With their skills from the advertising workshop at the Bauhaus, the active communists Ricarda and Heinz Schwerin founded the advertising agency 'Hammer und Pinsel' (Hammer and Brush) in Prague. After fleeing to the 'Promised Land' of Palestine, they established a new life with a woodworking shop for making toys.

Portrait of Ricarda Schwerin, photo: Etel Fodor-Mittag, 1930. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Michael and Thomas Mittag.
Portrait of Ricarda Schwerin, photo: Etel Fodor-Mittag, 1930. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Michael and Thomas Mittag.

Ricarda Meltzer was born in Göttingen on 30 January 1912. She started her studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau in the summer semester of 1930, when she was just 18, intending to become a photographer. On completing the preliminary course, she took one semester each in the printing and advertising workshop, in the architecture and interior design workshop, and in Walter Peterhans’s photography class. Meltzer was suspended for health reasons and was then not readmitted to courses in January 1932; like most of the Communist students (including her future husband, Heinz Schwerin), she was banned from the Bauhaus in the spring of that year and had to leave the art college without completing her studies.

Following their two years at the Bauhaus, Meltzer and Schwerin moved to Frankfurt am Main together to study at the College of Fine Art and Applied Art. They then fled to Prague, after Schwerin had been arrested for illegal distribution of Communist propaganda. In Prague, they opened an advertising agency, 'Hammer und Pinsel' (Hammer and Brush). From there they emigrated to Switzerland and then to Hungary, where they were married in Pécs in 1935; the witnesses to the marriage were their Bauhaus friends Etel Fodor-Mittag and Ernst Mittag. The Schwerins emigrated to Palestine as refugees in August 1935.

In 1936, Ricarda and Heinz Schwerin opened the 'Schwerin Wooden Toys' workshop, enabling themselves to earn a living in Palestine. The following year, Schwerin presented his own work at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

Their daughter Jutta and their son Tom (the author, journalist and historian Tom Segev) were born in Jerusalem in 1941 and 1948, respectively. Following Heinz Schwerin’s early death in 1948, Ricarda Schwerin a opened a privately run home for refugee children, and from the mid-1950s onwards she returned to her vocation as a photographer. She collaborated successfully for nearly 20 years in the photographic studio of a German emigrant, Alfred Bernheim, who became her partner. They published a photo book, 'Jerusalem – Rock of Ages' in 1969, and Schwerin contributed photos to the children’s books 'Sippurim LeNivi' (stories for Nivi) and 'Nono'. Ricarda Schwerin’s first photographic documentation, illustrating contemporary Israeli architecture, was published in the Israeli cultural magazine 'Ariel'. She continued to run the photographic studio on her own following Bernheim’s death in 1974. Ricarda Schwerin died in Jerusalem on 29 July 1999.

[AG 2015]

Literature:
Exhibition 'Vom Bauhaus nach Palästina: Chanan Frenkel – Ricarda und Heinz Schwerin', Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Masters' House Muche/Schlemmer, 26 June until 13 Oktober 2013.
Katzmann, Udi (2011): Wege ins Gelobte Land, in: bauhaus. Die Zeitschrift der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, No. 2.
Schwerin, Jutta (2012): Ricardas Tochter, Leipzig.