Saturday, April 28, 2012

Textiles of the Bauhaus
Art Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The German word “Bauhaus” can be translated as the “house of construction”. It is now synonymous with a style of architecture and textiles. The impact and the life span of the Bauhaus and later movements that emanated from its body of work have been well documented. Its founder, Walter Gropius initiated the transformation of architecture, design and design education in the modern world. Therefore it is not my intention to reproduce what a simple Google search would reveal.

Walter Gropius In 1920.

There are some great books written about one aspect of the Bauhaus – its textiles. There is none better than “Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists And The Weaving Workshop”, S.W. Weltge, Thames and Hudson, London (1993). It contains some 220 illustrations (122 in color) and gives an overview of the Bauhaus' on-going impact in this area. It is a great buy! All of the images below (bar Klimt's) have been procured from this book.

A Brief History Of the Bauhaus
The Bauhaus' first home was in Weimer, the capital of Thuringia (Germany), where it succeeded the van de Velde’s School of Art and Crafts. A Belgium, Walter Gropius was well known within the Judenstil (Art Nouveau) movement.

Art Nouveau - Gustav Klimt: The Kiss.

Walter Gropius was also one of the founders of the Deutscher Werkbund (German work group), which were composed of a group of artists, architects and manufacturers, whose goal was to improve the design of man-made products. Branded as an enemy alien, van de Veld was forced to resign in 1914, but he recommended Walter Gropius as a successor, before leaving Germany. The school closed in 1915 and remained so during the duration of the war. Gropius negotiated with the Grand Duke Of Saxe-Weimer to be appointed the director of the School of Arts and Crafts, which was realized after the first world war.

Henry van de Velde’s building of 1904, housed The Bauhaus from 1919 to 1925.

The appointment of Gropius was thought to continue the legacy of van de Veld. However, after uniting the School of Arts and Crafts with the Academy of Fine Arts, the new institution took the name of “Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimer” (State’s Bauhaus, Weimer) and as such he made a radical break with tradition. Years of tension with the host town led to Gropius' decision to close the school on the 26th December 1924 – just five years in its tenure.

In 1926 the city of Dessau became its new host city and the Gropius designed Dessau Bauhaus opened its doors as a landmark of modern architecture. As an international Faculty and student body, with radical teaching practices, the Bauhaus continued to be at the vanguard of design, but in doing so, was the target for hostilities. The Nazi’s caused its final closure in 1933.

Walter Gropius’ building for Dessau Bauhaus.

Gropius' tenet was the arts renewal could only be progressed from the co-operation of artists and craftsmen. By elevating the crafts to the status of fine-arts he called for the desecration of the barrier between the two and so his teaching practice rested heavily on skills development in order that with the acquired skills, conceptual development would then have a basis for development. In placing this tenet into practice, art could not be taught in lectures, but needed to develop in workshops. Gropius would state: “The School is the servant of the workshop and will one day be absorbed by it”. Of all the workshops, only one extended across the life span of the School from its foundation in 1919 to its closure in 1933 and that was the Bauhaus weaving workshop.

Students in the Weaving Workshops could be placed in roughly three categories. First, there were those who were marginal and left without trace of further professional involvement. Second, there were those who completed most or all of the prescribed courses, but because of other artistic aspirations, did not make weaving their artistic mode of expression. Third, were those who approached weaving as a life-long career and not only excelled as designers, but also excelled as educators and disseminators of the Bauhaus “idea”. The latter group was responsible for Bauhaus textile designs spreading throughout the world after the Second World War and moreover, heavily influencing the designers of the manufacturers of textiles.

This can be exemplified by Anni Albers' career. Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college, founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The opportunity to teach and direct the Weaving Workshop at that college launched Anni Albers' career in the USA. After she graduated from the Bauhaus, she had continued to weave at home, unlike her peer group - such as Margaret Leischner and Bennita Otte - who ensconced either in industry or teaching positions. Anni Albers was initially not involved in in either.

She began her teaching career at Black Mountain College where she assigned preliminary weaving studies made from found objects. Albers encouraged playful exploration - the kind she enjoyed during her own student days, but she also believed in teaching sound technical skills. She emphasised weave construction, fiber identification and incorporation, but not the superimposition of plastics, metals, and other material and finishes. Although her students wove and sold functional items (e.g. table cloths etc.) the Weaving Workshop at Black Mountain also involved formal projects, projecting the use of textiles on the stage and in public spaces etc. Under her guidance the handloom became a designers tool.

In 1930 the Czech magazine Red devoted an entire issue to the Bauhaus.
Note: It carried the Otti Berger’s article “Stoffe im Raum” (meaning - materials in a room) in which she examined the role of textiles in interiors.

A Few Textile Outputs From The Bauhaus

Student Output: Silk Applique (1920).
Note: Johannes Itten’s teaching of color theory profoundly influenced his students, one of whom translated it into a color exercise.

Ida Kerkovious Designed Applique (early 1920s).
Note: She had been Itten’s teacher when he was an art student in 1913-1914.

American-born Florence Henri Abstract Composition (1926).
Note: She was a member of the Paris avant-garde and her composition was executed a year before she came to the Bauhaus by her friend the weaver Margarete Willers. Henri did not enter the weaving workshop but did photography instead.

Paul Klee’s Water Color Red-Green Steps In Weimar (1923).
Note: Klee in Dessau taught special design classes just for textile students.

Ida Kerkovious’ Rug (1923).

Benita Otte’s Wall Hanging (1923).

Gunta Stolzl Collage (1924).
Note: Designs for weavings were often executed in mixed media.

Josef Albers Upward (1926).
Note: Josef Albers experimented with sandblasted flash glass.

Annie Alber’s Triple Weave Hanging (1926).
Note: Critics have commented on the similarity between Josef and Anni Alber’s work. Comparison of these works shows her skill as a designer and weaver that bear her own individual stamp.

Anni Albers’ Black-White-Gold I (1950).

Otti Berger’s Rug (1930).


Kate TNB said...

If you are a fan of Bauhaus work, you might be interested in The Northern Block's latest release Stolzl inspired by the woman herself over at:

We are hoping to do a blog post giving more information about this design too, let me know if you'd like to be informed about it.

Kind regards

Kate @

Art Quill Studio said...

Thanks for your kind comment Kate ! Thanks for the information . . . I will have a look at the Stolzl 'bauhaus' inspired font family at the Behance website.