Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop

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9780500280348: Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop
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The preeminence of the Bauhaus in the history of twentieth-century design is undisputed, and most aspects of it have been minutely examined. Yet its Weaving Workshop, whose artists were almost all women, has received much less attention. As the author points out, when talented women arrived at the Bauhaus school, they soon discovered that its founder, Walter Gropius, was not adhering strictly to his ringing declaration of equality "between the beautiful and the strong gender." Textiles, in the hierarchy of art and design, were deemed "women's work." In this model study, superlatively illustrated with period photographs and examples of surviving textiles, Professor Weltge recreates the heady atmosphere of creative excitement at the Bauhaus. Drawing upon original archival research and interviews with Bauhaus survivors, their students, and leading contemporary designers, the author details the Weaving Workshop's history and its enduring legacy. In the early years of the Workshop, the emphasis was on hand weaving and individual artistic expression. However, following the Bauhaus exhibition of 1923, the Weaving Workshop moved to the forefront in developing prototypes for the textile industry. Eagerly embracing advanced technology, the artists incorporated new or unusual materials, produced multilayered cloths, and made extensive use of the Jacquard loom. When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933, its members dispersed to Switzerland, Holland, England, France, Russia, Mexico, and the United States, where Black Mountain College and Mill College became Bauhaus outposts. The ideals and influence of the Weaving Workshop's artists live on in marvelous fabrics still being produced today.

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Review:

Admissions literature for the Bauhaus school of art in the 1920s and early 1930s described an egalitarian community, with "absolute equality but also absolute equal duties." Women artists arriving at the Bauhaus were nevertheless immediately shuttled off to the weaving workshop, regardless of their interest in textiles. As Sigrid Wortmann Weltge explains, this was only the first indication that all was not progressive in this school of modernism. "They were at the Bauhaus because it had promised equality in the choice of a profession. In reality they found that their role within the institution was defined and formulated by their teachers. Only then did it become apparent that they were assigned talents and capacities viewed as innately female, of which a special predilection for textiles was only one."

Those who chose to stick it out in this sexist environment went on to create textiles which were some of the most beautiful and underappreciated art of the era. The weaving workshop eventually became a "laboratory for industrial fabrics" and one of the most financially successful workshops in the Bauhaus. This book chronicles the creative growth of the workshop within the larger context of the Bauhaus, and it unearths the history of individual artists such as Gunta Stolzl, Anni Albers, Benita Otte, Otti Berger, and Marli Ehrman. The author interviewed surviving Bauhaus weavers and their students, and she collected photographs--many of them rare--to illustrate nearly every page of this handsome work. --Maria Dolan

About the Author:

Sigrid Wortmann Weltge is Professor of Art and Design History at the Philadelphia University.

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