Industrial Logos 1 – VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrik Saalfeld


On March 15th, 1957, while working on the industrial fair in Leipzig, Rolf Keller sent a brochure “Halle 20” to his son, Svend Keller. This brochure lists the companies exhibiting in hall 20 of the fair in that year. This hall was dedicated to the East German machine tool producers organized under the organization of “WMW”, a large association of publicly owned (i.e. state owned) comanies.

In the 1957 brochure, Rolf Keller had marked those logos of exhibiting companies that he had designed or re-designed. It turns out that he was involved in the design of the logos of more than half of all those companies.

I am showing here one of the logos. Those of you who are just interested in art might not find this interesting, but some of you might have studied graphic design or might be interested in the history of industrial graphics design.

All of the logos in the book are printed in blue color. Perhaps there where guidelines based on the available printing technology, but I don’t know. Maybe the goal was to produce a common look and feel for all WMW companies.

The logo shown here belongs to a producer of “High duty drilling machines” called “VEB Bohrmaschinenfabrib Saalfeld”. There still is a machine tool industry in the town of Saalfeld, but I do not know if they are connected to that 1950s GDR-company (I am trying to find out). It might be that a company still exists that owns the rights for this logo but I was not able to find out so far.

There are other examples where the legal successors of the state owned companies from GDR times can clearly be identified and in one instance, I even found a company that is still using the logo as designed by Rolf Keller in the 1950s, without any changes, to this day (see the “Aue”-Logo in the blue cirlce here: that also appears in exactly that shape in the “Halle 20” brochure of 1957, marked by Rolf Keller as his design). In other instances, the companies seem to have vanished completely after the German reunification.

One might ask the question what was the purpose of having logos for companies in a state planned economy like that of the GDR. But back in the 1950s, these machines where exported worldwide, so establishing brand names was important since machine tools where a mayor export article and thus an important source of forreign exchange for the GDR.

Such logos seem to have been one of Rolf Keller’s main sources of income. From his letters, we learn that he earned well from designing such logos. For example, in one letter from 22nd of October, 1957, he writes that he got the job of designing one logo for 2000 Mark and three for 1000 Mark each. This was much more that the average monthly income of a worker that, according to the information I could find, seems to have been in the 500 to 600 Mark range at the time.

(In case you, as an organization or individual, are the owner of the rights to this logo and you do not agree with me showing it here, please contact me. I will remove it in that case).


Industrial Illustration, 1950s


Rolf Keller worked as a self-employed graphics artist working for different clients. He did caricatures for newspapers, newspaper advertisements, layouts as well as illustrations and the kind of work we have seen already in this blog, like the greeting cards and advent calendars he designed for Lederbogen Verlag. However, economically more important for him was the work he did for industrial customers.

In a letter to Svend Keller, dated Sept. 28th, 1957, Rolf Keller writes:

“Relating to business, September was extremely poor. The main reason is that there were no assignments from WMW, since Sch. was absent for 6 weeks to build up an exhibition. Yesterday, the first assignments came in again.”[1]

WMW, actually VVB WMW, was the association of nationally-owned enterprises producing machine tools in the GDR. This citation demonstrates that WMW was the main client of Rolf Keller; the work for them was his bread and butter business. The letters indicate that besids WMW, he had other industrial customers as well. For these companies, he designed logos (an especially lucrative kind of work, according to his letters; I don’t know it he was the one who designed the WMW-logo visible on this leaflet, but it is possible), but also leaflets like the one shown here, the only item of this kind I have at the moment. It shows one of the machines offered by WMW. I do not know what kind of print process was employed at the time to transfer a painting into a print like this, but using such paintings instead of photographs seems to have been quite common in technical illustrations of the time. The painting is signed and shows Rolf Keller’s logo, as well as a “50” that is probably the year. The middle folds shows staple holes, so there must have been at least a cover, if not additional pages. It is well possible that Rolf Keller also did the layout of the whole page, as well as the layout of the back page (listing several machines and parts, together with the respective providers), but I don’t know. Anyway, here is the back side, to give you an impression of what kind of publication this was:


Rolf Keller probably did similar illustrations for catalogues and advertisments as well. He also worked for WMW during the Leipzig industrial fair and seems to have been involved in the design of their stand at the fair, strenuous but well paid work involving night shifts, according to some letters. It looks like the fair stand included hand-painted posters of machines. In a letter dated 13th March 1957, again to Svend Keller, he writes:

“I am quite overworked since everything is night-work. I Paint in most cases from 6 PM until 4 AM. Yesterday and today, however, only until 11:30 PM, but I was there from 8 AM to 9 [?] and I did a lot of sketching despite the strong bustling activity. Then to the accommodation, to sleep for 2 hours. I think you would enjoy the tempera-paintings of the machines. Today I have finished painting the next model of a complicated worm grinder.”[2]

It does not become quite clear here if Rolf Keller actually worked on the fair stand itself. Some of the work on the fair seems to have been the preparation of paintings to be used later, not the direct work on the fair stand. In a letter from 20th of March, 1957, he writes:

“I am now evaluating the things from the fair for Schönfeldt, preparing figures and staffage to it and adjusting diverse things. Strange that everything needs its time and hour to develop to maturity. One time during the fair while working in the night, I was totally desperate because it just did not work. Now, after gaining distance it works nearly effortlessly and the tempera paintings are bit by bit taking shape.”[3]

The “figures and staffage” might have been decoration for the fair stand, for next time, but that does not become completely clear here. The paintings might have been done for catalogues and fliyers, like the one shown here. The fair would have provided an opportunity to get access to samples of all the different machines in one place and without disturbance, something that might not have been possible in the factory. The man named “Schönfeldt”, also mentioned in other letters, is obviously the “Sch.” from the first citation above. He obviously was Rolf Keller’s main contact within WMW.

