Bits and pieces of Basel

The influence of the Basel school on the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI)

An article by Katherine McCoy, published in March/April 2005 in Print Magazine. The PDF was found on an archived website of the Philadelphia University of the Arts Graphic Design Department –

The PDF:

Excerpts from the article

The teachers who had made such a profound impression on the graduates included their program chair, Rob Roy Kelly, and the now legendary Swiss designers Inge Druckrey and Hans Allemann. Arguably, Kansas City Art Institute offered the first comprehensive graphic design curriculum for undergraduates and the first full-time, Swiss-trained faculty in the U.S.

MacCoy explains that the connection was made through Yale, where Kelly studied.

Armin Hofmann was first invited to New Haven by Herbert Matter, Yale’s professor of photography. Then, in 1956, Yale asked Hofmann to fill its annual overseas guest teaching position, beginning the university’s long association with Basel. Kelly recognized the innovation in Hofmann’s educational methods.

Kelly hires several of Hofmann’s former students: Inge Druckrey, in 1966, Hans Allemann in 1967.

Armin Hofmann visited KCAI during those years, inspiring the KCAI students and further cementing the Kansas City-Basel connection. Kathy Stewart Salchow, who graduated in ’67, remembers sitting in the auditorium during Hofmann’s presentation of Basel design; she could hear April Greiman’s audible enthusiasm a few rows behind her.

About the teaching methods of Basel:

Allemann notes that when Hofmann instructed them in the early 1960s, his teaching was still in a formative stage. « Our teachers never explained anything to us, and we learned through the process, » Allemann says. In the U.S., that doesn’t work. Students had questions. I learned how to talk about design, because I had never verbalized before, and there were no books to turn to. We were just experimenting. »

After two years Druckrey and Allemann return to Europe, and Kelly leaved KCAI in 1974. But the influence is spreading to other institutions:

Even as Kelly and his KCAI faculty moved on, several other schools built related, Swiss-influenced programs that remain leaders today: Ken Hiebert, on the of first Americans to attend Basel’s Kunstgewerbeschule, began an even more thightly rationalized program at Philadelphia College of Art in 1966, with faculty that included Basel grad Steff Geissbuhler as well as Allemann and Druckrey. Gordon Salchow’s program at the University of Cincinnati continues to set a national standard. And in 1971, Tom Ockerse, a Yale classmate of Salchow’s began his program at Rhode Island School of Design. Today, Kelly’s influence and Basel methods thrive at the Arizona State University graphic design program he established in his last teaching years before his death in 2004.