H.K. Frenzel, Graphic Design’s Leading Advocate

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This is not the anniversary of H.K. Frenzel’s birth (1882) or death (1937) but it is the commemoration of both, decades much too late.

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H.K. Frenzel in memoriam.

While researching another project through scores of issues of his historic magazine, Gebrauchsgraphik: International Advertising Art, I came across a benignly covered edition from November 1937.

Do the math . . . that was four years after the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany, where Dr. Frenzel’s magazine began publishing in 1924. This issue had many advertisements for Black Letter typefaces and an ad for ALA (Allgemeine Anzeigen Gesellschaft), which was the German advertising society to promote German newspaper and periodical advertising in Germany, which served as the Nazis’ own advertising. The magazine also had features on a host of “sanctioned” German gebrauchsgraphikers, who belonged to the Reich Chamber of Commercial Arts.

Dr. Frenzel was not pleased with the Nazification (Gleichschaltung) of his magazine, which had never taken an overt political stand. In 1937 Frenzel died of a “bug” he caught while in Italy. Although he had recovered, seemingly it was more virulent than the doctors had thought—or so the story goes. Nonetheless, rumors quickly surfaced that he took his own life.

The memorial article in the November 1937 issue by E. Hölscher begins, “Our late friend H.K. Frenzel would certainly not have wished that an attempt should be made in the following lines devoted to his memory to give renewed expression to the profound and general dismay caused by his unexpected decease. He himself was much too optimistic and interested in the present to indulge willingly in melancholy thoughts for any length of time, and even beyond the circle of his more intimate friends the grief and sympathy even among those who had only met him once were so really heartfelt and genuine that they require no further confirmation as evidence of general respect which he enjoyed.”


Professor Frenzel

And yet, his admirers were moved to celebrate how the magazine—his creation—”on which he worked with absolute devotion until the lasts days of his life, has been subjected to certain changes in the course of fourteen years.” Meaning over the last four the Nazi dictates against modern and culturally un-German content was verbotten.

Frenzel wrote “The works reproduced by me in Gebrauchsgraphik are entirely in accordance with the idea I have adopted as the policy of my periodical. I wish to circumscribe a circle covering what can be regarded as good present-day graphic art. If I were to take to publishing only what satisfies me completely I should have to adopt a certain policy, and the periodical would no longer reflect the present state of graphic art.”

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Memorial from his French designer friends.

True to his word, Frenzel published many approaches from all over the world. The common denominator was quality. Whether modern or classical, comic or serious, experimental or traditional, he maintained a level that set the standard. With the Nazis in power, his circle had been excruciatingly tightened, his standard had dropped, his life was not worth living.

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Memorial issue, November 1937.

For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.