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A wealth of material

How Otl Aicher’s papers and materials came to the HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm

Graphic cabinet with color samples from the Aicher office in Rotis, o.J. Photo: Oleg Kuchar © Florian Aicher Rotis, HfG Archive / Museum Ulm

The papers and materials documenting the work of Otl Aicher were presented to the HfG-Archiv/Museum Ulm by the Aicher-Scholl family in the summer of 1996. Many of the documents on this website originate from the extensive collection.

When Otl Aicher died in summer 1991, he left behind an extensive archive at his estate in the Allgäu region of southern Germany, the legacy of a committed and fulfilled life. It included, among other things, documents relating to the resistance against National Socialism, such as his first texts, published together with friends under the title Das Windlicht (The Storm Lantern); deliberations on the shaping of life and society in the immediate postwar period; documents regarding the School of Design; drafts of Aicher’s posters for Ulm Adult Education Centre, a testimony to the sensuous delight he derived from designing; early drawings; materials connected with his consideration of philosopher William of Ockham (including in the form of an exhibition); and evidence of his deliberations on how to furnish a modern kitchen, which he defined as the workshop of a new lifestyle, as a “kitchen for cooking”. There was also an extensive collection of papers on Inge Aicher-Scholl’s and Otl Aicher’s involvement with the peace movement, as well as project boxes and presentation folders documenting Aicher’s work with numerous firms and cultural institutions in the postwar era.

View into the rooms of the Aicher archive. Photo: Oleg Kuchar. © HfG-Archiv / Museum Ulm

Preventing deterioration

In the summer of 1996, the Aicher-Scholl family presented this legacy to the HfG-Archiv, a department of Museum Ulm. It includes correspondence on approx. 350 projects, 4,000 posters, 27,000 design sheets and 30,000 slides, as well as numerous exhibition panels, photos, negatives and papers. In the following years the materials were preventively conserved and scientifically processed under the direction of art historian Andrea Scholtz, with the goal of organising them in a database together with the relevant details. In the 1990s, when many archives were still using a system based on index boxes and cards, that was totally new territory.

The restoration work was no less challenging for the team at the HfG-Archiv: the presentation folders Aicher typically used, for instance, of which there were 627 containing a total of 27,000 sheets, were in danger of disintegrating. The designs, paste-ups and texts the folders contained had been inserted into plastic sleeves, and the plasticisers in them had already affected the documents; in some cases, the sheets had fused with the plastic. In order to stop the deterioration, the HfG-Archiv collaborated with students of the book and paper conservation programme at the State Academy of Art and Design (ABK) in Stuttgart. Under the supervision of chemist Gerhard Banik, a professor at the Institute for the Technology of Painting and chair of the programme for the restoration and conservation of graphic, archival and library materials at the ABK in Stuttgart, restorer Yvonne Gaborini developed a concept for the materials’ restoration as part of her finals project, which was subsequently implemented.

The boxes on the right contain the graphics that were removed from the presentation folders. The project boxes on the left were compiled at Büro Aicher in order to store materials relating to the individual projects. Photo: Oleg Kuchar. © HfG-Archiv / Museum Ulm

The boxes on the right contain the graphics that were removed from the presentation folders. The project boxes on the left were compiled at Büro Aicher in order to store materials relating to the individual projects. Photo: Oleg Kuchar. © HfG-Archiv / Museum Ulm

Experiencing history

In addition, research interviews were conducted with former staff, clients and contemporaries to ensure that the materials could be classified appropriately. In the early 2000s additional material was added; it was processed and integrated with the existing holdings in the Otl Aicher archive with generous funding from the Stiftung Kulturgut Baden-Württemberg, a foundation dedicated to the preservation of cultural assets.

The Aicher archive is integrated into the HfG-Archiv and housed in the former School of Design’s building on Kuhberg Hill in Ulm. All the materials can be viewed for research and academic purposes, and Otl Aicher’s publications can be accessed in a reference library. On the HfG-Archiv’s website, a digital finding aid provides information (in German) about the contents of the Aicher archive:
https://hfg-archiv.museumulm.de/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/09_aicher-neu.pdf

Slide cabinets in the Aicher archive. Photo: Oleg Kuchar. © HfG-Archiv / Museum Ulm

Accessible treasures

In addition, the HfG-Archiv offers researchers, academics, students and anybody with an amateur interest the opportunity to explore the history of Ulm School of Design, whose founding and activities Otl Aicher was instrumental to. Besides being able to view the diverse archive materials, visitors can also use the former school’s historical library and a collection of contemporary books and magazines on the history of design as a reference library. The papers and materials of former HfG lecturers like Walter Zeischegg and Tomás Gonda are now also housed in the HfG-Archiv, as are numerous smaller collections of papers and permanent loans from former HfG associates.

Further information, including details on current exhibitions and events at the HfG-Archiv, is available (in English) on the website: https://hfg-archiv.museumulm.de/en/startseite/.

View of the users’ room at the HfG-Archiv. Photo: Oleg Kuchar. © HfG-Archiv / Museum Ulm

Christiane Wachsmann is curator and deputy director of the HfG-Archiv in Ulm. After an apprenticeship as a carpenter, she studied architecture and design at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart. From 1989 to 1997 she established and managed the HfG-Archiv, and was also responsible for its cataloguing and digitalisation. In 2018, Wachsmann published the book Vom Bauhaus beflügelt. Menschen und Ideen an der Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm.