EASTON — The Werner Drewes Retrospective, an exhibition at the Academy Art Museum that runs through March 2, 2022, brings together more than 65 of Werner Drewes’s fine prints, paintings and gouaches from throughout his lifetime. Drewes (1899–1985) was a prolific artist who studied at the Bauhaus in Germany in the early years of his career and later immigrated to the United States to escape the rise of the Nazi regime. A master printmaker, Drewes showed his work in major museums in Germany, Turkey, and the United States, and in 1985, the Smithsonian American Art Museum organized a retrospective of his work.
Karen E. D. Seibert had a special relationship with her grandfather who she calls “Opa.” As one of the curators/dealers of his estate, she is exploring avenues to tell the artist’s story through exhibitions and lecturing across the country and in Europe. Today, his works are shown and owned by major museums and galleries continue to show his work. Seibert loaned 24 pieces of Drewes’s work to the current exhibition at the Academy Art Museum, to accompany Ingrid Rose’s generous gift of 41 prints and one watercolor by Drewes, here in Easton, Maryland.
As AAM curator Mehves Lelic describes, “Drewes’s visual language, ranging from representational landscapes to abstract forms, tells the story of an artist who becomes acquainted with America through printmaking: first via keen and layered yet slightly distant observations of urban and rural landscapes, and later via dynamic abstract explorations of his complex inner world. Influenced by Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and Wassily Kandinsky, who were his early teachers and mentors, Drewes became a part of the cohort of American artists who shaped the trajectory and importance of abstract printmaking and painting.” He created more than 700 prints in his lifetime.
Seibert is one of eight grandchildren, a few of whom continue to represent Drewes’s work. She states, “We all love working and being around his work. It’s exciting. It’s fresh. You never get tired of it. As the youngest granddaughter, I was fortunate to live near Werner in Reston, Virginia at the end of his life. We would often have a mid-day Sunday dinner, typical of German tradition, and I would help him and his wife, Maria, my step-grandmother, with household chores as they aged. Most teenagers don’t want to hang out with their grandparents, but they were fascinating to me, and I was glad that I made the choice to spend this time with them.”
Seibert reflects on her favorite memories of her grandfather, sharing, “In a German meal, you end with cheese and grapes. He would sit at the dinner table and take the wax from the cheese and make little figures and balance a spoon on his nose. He was just always playful. But he was also very driven. He could get angry at himself and destroy work that he didn’t think was good enough.”
Drewes’ drive came from the challenges and opportunities he experienced as a young person. Seibert explains, “He always saw himself as lucky that he had the foresight to get out of Germany before World War II. He continued to support German artists who did not get out of Germany in time, even while his own family struggled.”
“When he immigrated to this country in 1931, he had already painted his way around the world. So, he had already had quite a lot of experience for a young man. Despite the Depression, he joined other Bauhaus artists such as Piet Mondrian and Lyonel to make a living as an artist in New York City. This group of artists became some of the most important contributors to the development of abstract art in the United States.”
One of Seibert’s goals is to learn who influenced Drewes and who Drewes influenced. She states, “I am constantly learning not just about Drewes, but about his students and his contemporaries. I have made connections with students of his who are now in their 90s, swapped work with them, and filmed them working in their studios while they are still creating. They talk about how he was an inspirational teacher and not just an artist.”
Seibert’s interest in having the Drewes exhibition in Easton stems from her love of the Chesapeake Bay since she was a girl. She worked for EPA with the Maryland Department of the Environment on the Chesapeake Bay for five years, sailed the Chesapeake as a girl, and now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She comments, “Because Ingrid Rose, author of Werner Drewes: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Prints, strongly supports the Academy Art Museum, I trust her lead. So, I too, support this wonderful, dynamic museum and see this as an extension of the whole Bauhaus movement. If we can get Drewes in any museum, far and wide, large and small, I think people will benefit. I think patrons can see the timelessness in his work. There is relevance in his work—whether he created it in the 1920s or the 1980s—people are still fascinated by it. Also, I want to be sure that the people who come see the exhibition understand him and what was going on with art during that time.”
Seibert also hopes others will learn from his dedication to his art and feel free to experiment and try new things. She adds, “At one point he was asked what was the inner meaning of his work. He responded humbly, “I’m just playing with color.’”
“I see his influences in the use of color in my own home and influence of the Bauhaus design in how I arrange things, items we buy, and my fused glass art. Each of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Drewes has a strong element of art in them as well, whether it is sculpting prehistoric animals, designing their homes, sketching, fusing glass art, creating jewelry, or ceramics. We are also hugely connected with nature through gardening, hiking and our travels, much like our Opa.”
“I love that the Academy Art Museum conducts classes and holds lectures on a variety of mediums. People need to find that balance in their lives and find the time to create. AAM provides a wonderful connection of bringing in past artists and connecting their work with future elements of art and aspiring new artists. This small museum has learned to transcend time, like art itself. It is certainly worth a visit!” Seibert concludes. For information on the exhibition, visit academyartmuseum.org or call 410-822-2787.