After the German reunification, some of the companies belonging to WMW where sold. Some of them seem to have gone bankrupt. The machine industry of the GDR was largely targeted at east Europe and the Sovjet Union. When the east German Mark was converted into the west German Deutschmark at a conversion rate of 1 to 1, the industrial products of GDR companies became too expensive for their traditional customers in the east. On the other hand, they were not up to date technologically. As a result, a large part of the east German industry collapsed. The surviving remains of those companies, including some remains of WMW, now belong to different industrial groups. However, after some research I found that documents from WMW, including catalogs and leaflets, have been transferred to the state archive of Saxony, in its Chemnitz branch (see It is very likely that in the inventory of that archive, more works of Rolf Keller await discovery, and I want to try to track them down when I have the time to do so.

I think this is an interesting part of industrial history as well as history of applied art and design. Such old industrial illustrations from the 1950s, showing the technology of 60 or more years ago, have a certain aesthetic appeal to me. If you enlarge the picture, you might appreciate the artistic quality it has. This is not only an old picture of and old machine; it is also a work of art.


[1] German original: „Der September war geschäftlich äußerst mies, ein Monat wie seit Jahren nicht. Das lag hauptsächlich am Ausfall der WMW-Aufträge, da Sch. 6 Wochen abwesend war, um eine Ausstellung aufzubauen. Gestern kamen die ersten Aufträge wieder.“

[2] German original: „Bin ziemlich überarbeitet, da alles Nachtarbeit ist. Male zumeist von 6 Uhr abends bis 4 Uhr früh. Gestern und heute allerdings nur ½ 12, war jedoch von Früh 8 bis 9 [?] Uhr dort u. habe trotz des Riesenbetriebes viel skizziert. Dann ins Quartier, 2 Std. schlafen. Ich glaube, die Tempera-Bilder der Maschinen würden Dir auch Spaß machen. Heute habe ich das nächste Modell einer komplizierten Schnecken-Schleifmaschine fertig gemalt.“

[3] “Ich werte jetzt die Sachen von der Messe für Schönfeldt aus, mache Figuren und Staffage dazu und gleiche Verschiedenes aus. Seltsam, daß doch alles seine Zeit und Stunde braucht, um zur Reife zu kommen. Einmal war ich auf der Messe bei der Nachtarbeit völlig verzweifelt, weil es einfach nicht mehr klappte. Jetzt, nachdem Abstand gewonnen ist, geht es fast mühelos u. die Temperabilder gewinnen allmählich Gesicht.”

Pencil Sketch of a Factory


A pencil sketch by Svend Keller, 30. April (?) 1949. (I think the month is a Roman number IV, so that would be April). I don’t know if this is RAW Chemnitz Hilbersdorf again or another place. The buildings at the foot of the chimney and the fact that we don’t see its top give the impression of its size. I like the way the bearing structure of the left building and the branches of the tree before it are forming a web-like pattern. (The blue blob of ink at the left side was obviously an unintentional accident, it can be found on a number of other sketches as well.)

There is a certain feeling of fascination for me in this drawing. To describe it, let me cite the Italian artist Marco Bigliazzi  (you find his blog here), who has expressed this very aptly. In an interview (full text is here), he said:

Cranes, chimneys, factories, railroads are magical and mysterious objects for kids. If you are not obliged to work in them once grown up – if you are not obliged to confront the hard nature of daily working routines in such places – it’s most likely that they retain these qualities. […] I like metros, undergrounds, stations and so on. Flyovers, construction yards, factories, raw spaces of work always seemed to me more real than other parts of the city: less made-up, more frank, sometimes even in a frightening way – as I was saying, more real. And there were all these fantastic, mysterious shapes: engines, tanks, pylons, cranes, containers.

I totally agree. Such buldings have a certain fascination, a kind of beauty of their own. It is sometimes an instance of what I described in The Dark Side of Beauty but definitely, such places have always had a kind of magic for me. This is definitely one of the factors that cause my fascination for the industrial landscapes my father painted, see RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf and RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf Monochrome. It is definitely also the reason I am fascinated in Bigliazzi’s art. Feelings like this are also triggered by abandoned buildings, especially industrial ones (see Towards the Philosophy of Decay).

RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf Monochrome


This is the second watercolor painting Svend Keller made of the RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf factory. Unlike the first one in the previouns post, this one is a monochrome in shades of brown. It was painted in 1949.

I like these two paintings a lot, and not just because the artist is my father. In my view, these two paintings show that industrial landscapes can be quite beautiful, although they may be seen as instances of what I have described in my article The Dark Side of Beauty.

RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf


A watercolor painting made by Svend Keller (1928 – 2004) in 1948. At this time, Svend Keller was doing an apprenticeship as a graphic artist with his father, Rolf Keller. His life took a different turn though and he did not work as an artist later, but there are some drawings and water color paintings from this time.

The painting is showing the RAW Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf, a repair operation of the “Reichsbahn”, the (East-)German train company. Rof Keller and Svend Keller were living in Chemnitz (later renamed “Karl-Marx-Stadt”, and after 1989 renamed “Chemnitz” again) in Saxony at the time.