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Bauhaus is our house

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Located on the side of the David H. Koch Seminar Building, the Sgraffito Wall, completed by Herbert Bayer in 1953, is believed to be inspired by topographic maps.

On an otherwise uneventful off-season day earlier this month, over 40 people turned out for a tour of the Resnick Gallery and Isaacson Room at Aspen Meadows.

That caught Lissa Ballinger, curator for The Aspen Institute, by surprise as she led a line of folks that snaked through the entrance of the Doerr-Hosier Center and downstairs into the gallery. The space is dedicated to showing the work of Herbert Bayer, the influential former Aspenite and seminal figure in the Bauhaus School.

The approaching 100-year anniversary of the Bauhaus movement has obviously piqued the interest of locals — who can partake in a feast of special events over a nine-month period — well beyond what was anticipated.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Ballinger said as she walked about the Institute campus recently, pointing out Bauhaus-influenced sculptures and buildings by Bayer, whose mark on Aspen began soon after he moved here in 1946.

Between 1953 and 1973, the Austrian-born artist set his sights on creating the original campus of The Aspen Institute at the behest of Walter Paepcke, the organization’s founder. Four years prior, the noted architect Eero Saarinen had designed the first Aspen Music Tent for the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival, which featured among its star power attractions the philosopher and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer.

Close to the music tent, Bayer in 1953 created the Sgraffito Wall outside the Koch Seminar Building. It uses a technique that Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky initially favored, according to Ballinger, who said its forms are reminiscent of topographic maps.

Institute rooms, all octagonally shaped, were designed that way to inspire Socratic-style discussions and are again Bauhaus concepts.

A sashay through Anderson Park on the way to the residential portion of the campus takes one past mounds that were dedicated in 1973 and represent some of Bayer’s final local creations. He left Aspen in 1975 and lived the final decade of his life in Montecito, Calif.

“All of the earthworks on campus were an attempt by Bayer to get people to be present in their environment,” Ballinger said.

The campus was also designed to show a clear line delineating where one’s work ended and where leisure was to begin.

Founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, by Walter Gropius, following the end of World War I, the art school moved to Dessau in 1925 and eventually Berlin, where Adolf Hitler’s rise effectively put an end to the movement.

Given the influence on the world, and modern-day Aspen in particular, that Bauhaus only lasted 14 years seems at times unbelievable.

2011.017.0067_The Sundeck, circa 1947-

Bayer designed the original Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain. The fireplace from the first Sundeck remains today, though it’s no longer needed to help melt water for drinking.

Sketches and the Sundeck

The Aspen Historical Society is one of the dozens of partners who are joining in on the “Bauhaus 100 Aspen” celebration.

Curator Lisa Hancock was knee-deep last week in the installation of “Bayer and Bauhaus: How Design Shaped Aspen.” The public open house to celebrate this show, which continues through April 2020, is Thursday, Dec. 20.

Unique to this installation is the volume of original material, including drawings by Bayer that his family bequeathed to the AHS. Some of the pieces, including raw sketches, have never before been shown in public.

“Some of the pieces had been stuck in a file,” Hancock said.

She originally thought it would be necessary to borrow additional materials to complete the exhibition, but soon realized there was plenty of material.

“We only had to borrow some pins and a [Frank Gehry-designed] chair” to round out the “Bayer and Bauhaus” story, Hancock said.

The exhibition spans seven sections of the second floor of the Wheeler/Stallard Museum, offering a basic definition of Bauhaus and the life of Herbert Bayer. It segues into promotion, and viewers will note that the iconic and ubiquitous aspen leaf design used by The Aspen Institute for Humanistic Design was Bayer’s creation.

Ann Mullins

Ann Mullins stands aside her Bayer-designed fence, which is one of only three fences of its kind still standing in Aspen.

“Bauhaus was so influential that we don’t recognize it anymore,” Hancock said, reiterating the impact that 14-year period had on the world.

Along with the pin’s design, the sans serif typeface, flat-roofed architecture and photo montages are also products of the Bauhaus school.

Particularly fascinating are Bayer’s raw sketches of ski motifs.

“It shows how he’d start with a design idea, play with it, work with it and have the published piece that came with it,” Hancock said.

Sections of the exhibit are divided by a mock “kaleidoscreen,” which pays homage to the original Bayer piece that’s located outside the Walter Isaacson Center (formerly the reception center on the Meadows campus).


Walls on the residential portion of the Aspen Meadows campus use primary colors, which is a Bauhaus feature, and were positioned to reflect either the rising or setting sun.

Bayer’s fences, which once populated Aspen and are distinguished by their crinolette tops, are few and far between these days. Hancock believes there are just three such fences remaining, including one at the home of Aspen City Councilwoman Ann Mullins.

Longtime Aspen residents may recall the Bayer fence that once surrounded the Hotel Jerome’s swimming pool. It was believed to have been removed during the 1985 renovation. That’s also when Bayer’s white-and-blue paint job on the Jerome was sandblasted to reveal its true, brick color.

global influence reaches aspen mountain

Another piece of important Aspen architecture was the original Sundeck restaurant, a structure designed with a concave roof to allow for snowmelt from fireplace heat.

Resnick Gallery

A quiet day in the Resnick Gallery and Isaacson Room, which are dedicated to showcasing Herbert Bayer’s work. One recent morning, however, 45 people showed up for a guided tour.

“That’s how you got water at the Sundeck back in 1946,” Hancock pointed out, adding that few know Bayer designed the Aspen Mountain building.

Also of interest are lift studies and a drawing of the original Buttermilk base lodge.

Not all of Bayer’s products were smash hits, including the blue “eyebrows” painted on the Jerome.

“When they sandblasted it, it was so much nicer,” Hancock said.

1990.024.0022_FIS 1950 World Ski Championship Program

Herbert Bayer’s original sketches became incorporated into the popular poster for the first international ski racing event held on the slopes of Aspen Mountain.

The campaign Bayer and Walter Paepcke started, when they arrived here in the 1940s, to clean up and apply a fresh coat of paint to old buildings saw some blowback from locals, Hancock said, confirming a story once shared with this reporter by the late writer, editor and author Mary Eshbaugh Hayes.

The final section of the show focuses on Bayer’s wide-reaching influence, which is even seen in the World Geographic atlas.

“The idea [of the show] is to take you out of Aspen. He wasn’t just well known and influential here. Bayer and Bauhaus were well known and influential in the world,” Hancock said. The Aspen Historical Society’s Bauhaus exhibit is sponsored by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who shared the expertise of their curator for the project, Hancock said.

1973.021.0004_Aspen, Colorado 1948

Photo montages are an outgrowth of the Bauhaus movement, as seen in this poster by Herbert Bayer.

The 100-year celebration of the art movement will certainly be felt well outside the city of Aspen’s boundaries.

“What I discovered is there was such an interest in a valley-wide collaboration,” the Institute’s Ballinger said. She compared the sense of community spirit and energy during the planning stages to that of the 2017 FIS World Cup Finals.

Ballinger suggested that many organizations want to have a hand in the nine-month celebration, from the Pitkin County Library, Aspen Film, and the Powers Art Center to Colorado Mountain College and the Red Brick Center for the Arts, to name just a few.

To that end, a Bauhaus Ball is planned for the evening of June 6, and will be free to all, thanks in part to the Wheeler Opera House’s donation of space.


Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Madski99