Hin Bredendieck spent the latter half his life in Atlanta, where he was founding director of Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial Design, but it was his time at Germany’s famed Bauhaus design school in the late 1920s that would set the tone for his landmark career.
Now, a collaboration between the Georgia Tech Library and German art historians is shedding more light on his formative years and the roundabout journey that brought him to Atlanta as an educator.
“From Aurich to Atlanta,” an exhibition launching March 22 at the Georgia Tech Library, relies on two sets of archival material, long separated by an ocean and now stitched together to tell a cohesive story more than 25 years after Bredendieck’s death in 1995.
The collaboration emerged when Rainer Stamm, director of the Oldenburg State Museum, began working with art historian Gloria Köpnick to document the lives of Bauhaus-trained designers from their region of northwest Germany ahead of the movement’s 2019 centenary.
Of the four they discovered, Bredendieck was by far the most intriguing, but he was also the one for whom local archival material was the most scarce.
“He was forgotten, but not for good reasons,” Dr Köpnick told Global Atlanta.
Bredendieck spent a stint in designing theater lighting in Switzerland, and returned to Germany briefly after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus Dessau in 1933. Seeking relief from the country’s political turmoil, he emigrated to the United States in 1937 with wife Virginia Weishauss, a fellow Bauhauser he’d married in Berlin.
They first settled in Chicago, where a group of luminaries including László Moholy-Nagy had founded a New Bauhaus as an American beachhead for Walter Gropius’s hugely influential school. The Bauhaus diaspora would play key role in the design thinking at American universities like Harvard and Columbia.
Bredendieck taught in Chicago until the school ran out of funding. During that time, he worked with Marianne Brandt to create iconic lighting designs including the Kandem bedside table lamp, then ran a firm designing toys and self-assembly plywood furniture with famed designer and photographer Nathan Lerner. Georgia Tech recruited Bredendieck in 1952 as its enrollment swelled after a wartime lull.
The signature elements of Bauhaus thinking — blending elegant simplicity with practical function — were attractive in the post-war period.
The whole picture, though, wasn’t clear until Dr. Stamm came to Atlanta nearly two years ago to delve into boxes that had been gathering dust at the College of Industrial Design.
He and Dr. Köpnick also made time to speak with family members and former students, who remembered Bredendieck as a teacher who always drove them to innovate.
“His students told us that he was quite a strong teacher. He would say, ‘OK, it’s a good solution, but make it better and better and better,’” Dr. Stamm said.
That sense of constant improvement continues to influence Georgia Tech students today, Mr. Henderson said.
“That’s one aspect of the Bauhaus educational methods that we bring forward into what industrial designers so often do today: What is the problem, and what tool or device can solve the problem and make life getter for the individual?”
Paired with the German repository and another bit of material housed with a descendant in Ireland, the Georgia Tech material provided essential insight into Bredendieck’s later life and career, from his fascination with toothpaste tubes to his insistence that his children buy him an Apple computer in the early 1990s.
“We’ve been the very first people who could read and check both parts of this bequest and reconstruct his history and story of life,” Dr. Stamm told Global Atlanta.
Without both, their new monograph on his life and work that forms the basis of the exhibition would not have been possible.
“In Oldenburg it’s nice to have the personal documents — papers like passports, degrees and all this stuff — but the part in Atlanta is also very important. Together, it’s a complete story,” Dr. Köpnick said.
Physical artifacts from brochures, photos, sketches and writings from the Bredendieck archive will be on display to visitors at the Georgia Tech Library’s main-floor gallery through May 31.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making large gatherings impossible, the exhibition will be accompanied by three virtual programs: a panel discussion with Hin Bredendieck’s former students, a curator conversation moderated by industrial design school chair Jim Budd and a book talk with Dr. Köpnick and Dr. Stamm. See the full schedule here
Jennifer Gerndt, the former head of the Goethe-Zentrum in Atlanta who collaborated on the Halle Foundation-funded project, said the blend of physical and virtual events is aimed at appealing to a wider audience than just those on campus or in Atlanta.
“We’ve tried really hard to make the reach as far as possible. This is something we celebrate because of Georgia Tech, but it’s really for everyone in Atlanta or within traveling distance — people who have an interest in German, design, Georgia Tech or all of the above, they should all come.”
The Consulate General of Germany in Atlanta and the Georgia Tech School of Industrial Design also helped bring the project to fruition.
Learn more about the events and exhibition here.