Bauhaus textiles and the women of the weaving workshop
Date: 09 Sep 2021189 Views
The Bauhaus style has been highly influential in modern design, art and architecture, with names such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy synonymous with the style. The term “Bauhaus” actually refers to a German school of art that was billed as an equitable place for both men and women to hone their skills in a variety of crafts. Its statutes read:
“Every eligible person whose talent and training are considered adequate will be accepted without regard to age and sex.”
But in reality, this wasn’t the case, with women often rejected from the “heavier crafts”, such as architecture, carpentry and metalwork. One area where they were encouraged was in textiles where they crafted abstract design carpets and fabrics for industrial production. Over time, the Bauhaus weaving workshop became one of the school’s most innovative and commercially successful departments.
What was the Bauhaus?
The Bauhaus was a German art school that was founded by architect Walter Gropius on the idea of creating gesamtkunstwerk, artworks that combined many forms of art. It operated in Weimar from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 1925 to 1932 and Berlin from 1932 to 1933 before being closed due to pressure from the Nazi regime as it was considered a hub for communist intellectuals.
In the Bauhaus philosophy, design should be governed by practical use, and abstract works could stand on their own, without being nostalgic about tradition. Students were trained to create prototypes for industrial mass production, rather than creating objects of fine art that were only for the elite. Workshops were offered in metal, glass, wood and textiles, with students encouraged to be creative in collaboration with their peers.
The Bauhaus weaving workshop
When the Bauhaus weaving workshop opened its doors, it experimented with mixing traditional techniques and industrial methods. In 1920, a women’s only textile class was started, providing a stepping stone for many in an industry that was still dominated by men. In addition to spinning, the women learned crochet, macrame and embroidery and how these could be incorporated into textiles.
Helene Börner was the first female teacher at the Bauhaus and was the technical director of the Weimar weaving workshop. She began teaching at the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts in 1904 and continued to work privately when the school closed following the outbreak of World War I. While continuing to run her own workshop, she was invited to teach at the Bauhaus under artistic directors Josef Albers and Georg Muche. Here, she oversaw the production of modern carpets and curtains for the model house Am Horn and the Gropius Room of the Bauhaus.
Under her tutelage, the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus was a place where new techniques and skills were explored, with experimentations in colour concepts and weaving forms. The women were approaching textiles as both artworks and utilitarian fabrics while testing new materials and designs. Some of the women Helene taught went on to become teachers and leaders in the Bauhaus industry but few received the recognition of their male counterparts.
Influential women of the Bauhaus weaving workshop
Gunta Stölzl was the Bauhaus’ only female master and played an influential role in the transition to modern industrial carpet designs. When you think of Bauhaus textiles, it is Stölzl’s work that characterises the style. In 1921, she reopened the school’s dye studios and became its weaving director when the Bauhaus relocated from Weimar to Dessau in 1925.
During her time at the Bauhaus, the weaving workshop thrived, with Stölzl experimenting with synthetic materials and applying ideas from modern art into the craft. She is also credited with improving the weaving department’s technical instruction to include classes in mathematics.
Another Bauhaus weaver, Anni Albers, was recently the subject of a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, honouring her role in the development of modern carpets and textiles. In particular, she blurred the line between traditional craft and art in her carpet design ideas.
Albers initially wanted to be admitted to the glass workshop at the Bauhaus but was denied based on her gender. Over time, she came to appreciate the challenges of textiles and went on to produce works with the Bauhaus’ signature geometric designs.
In her writings, Anni Albers says:
"In my case it was threads that caught me, really against my will. To work with threads seemed sissy to me. I wanted something to be conquered. But circumstances held me to threads and they won me over.”
Otti Berger was a Bauhaus student who went on to teach at the institution and experimented with both methodology and materials, including the use of plastic textiles for mass production. Along with Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl, she is credited with pushing back against the idea of textiles being a feminine craft and helped to pull the craft out of obscurity. Unfortunately, Berger’s career was cut short when she was transferred to Auschwitz in 1944 and killed because of her Jewish background.
Marli Ehrman was another Jewish weaver of the Bauhaus school who made her mark after emigrating to the United States. She was invited by the Bauhaus professor, László Moholy-Nagy, to take over the weaving workshop at his newly founded School of Design. Here, she taught basic weaving and textile design, as well as producing industrial fabrics on commission.
In 1941, Ehrman’s upholstery fabrics won first prize in a competition sponsored by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and she later collaborated with the Dow Chemical Company to produce a synthetic, flame-retardant fabric for drapes. When the School of Design closed in 1947, Marli Ehrman continued teaching advanced weavers in private, with the group affectionately known as “The Marli Weavers”. Their experiments were infused with the Bauhaus spirit and they went on to exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1951.
While the Bauhaus weaving workshop closed its doors more than 80 years ago, its legacy lives on today in modern contemporary rugs and abstract design carpets. It is largely due to the innovations and creativity of the above women (and many more) that Bauhaus textiles have made their mark on the world and their recognition is long overdue.
Whether you are looking for Bauhaus-style living room carpets online or modern contemporary rugs, we have a wide choice available at Carpet Cellar.