Hans Barschel interview on the "Creative Forties" digital audio recording
Scope and Contents
The Hans Barschel 'Creative Forties' audio recording collection contains an audio recording of an informal discussion with Hans Barschel in preperation for a formal television interview about the 'Creative Forties' from 1972. Original cassette recordings were digitized on 2/20/2015.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Biographical / Historical
Hans Barschel (1912-1998) was born in the Charlottenburg area in 1912, and spent his childhood and youth in Berlin. There he studied with the famous book designer George Salter at the Municipal Art School and went on to
graduate study with Professors Ernst Bohm and O.H.W. Hadank at the Kunsthochschule, the Academy of
Fine and Applied Arts. Hadank, one of the pre-eminent German graphic designers of this time, has also
been cited as an influence in the career of another American design pioneer—Paul Rand. On a trip to
Paris the young Barschel saw and admired the street posters of A.M. Cassandre and later claimed that
Cassandre “became my idol.”
After completing his education Barschel practiced design in Berlin, opening his own studio there, the Atelier für Werbegraphik, in 1935. He also worked as head designer for the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the German government railroad, and in 1936 created a mural depicting German railroad activities for the Olympiad station in Berlin. The image was done by airbrush on three gigantic plywood panels. That year Barschel also designed a poster for a major automobile exhibit in Berlin, the “Automobil und Motorrad Ausstellung.”
With the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s Barschel became disenchanted with life in Germany, and following his intuitions, he made plans to leave Germany. He traveled from Germany by train to Holland, sailed to London, and after a brief stop, sailed to the United States. He arrived in New York on May 9, 1937 with seventy-five cents and a limited knowledge of English. His teacher George Salter, Salter’s brother Stephan, and others including Dr. Robert Leslie, owner of the typography company, The Composing Room, helped Barschel become established in New York by providing encouragement and leads for clients.
Before long Barschel had a busy free lance design and illustration practice that would keep him at the top of the field in New York for fifteen years. He maintained a studio in his apartment on the fashionable east side near Sutton Place. His commissions included designs for book jackets, advertisements, magazine covers and illustrations, and posters. His clients included United Airlines, New York Central Railroad, Steel Horizons magazine, Town and Country magazine, Harry Abrams’s Book of the Month Club, CIBA Pharmaceuticals, Sharp and Dohne, Hoffman La Roche, Standard Oil of New Jersey, the United Nations, and many others. His five covers for Fortune magazine, done between 1937 and 1942, were perhaps his most prestigious assignments.
Barschel’s progressive style, sought-after by clients large and small, reminds us now of a European graphic illustration reminiscent of Alexey Brodovitch, A.M. Cassandre, Joseph Binder, Herbert Bayer, and others. His style was very different from other American design pioneers such as Lester Beall, Bradbury Thompson and Paul Rand, who were also starting their careers in New York at this time. Their styles reflected roots in Constructivism and were much less pictorial in quality. Barschel was a master craftsman combining the airbrush and other techniques. His concepts were imaginative and his technique was flawless. His designs show a strong contrasting feeling of space between foreground and background reminiscent of Surrealist art. He used rich colors and successfully integrated the typographic elements with the pictorial and symbolic. Though realistic, his imagery often bordered on the abstract.
The “creative forties,” a term coined by Robert Leslie is an apt description of the exciting climate that existed in New York for artists, designers, writers, photographers, and other creative professionals in the 1940s. Barschel was in his element in this dynamic milieu. His social friends were the other expatriates from Germany and included Dadaist personalities George Grosz and Richard Huelsenbeck. During this period he met another German immigrant, Marga Erika Werdermann, while on vacation at Garnet Lake in the Adirondack mountains. They were married in 1948 and enjoyed many happy years together.
In 1952 after a two years as art director at the New York City Department of Public Health, Barschel secured a position as designer for a large printing company in Rochester, New York. His progressive ideas about design and his outstanding graphic works were soon recognized by Rochester Institute of Technology’s Stanley Witmeyer who asked him to teach advertising design at the institute in 1954. He continued in that capacity, and at a time when RIT was changing from a traditional “academy” art school to a progressive design program under the guidance of Stanley Witmeyer, Barschel became an important force in implementing this change. His teaching at RIT was characterized by a global view of art and design and a thorough sense of professionalism. Within the academic world, Barschel’s innovative ideas were manifested in the establishment of practical real-life assignments for his students and the development of visionary publications such as Matrix. He brought his students into the community to face real problems, dealing with environmental issues and community design, was among the first to see the potential of multimedia techniques in communications.
Barschel continued to make personal artistic statements such as those exhibited in the “7 13” show at RIT in 1965. His great love of nature was expressed in his persistent urging of RIT administrators to create an international garden on the campus at RIT. Barschel led committees, gathered support from faculty and staff, wrote proposals, and donated many of his own special plants and trees to the project. The beautiful Yasuji Tojo Memorial Garden, adjacent to the Gannett Building, is one of the highlights of the RIT campus. Barschel called this garden “the green heart of the sober Brick City.” Barschel retired from RIT as Professor Emeritus in 1976 and has occupied himself with gardening, photography and writing in his home above Ellison Park in Brighton.
Barschel’s pioneering work has been recognized internationally for many years. As early as 1938 he had an exhibition of his work at The Composing Room gallery in New York. That same year he received an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts for a Fortune magazine cover which was a modern interpretation of the first expressway in Queens on Long Island. Articles about his work have appeared in many magazines and journals such as PM, Art & Industry, Idea, and Gebrauchsgraphik.
Throughout his life Barschel has been spiritual, but not in a traditional religious way. As a young man his father took him for walks through the Berlin forest and admonished him, “Never sin, ever, against nature, because nature is God.” As he now talks of his long life, Barschel refers to God often in reflecting upon his experiences. He expresses his most basic belief in the following sentiment: “yet, no mortal will ever surpass the conceptual daring, the colors and shapes, the creative imagination of the Infinite Mind (God)!”
Source: R. Roger Remington; Hans J. Barschel, A Brief Biogarphy
Barschel died in 1998.
1 Digital File(s) (Digital Audio file)
Audio recording of informal interview with Hans Barschel for an upcoming television interview.
The collection only contains one item.
For access, contact RIT Archive Collections.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Material in the collections was given to the RIT Archive Collections by Roger Remington of the College of Fine and Applied Arts in 1979. Accession number(s): 1979:018
Finding aid created by Jennifer Roeszies in September 2015.
- Hans Barschel interview on the Creative Forties digital audio recording
- RIT Archives
- Jennifer Roeszies
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