mastered graphic design, advertising, photography, etc. he became an art director for Vogue Magazine in Berlin, designed a brochure for the 1936 Olympic games, and came to the attention of Adolph Hitler. The Bauhaus, which judged function to be more important than appearance, had gone out of business in 1933. Bayer’s work was eventually declared degenerate by Hitler, so he moved to Italy and then New York to work in advertising. He met Walter Paepcke, who became his de’ Medici, there and a life-long association began. Paepcke and his wife had discovered a decaying mining town in Colorado named Aspen and were trying to save it. Bayer moved to Aspen in 1945. Apparently good at everything but self-promotion, Bayer was free to experiment with Paepcke’s backing and began re-doing the town. He became a pioneer of landscape design, oversaw the construction of buildings, helped establish the Aspen Institute by creating the master plan for its campus, restored the Wheeler Opera House, and designed annual posters to promote the new skiing industry. That’s his Marble Garden above. He wanted people to be immersed in nature, which was easy to accomplish in Aspen, and he often applied the principles he learned at the Bauhaus in his designs. He moved to California where he continued to work, especially for ARCO, and he died there at age 85. By then he was the last living member of the Bauhaus School.
I learned all about Bayer and saw many of his designs because Ruth & I took a one-hour walking tour of the Aspen campus sponsored by the Aspen Institute. It was called “The Legacy of Herbert Bayer”. Later we saw an exhibit of his ski posters in Paepcke Auditorium. The walk included the works of other artists like John Robinson. I like his triangle inside triangles “Intuition” sculpture.
Once you take this tour you clearly see how Herbert Bayer’s talent influenced the development of both Aspen and its Institute.