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Deffke, Wilhelm H. (Wilhelm Heinrich), 1887-1950



  • Existence: 1887 - 1950


Wilhelm Deffke (1887-1950) received his basic training in illustration in the city of his birth, Elberfeld (Wuppertal), Germany. He studied under Dutch artist J.A. Loeber, an expert in Javanese batik art and woodcut illustration for book design, J. Thorn Prikker, and Chris Lebeau. Deffke worked in various businesses, including the studio of Peter Behrens in Neubabelsberg near Potsdam (1909-1910). There he had contact with Behrens’ employees Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Peter Grossman. He was influenced by them and worked on graphic advertising and trademark design including projects for the company Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG). Deffke later used similar design concepts for the Erfurt cigarette factory Reemtsma. He taught trademark design at the Reimann School in Berlin. He won several graphic design competitions between 1912 and 1914. In 1916 he and Carl Ernst Hinkefuss formed a publicity and advertising firm, Wilhelmwerk. In 1920 Deffke founded his own studio of commercial art and architecture in Berlin; he won various design competitions, especially for logos, including one for Reemtsma (1919-1923). In 1925 he was appointed artistic director for the exhibition, “Der Zucker,” in Magdeburg, after which he was appointed director of the Magdeburg Kunstgewerbeschule which included teachers Walter Dexel, Johannes Molzahn, Peter Grossmann, Julius Klinger and Hermann Eidenbenz (1925-1933). He tried to continue working privately, but was blacklisted by the National Socialist Party as a cultural bolshevist; he also lost most of his artistic work and personal library during the Second World War. Ironically, the old Germanic sun-wheel symbol he had stylized and published in a brochure before 1920 had been appropriated by the Nazi Party as their symbol: the swastika. In 1946 he again assumed the position as director of the school in Magdeburg. In 1950 he was awarded the art prize by the city of Berlin. He died on August 28, 1950 in Woltersdorf.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Wilhelm Deffke Papers, 1927-1949

Identifier: MS169

This small archive of Wilhelm Deffke materials consists of manuscripts on Deffke’s life and work, correspondence, and printed ephemera. Manuscript materials include an autobiographical account of his life and career, and notes and schematic drawings for his project, “Grammatik der Formensprache,” (1945). Correspondence is between Deffke and some associates including Carl Ernst Hinkefuss. Examples of printed ephemera and newspaper clippings with examples of his graphic work are included.

Dates: Majority of material found within 1927 - 1949; 1914 - 1984