Elsa Franke was born on 7 February 1910. Before starting her studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau in the spring of 1929, she had already attended the School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbe- und Handwerkerschule) in Berlin and the State Schools of Free and Applied Art (Staatschulen für Freie und Angewandte Kunst) (also in Berlin). At the Bauhaus, following the obligatory preliminary course under Josef Albers, she took part in the photography class run by the Berlin photographer Walter Peterhans, which was affiliated to the Printing and Advertising Workshop. She also received training in the free painting courses given by Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
In response to an advertisement by the Director, Hannes Meyer (in 1929), Franke designed several wallpaper patterns for the new ‘bauhaus collection’ to be produced by the wallpaper company Gebrüder Rasch. Her designs were fundamentally different from the Bauhaus wallpapers that later went into production, which all had bright, friendly tones with tiny line and dot patterns. By contrast, Franke’s designs were collaged dark photograms produced using plants, thread, and blobs of paint: large-format, heavy ornamentation of the type the Bauhaus wanted to get away from. Franke’s other photographic work mainly consists of reciprocal portrait shots of herself and her partner and later husband (from 1947), Hans Thiemann, whom she met at the Bauhaus as well as portraits of the artist group Fantasten and their works. Furthermore remain photos of her milieu in the Berlin district Neukoelln in the same style at the Museum Neukölln. Since 2004 the Bauhaus Archiv/Museum of Design, Berlin owns prints from all parts of Elsa Franke-Thiemann’s photographic work and honored the artist with an exhibition that same year. Two of her wallpaper designs are now produced as gift wrap paper at the bauhaus shop of the Bauhaus Archiv.
Elsa Franke completed her studies as a trained photographer and graphic designer in July 1931, receiving Bauhaus Diploma no. 59. She continued to focus on photography after her graduation. She initially worked as a press photographer in Berlin, and later as a photographer of puzzle-pictures for journals. When photographic work became impossible for her for political reasons, she took a post as an editorial assistant with the Berlin publishers Hoffmann and Campe. Her partner and later husband, Hans Thiemann, was unable to exhibit his Surrealist painting at the time, for fear of being denounced as ‘degenerate’. Her earnings had to support the two of them.
In 1960, Hans Thiemann was appointed as Professor at the Academy of Art in Hamburg, and Elsa Franke-Thiemann laid her photographic work aside when they moved there. The former Bauhaus student died in Hamburg on 15 November 1981. Thirty years after her death, in 2011, the majority of her surviving photographic works passed to the archive of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. [AG 2015]
· Bauhaus-Diplom von Elsa Franke, Nr. 59, Beschluss der Konferenz am 6. Juli 1931, unterschrieben von Mies van der Rohe und Joost Schmidt (am 14. Juli 1931), Dokument, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin.
· Informationen der Nachlassverwalterin Margot Schmidt.
· Annemarie Jaeggi, Margot Schmidt (2004), Elsa Thiemann: Fotografin. Bauhaus und Berlin, Berlin.
· Lutz Schöbe (2011): eine reflex-korelle für dessau, in: bauhaus. Die Zeitschrift der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Heft 2.
· Tapetenfabrik Gebr. Rasch & Co. und Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (1995): Reklame & Erfolg einer Marke, Köln.
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