O.H.W.Hadank was of his time, not a modernist. Not as historically influential as Lucian Bernhard or Jan Tschichold, he did not substantively alter the look or practice of graphic design in Germany. He was, however, an influential teacher, who founded a department of graphic and advertising design at Kunsthocshule in The Academy of Fine and Applied Arts Berlin in 1919, and taught students who became modernists, including Walter Herdeg (founder of Graphis) and Hans J. Barschell (artist/designer for Fortune magazine). He also designed the typeface Ornata in 1943, which had moderate success for Linotype. Nonetheless Hadank is barely acknowledged in contemporary graphic design histories (only one small reference in Jeremy Aynsley’s Graphic Design in Germany 1890-1945, and not at all in Philip Meggs A History of Graphic Design). He stood apart from the hacks that blindly followed so-called volk tradition yet ultimately adhered to Nazi Gleichschanltung, the cultural standardization of design aesthetics. His trademarks, of which these are but a few from a personal portfolio sent to the late Noel Martin, are anomalies, classical yet modern.
“Professor Hadank undoubtedly belongs to the purest, indeed it might be said to the most classic type of contemporary advertising artist, who since the turn of the century has gradually emerged from the experiences of a new profession and feels it a duty to place genius and talent at the service of economic life,” wrote the editors of Gebrauchsgraphik in a 1939 special edition devoted entirely to him on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday. A hand drawn portrait in this celebratory volume shows a proper gentleman indistinguishable in appearance from a banker, doctor, or lawyer. In fact, there was nothing bohemian about him. But so lofty was his stature as an artist/designer that his practice was tightly woven into Germany’s post-Depression commercial fabric. “It is characteristic of Professor Hadank that although he never neglected for one moment the artistic qualities of work, he nevertheless possessed from the very outset a clear sense for important economic requirements connected with it,” added Gebrauchsgraphik.
Otto Hermann Werner Hadank was born in Berlin on August 17, 1889. His so-called Prussian spirit was passed down from his illustrious family. His paternal grandfather owned Hadank and Son, technicians and craftsmen, respected manufacturers of time-pieces, fire wagons, and other complex machinery. His maternal grandfather was Friederich Wilhelm Gubitz, a well-known wood-engraver who during the early nineteenth century designed business and calling cards. Otto was only eighteen when he designed his first logo for a publishing house that was influenced by Jugendstil. It “showed certain vacillations [that] are to be found in every young artist on the threshold of development,” wrote Gebrauchsgraphik. “Never, however, did he lose sight of his goal in formless experiments. His earliest work reveals a sane outlook and a sense of form.” His realism combined with an honest appreciation of German graphic traditions dating back to Albrecht Dürer, resulted in a style that could be at once historicist and contemporary, but always appropriate to the product at hand.
Hadank was proud to be a designer of utilitarian things. A friend named Hans Neuerburg recalled attending an exhibition with him in the early 1930s of antique Japanese working implements that a fisherman, an archer, a blacksmith or a housewife would use. “I shall never forget his enthusiasm at the sight of the simple, practical shape of these implements, of the proper treatment and use of the material, of the perfect form achieved throughout the lapse of centuries.” But one thing Neuerburg sensed during that encounter was Hadank’s desire to be part of the larger design process, and in the modernist sense, have the power to influence the nation’s cultural taste.
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