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Bauhaus Women

lotte-beese-bauhaus-women

Lotte Beese, Life at the Bauhaus, group portrait of women weavers in the Weaving Workshop (Webereiwerkstatt), 1927 (image source: www.bauhaus-online.de)
(Top row, left to right) Unknown, Marli Heimann, Gertrud Arndt, Meister Wanke, Gunta Stolzl
(Middle, left to right) Unknown, Unknown, Lene Bergner, Lis Beyer (Beyer-Volger), Otti Berger, Gertrud Dirks
(Bottom row, left to right) Ruth Hollos (Hollos-Consemuller), Grete Reichardt, Anni Albers, 1927

 

The first word that comes to mind with the term ‘Bauhaus’ is revolutionary. When the Bauhaus opened its doors in Weimar Germany in 1919, it became a hub of innovation and creativity, especially for its radical vision of unity between the arts, a utopian society that combined architecture, sculpture and painting into a single creative expression. The curriculum also included many other avenues of ingenuity, including cabinet making, graphic design, interior design, illustration, photography, pottery, product design, typography, weaving and wall painting to name a few. A radical change also took place in regards to art education, replacing the traditional teacher-pupil relationship with an all-involved community. The Bauhaus was radical for many other reasons too; the school accepted female applicants, as well as allowing individuals to pursue a specialist workshop of their choice.

 

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Lux Feininger, Female Bauhaus students on staircase, c.1927 (image source: www.marieclairemaison.com.tr)

 

As many photographs prove, the students were happy to be in an environment that allowed them to pursue their creative avenues without prejudice. Life at the Bauhaus, as its founder Walter Gropius often stated, was about equality, noting that there “shouldn’t be any difference between the prettier and stronger gender”. In fact, women made up more than half the applicants of the Bauhaus.

The twenties, to some degree from today’s outlook, was a time of considerable liberation for women, yet, unfortunately, many of the female artists and designers who studied or were associated with the Bauhaus fail to enter the canon of European modernism, unlike their male counterparts. Often it is Gropius, or others male figures such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that are celebrated as the main contributors of Bauhaus design. Furthermore, many female Bauhausler’s were denied entry to courses such as architecture, sculpture, painting or design classes. Instead, crochet, textiles and weaving was designated for women. Much of the Webereiwerkstatt (Weaving Workshop) was made up of women; despite the apparent progressive attitudes and revolutionised approach to art education, the Bauhaus did in fact hold onto outdated, traditional views in regards to viewing certain subjects as being associated to a particular gender.

Regardless, female creativity was a crucial aspect of Bauhaus textiles, with women receiving the most praise for producing some of the most celebrated fabric designs of the twentieth century. What is especially important about the Webereiwerkstatt is that it was lead by female textile designer Gunta Stölzl, whom created many of the abstract fabrics that decorated the Bauhaus walls. Stölzl encouraged experimentation with unorthodox materials, including cellophane, fibreglass and metal. It was through her innovative and experimental approach to textiles that made Bauhaus textiles and the Webereiwerkstatt a commercial success, providing vital and much needed funds for the school. Many female designers from the Webereiwerkstätte went on to produce vibrant abstract designs that were celebrated within the art world globally – Anni Albers went on to become the first textile artist to be exhibited at the MoMA, taught at the new Black Mountain College in North Carolina and made fabrics for design-led companies like Knoll and Rosenthal.

Gunta Stölzl, Black and White, wall hanging, 1923-24
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)
Anni Albers, Wall Hanging, 1924
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)

Despite the tendency of female Bauhauslers to be allocated to the Webereiwerkstätte, many female artists and designers produced items from other subjects or workshops that were equally as celebrated and sought after as their male counterparts, with many female designers eventually delving into the somewhat male dominated workshops. Gertrud Arndt, although best known for her weaving, also produced many photographs. Her masked self-portraits were particularly progressive and inventive, and she is recognised as a crucial figure in Bauhaus photography.

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Gertrud Arndt, Masked Self-Portrait No.13, 1930
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)
Gertrud Arndt, Masked Self-Portrait No.19, 1930
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)

Marianne Brandt became the first woman to attend the metalworking studio, replacing Moholy-Nagy as studio director in 1928. Many of her designs became iconic expressions of the Bauhaus aesthetic, with her tableware products becoming classic Alessi designs, and her globe lamps designed in 1926 are still long standing bearers of Bauhaus design.

 

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Marianne Brandt, Help! Liberated Woman!, photo-montage, 1926
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)

 

The list continues: Ilse Fehling, a sculptor, was the most sought-after set and costume designer of her generation; Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain became a successful ceramicist in the US with her Pond Hall pottery, and Benita Otte, in the aftermath of the Bauhaus, established her own mill elsewhere in Germany.

Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, At the wheel at Fond Farm, 1950
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)
Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, Model of an airplane cup, 1932
(image source: www.mondo-blogo.blogspot.co.uk)

Although the Bauhaus was short-lived, predominantly due to the pressure of an increasingly right-wing municipal government which eventually led to its closure, the Bauhaus was both graphically and socially innovative, providing an environment whereby some of the most influential and innovative female artists and designers excelled in their creative practice. Despite its brief existence, the Bauhaus and its legacy, in particular the female designers of the Webereiwerkstatt and their geometrically abstract fabric designs remain as modern and relevant today as they were almost a century ago. Stölzl summarised the work of herself and fellow female Bauhaus weavers as aspiring for change artistically:

“We wanted to create living things with contemporary relevance, suitable for a new style of life. Huge potential for experimentation lay before us. It was essential to define our imaginary world, to shape our experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, colour and form.”

The women of the Webereiwerkstatt certainly did that. Aside from their innovation in regards to Bauhaus fabrics and modernist textiles, these women also revolutionised textile design globally after the school’s closure in 1933, with many designers immigrating to America, fleeing Nazi persecution. Furthermore, the women of the Webereiwerkstatt and the Bauhaus in general, remain as a significant point of reference for women’s contribution to twentieth century modernist design.

Revisionist scholarship and feminist art history on the Bauhaus school is only now amending the male-focused canon of European modernism, celebrating the work of some of the most avant-garde female artists that were associated with the movement. In particular, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin has recently celebrated the work of many of the female designers listed above in the ‘Female Bauhaus’ series of exhibitions.  Drawing on this scholarship and our own research, over the coming months We Are Not A Muse will publish a mini-series of biographies of Bauhaus Women, along with images of their work, to celebrate their lives and talent, as well as highlighting the significance that their work has had on contemporary design.

Selected Recommended Reading:

Schönefeld, C., & Finnan, C., Practicing Modernity: Female Creativity in the Weimar Republic, Königshausen & Neumann, 2006

Ulrike, M., Radewaldt, I., & Kemker, S., Bauhaus Women, Flammarion, 2009

Weltge-Wortmann, S., Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop, Thames & Hudson, 1998

Weltge Wortmann, S., Women’s Work: Textile Art from the Bauhaus, Chronicle Books, 1993