Natascha Dell

The development of typeface design in the teaching and works of the type designers at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in the years from 1929 to the present day, influenced by technical innovations


The Folkwangschule für Gestaltung was founded at the instigation of Dr. Hermann Muthesius (1861–1927) in 1911 as a central training college for arts and crafts in the Ruhr region, which during the 1910s was dominated by the mining industry. It was initially given the name Essener Handwerker- und Kunstgewerbeschule. The interdisciplinary orientation of the art academy, which is still practiced today, stems from the artistic-didactic concept of Karl-Ernst Osthaus (1874–1921), who gave the school its name and was a patron of the arts in the town of Hagen in the Ruhr region. The central objective here was unity of the arts and their entrenchment at the heart of society.

Architect Alfred Fischer (1881–1950), who left Düsseldorfer Kunstgewerbeschule in 1911 to join the college in Essen in the dual function of director and lecturer, reformed the teaching operations with his rejection of an academy system, which he replaced with specialist departments and workshop classes. In addition, he also set up a foundation course based on the model of the Bauhaus and bolstered the teaching staff in 1926-7 to include persons associated with the Bauhaus[1]

With the establishment of Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in 1928, the Department of Type and Posters was set up under the leadership of Wilhelm Poetter (1885–1945), who had been teaching at the predecessor school since 1908. Poetter attributed a pioneering role to the field of type: “Type is everywhere! Writing is the expression of our time! The chance to pave the way here is the overriding and most noble objective of the Department for Type and Posters.”[2] That same year, his works were exhibited alongside those of Max Burchartz, Jan Tschichold, and others in the New Typography exhibition at the Museum Folkwang in Essen. This focus, initiated nominally in the year 1929, set the tone for content, in a wide variety of forms, contexts, objectives, and didactic methods, all the way through to the end of the 20th century.

Through the department’s curricula and the teaching and works by the lecturers who created typefaces and their students, it is possible to trace the development of this specialist field at the Folkwangschule. Hermann Schardt (1912–1984), who was director of the Folkwangschule from 1948 to 1972, designed the Folkwang-Antiqua typeface, which was implemented and expanded between 1949 and 1955 in collaboration with the type foundry Gebr. Klingspor (based in Offenbach/Main). Following the reopening of the Folkwang-Werkschulen für angewandte Kunst, the “Technical Colleges for Applied Art”, in 1948, typeface classes were taught as part of the evening courses, the foundation courses (two semesters), and in various work groups – particularly within the work group for graphics under the leadership of Professor Hans Nienheysen (1917–1996). A specialist class in type had existed under his direction since 1954.[3] In 1958, typeface classes were also taught in the evening courses, in the two preliminary semesters, and “[…] in all work groups […]”[4] as part of the creative design teaching. [5] The specialist typeface class continued to run until the early 1970s. [6] Wilhelm Buck (1912–1981), who led the Graphics group from 1948 on behalf of Director Schardt, taught the blackletter typefaces. A proven typeface designer (Today Sans, 1988), Professor Volker Küster (born 1941) was appointed in 1989 and continued the tradition of typeface design at the University of Duisburg-Essen as part of the communication design course, with the Fundamentals of Type module in the foundation course and the Font Design module in the main study course for those majoring in graphic design. After he retired, his former student Karsten Lücke took over the typeface teaching prescribed in the curriculum as a guest lecturer (2006-7).

In addition to the lecturers who, for their part, had previously studied at the Folkwang colleges in their various iterations, in Helmut Salden (1910–1996) and Georg Salden (born 1930), there are two former students who distinguished themselves particularly through their achievements in the field of font design: Helmut Salden’s relevance in the Netherlands and his influence on Dutch font design is undisputed. Georg Salden’s success as a typeface designer, meanwhile, is closely associated with the development of photosetting. This gave rise to a new kind of business model, the GST-Kreis, for which Georg Salden designed and implemented hundreds of fonts over the years. The best known of these remains the GST Polo (1971). The research question considers the relationship between two historical representations: the general technical implementation of type production or type application, and typeface in the teaching and works of the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung. The research will investigate how these positions developed under the influence of the technical innovations and further socio-cultural and artistic factors, whereby typeface will be dealt with explicitly distinct from typographic application.
​ [1] Grete Willers (Embroidery and Weaving Department), Max Burchartz (Advertising Art and Photography class), and Max Peiffer Watenphul (Foundation Course).
[2] W. Poetter: Essener Allgemeine Zeitung, special edition 1929
[3] U. Franke (1954). “Meister und Schüler. Ein Gang durch westdeutsche Werkkunstschulen, in: Schrift + Handwerk. Fachzeitschrift für Aussenwerbung, no. 10/11, p. 452.
[4] H. Schardt (ed.) (1958). Schrift 7. Folkwangschule für Gestaltung. Werkkunstschule der Stadt Essen, p. 38.
[5] S. Bartelsheim, G. Breuer & Ch.Oestereich (eds.) (2012). Lehre und Lehrer an der Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in Essen: von den Anfängen bis 1972, (Tübingen & Berlin: Wasmuth), p. 425 et seqq.
​[6] H. Nienheysen & H. Schardt (eds.) (1968). Folkwang Information 3: Workshop Report '68. Specialist typeface design class. Essen.


Prof. Dr. Klaus Klemp

Prof. Dr. Petra Eisele