The graphic artist Siegfried Ebert had an important influence on the visual language of East German television and animated motion pictures. Born in Eibau on July 20, 1926, Ebert was drafted into the Luftwaffe in 1943, but shortly after going on active duty, he was severely wounded and taken prisoner by the English. After his release, Ebert shifted course in life, studying commercial art at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zittau and film at the Hochschule für bildende und angewandte Kunst in Wiessensee. He became one of the earliest artists to specialize in the new medium of television, working for Deutscher Fernsehfunk, doing graphic design and animation. A member of the Verband Bildender Künstler Deutschlands, he later worked on animated films for the DEFA studios. Suffering from ill health for the last several years of his life, Ebert suffered a heart attack in November 1985, and died at home shortly after his sixtieth birthday in 1986.
The Ebert Collection includes a small assortment of correspondence, awards, and biographical materials, along with examples of his graphic work for television and film. Among other unusual items in the collection are attractive handbills (small posters) for Progress and DEFA films, some original sketches, photographs and mockups of his artwork for television, and an assortment of personal and professional ephemera.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Siegfried Ebert
One of the pioneers in East Germany in graphic design for television and film animation, Martin Siegfried Ebert was born on July 20, 1926. In an all too brief sixty years, Ebert experienced the full vicissitudes of mid-century life in Germany, witnessing the rise of National Socialism as a child, wartime service as a young man, and the rise of the socialist state in East Germany as an adult. A native of Eibau, a small town near the Czech border, and the son of a teacher in an occupational school, Ebert was apprenticed as a clerk with Junkers during the early years of the war and trained with the Nationalsozialistiches Fliegerkorps until his 17th birthday, when he was drafted into the Luftwaffe. His active military service, however, was to be very brief. In October 1944, less than a month after he joined Fliegerregiment 51 in the Netherlands, he was severely wounded and taken prisoner. During a year and half of captivity in England, much of it spent in hospital, Ebert began to reflect on the direction of his life and decided to build upon his artistic talents to make a career when he returned to civilian life.
Consequently, after his release from prison in England in May 1946, still suffering from his wounds, Ebert returned to his hometown and embarked on a career in the arts. After studying commercial art at the Kunstgewerbeschule in nearby Zittau, he found employment as a poster designer and calligrapher with HO Lebensmittel Zittau until 1951, when he returned to his studies at the Hochschule für bildende und angewandte Kunst (University for Motion Picture and Applied Arts) in Weissensee Berlin, where he specialized in film. With his education coinciding with the early years of television in East Germany, Ebert became one of the first commercial artists to work in the new medium, rapidly establishing a critical reputation for his diverse and imaginative artwork, earning laurels for his efforts in animation for the Deutscher Fernsehfunk.
A member of the Verband Bildender Künstler Deutschlands, Ebert gradually shifted his attention to film, working for the DEFA and Progress studios and contributing to a long succession of motion pictures as a designer of posters, in animation, and other areas. Throughout his career, he also remained active as a general graphic designer, producing a profusion of logos, letterheads, cartoons, drawings, and artwork.
In the last years of his life, Ebert had a slow decline and battle with ill health. Suffering a heart attack in November 1985, he died at home two months after his sixtieth birthday in 1986. He was survived by his wife Inge.
An eclectic assemblage of artwork, correspondence, and legal papers, the Siegfried Ebert Collection documents the life of a significant East German graphic designer who worked in early television and in animated film. What survives of a personal nature hints at the outlines of Ebert's life and work during the early years of the DDR. In addition to a series of handbills (small posters) for films released in East Germany during the late 1950s, the collection includes original artwork and photographs of some of Ebert's work in television and film, animation cels and stills, and samples of his commercial work in graphic design.
From animation stills and original drawings for use in various contexts on television and film, from signoff cards to letterhead for children's television to commercial work of various sorts, Ebert's artwork forms the core of the collection. The original drawings, storyboards, cels, logos, and other design work provide a sense of Ebert's range as a commercial artist and his aesthetic sense, which reflects various currents in illustration of the 1950s and 1960s.
The collection is richest in documenting Ebert's collaboration with Andrew Thorndike on the film Die Alte und Neue Welt (1977), including a script, some original artwork, animation cels, ephemera, and some newsclippings. There is also a script for a trickfilm on which Ebert presumably worked, Sozialismus im Vormarsch.
Glimpses of Ebert's wartime experience can be found in a series of documents pertaining to his imprisonment in England and his medical care during and after the war. The two surviving letters home are not particularly revealing: they are upbeat, despite the imprisonment and hospitalization, and one captures a moment when Ebert was considering a career as an artist. There is also a sample of Ebert's drawings for a graphic prisoners' newsletter along with a pencil self-portrait.
Although the collection is not particularly rich in correspondence, a few letters survive to document turning points in Ebert's career and awards he received. Fortunately, on at least four occasions, Ebert was asked to provide a capsule history of his life which, along with an essay on the meaning of art in his life and a eulogy read at his funeral, make it possible to reconstruct his life course. Less eloquent, but more poignant is a questionnaire from the Landesregierung Sachsen in 1949 probing into Ebert's past, his wartime military service, family connections, and any association with the Nazi Party or its offshoots. Coinciding with the birth of the East German state, the Fragebogen provides quiet testimony to a new nation struggling with the horrific history of its recent past. Of minor note in the collection are a series of documents that hint at life in early East Germany: Ebert's dues books for membership in the Gesellschaft für Deutsch-Sowjetische Freundschaft, Verband Bildender Künstler Deustchlands, and the Freie Deutsche Jugend.
Gift of James and Sibylle Fraser, 2007.
Processed by Dex Haven, November 2008.
For materials related to East German graphic arts, see the East German Packaging Design Collection (MS 519) and the Hans Joachim Ring Collection (MS 566).
Cite as: Siegfried Ebert Collection (MS 576). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.