The son of a conservative Lutheran Minister, Werner Drewes was born in Canig, Germany in 1899. After being drafted into the army and serving two years as a soldier on the Western Front, Drewes was admitted to the Bauhaus (Wiemer) in 1921 where he studied under Klee, Itten and Muche. From 1923 to 1927 he traveled extensively throughout Europe, North America and Asia, obtaining the occasional art commission in order to support his journey. Upon his return to Germany in 1927 he was readmitted to the Bauhaus in its new location in Dessau, where he enrolled in classes with the artists Moholy-Nagy (graphics) and Kandinsky (painting).
By 1930, as political pressure on artists became increasingly intolerable, especially for those artists dedicated to abstract art (Hitler closed the Bauhaus in 1933), Drewes left Germany and emigrated to New York City. Despite the Depression, Drewes flourished in his new environment. He taught printmaking at the Brooklyn Museum under the Federal Art Project, lectured at Hayter's Atelier 17 and was an instructor in painting, drawing and printmaking at Columbia University. In 1937 he was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, the first formal organization in the United States devoted to the creation of non-objective art.
Drewes' reputation continued to grow, and in 1946 he accepted the position of Professor of Design at Washington University in St. Louis. This tenured post afforded Drewes more financial stability and as result he was able to further explore and fine- tune his unique interpretations of the Bauhaus' aesthetic spirit. It was during this time he met, and became good friends with Max Beckman who was also on the teaching staff at the University.
Drewes retired from Washington University in 1965, eventually settling in Reston, Virginia, where he remained active until his death in 1985. Drewes enjoyed a large amount of recognition for his work in these later years including exhibits at major galleries in Germany and Turkey, and a retrospective devoted entirely to his printmaking held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in 1984.
His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery, Philips Collection, Library of Congress, National Museum of American Artists, Smithsonian, Washington, DC; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and Art Institute of Chicago, among others.