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Women of the Wiener Werkstätte

An internet image search for ‘women of the Wiener Werkstätte’ brings up pictures of ceramics, fashion clothing and accessories, illustrations, postcards, textiles, silverware and sculptures, all produced by women working for the Wiener Werkstätte (the Vienna Workshops, founded in 1903 as the commercial art and crafts arm of the Vienna Secession). Much harder to find are images of the female makers themselves. Apart from photographs of the most known women associated with the Werkstätte (Mela Koehler, Maria Likarz and Vally Wieselthier) just one tiny image of four women, informally posing for the camera in what appears to be a studio, tells of a larger female presence in this modern design collective.

 

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From top: Hilda Jesser, Lilly Jacobsen, Vally Wieselthier and Fritzi Löw
(image source: www.woka.com)

 

But even this is just a drop in the ocean, for despite art history’s prioritising of the male founders of the workshops, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, women made up the majority of the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte.

Female creativity was always an important aspect of the Wiener Werkstätte, from its roots in the coalition of artists, architects and artisans called Wiener Kunst im Haus (Viennese Domestic Art), which was made up of former students of Hoffmann and Moser from Vienna’s Kunstgewerberschule (School of Applied Arts). The gender balance of the group – five women and five men – was commended by contemporaries as being a step forward for the growing women’s movement, while it was the work of the female members – Gisela Falke von Lilienstein, Marietta Peyfuss, Jutta Sika, Therese Trethan, and Else Unger (who would go on to work for the Werkstätte) that received the most praise, something the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte capitalised on. The domestic realm was considered a feminine space, and therefore women best placed to design for it, and so their work was supported and promoted.

 

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Maria Likarz-Strauss, designer of graphics, ceramics, textiles and fashion
for the Wiener Werkstätte (image source: www.liveinternet.ru)

 

Women’s presence and importance in the Werkstätte continued to grow, particularly with the formal founding of its fashion department in 1911 (though it had been designing and producing clothing prior to this date), and with the onset of war in 1914, they dominated design and production. Also producing for the Wiener Werstätte were students at the Künstlerwerkstätten (Artist Studios), established by the Werkstätte in 1916, who received commission for unique pieces sold to the Werkstätte. Ceramicist Wally Wieselthier, who worked there from 1917, talks about it as all-female paradise, where experimentation and freedom of expression was allowed to flourish unencumbered by doctrine.

 

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Mela Koehler, graphic designer, book illustrator and decorative artist, most known for her Wiener Werkstätte postcard designs (image source: www.europeana.eu)

 

Here are just some of the names of women who produced work for the Wiener Werkstätte:

Martha Alber, Gudrun Baudisch, Fritzi Berger, Lotte Calm, Mathilde Flögl, Mizi Friedmann, Lotte Frömel-Fochler, Hilda Jesser, Berta Kiessewetter, Mela Koehler, Erna Kopriva, Maria Likarz, Fritzi Löw, Elena Lusch-Makowska, Gabi Möschl, Valerie Petter, Maria Pranke, Felice Rix, Kitty Rix, Reni Schaschl, Anny Schröder, Jutta Sika, Susi Singer, Agnes Speyer, Dora Suppantschnitsch and Vally Wieselthier

Some are less well-known than others, but all played a part in the success of the Wiener Werkstätte in its aim of creating harmonious interiors that achieved their ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’) and in applying principles of good design to everyday objects.

Recent revisionist and feminist art history has begun to explore the role of women in the Wiener Werkstätte, re-inserting them into the male-dominated canon of Viennese modernism. Drawing on this scholarship and our own research, over the coming months We Are Not A Muse will bring you a mini-series of biographies of Wiener Werkstätte Women, along with images of their work, to celebrate their lives and talent. We look forward to telling you more about these artists, who were prodigious and extremely versatile in their artistic endeavours, and who are some of the greatest unsung heroines of modern design.

 

Selected Recommended Reading:

Caitlin J. Perkins Bahr, Women and the Wiener Werkstätte: The Centrality of Women and the Applied Arts in Early Twentieth-Century Vienna, Thesis, Brigham Young University. Download: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/etd/3987/

Megan Brandow-Faller, ‘Feminine Vessels: The Ceramic Sculptures of Vally Wieselthier’, Woman’s Art Journal, Fall/Winter 2014, Vol. 35 Issue 2, pp. 28-36

Julie M. Johnson, The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900, Purdue University Press, (2012)

Rebecca Houze, ‘From Wiener Kunst im Hause to the Wiener Werkstätte: Marketing Domesticity with Fashionable Interior Design’, Design Issues, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Winter, 2002), pp. 3-23

Rebecca Houze, Textiles, Fashion, and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary Before the First World War, Ashgate, (2015)

Elisabeth Schmuttermeier and Christian Witt-Dörring, Postcards of the Wiener Werkstätte: a Catalogue Raisonné, Neue Galerie, (2010)