Anni Albers: Woman of Textiles

Question

I would like to concentrate on Anni Albers and her role as a female textile student of the Bauhaus.
What was the Bauhaus, and its influence on modern art education. Albers role in this influnce
Was the role of textiles chosen for her?
Did women have a voice in the Bauhaus?
Were women encouraged to work with textiles at the Bauhaus? Or, did Anni Albers choose to concentrate in textiles and why?
The connection between her husband/bauhaus and her textiles. How did one influence the other? What’s the connection?

Answer

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Contents

Role of Albers in weaving at Bauhaus. 2

TheBauhaus and its influence on modern art education. 4

Albers role in the Bauhaus influence. 7

Did women have a voice in the Bauhaus?. 7

Connection between Anni Albers’ husband/Bauhaus and her textiles. 9

References. 11

Role of Albers in weaving at Bauhaus

Anni Albers worked in artwork, specifically weaving and as a printmaker. Early in life, she went to Bauhaus where she studied weaving. She entered into this field reluctantly, having been discriminated against on account of her gender when architecture students were being selected. While at Bauhaus, Albers produces many textile works, including curtains, hangings, bedspreads, yard material, and pictorial images. These weavings were made using both industrial and traditional materials. She even weaved items using jute combinations.

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Albers was at Bauhaus when the school shifted focus from craft to mass production (Wingler, 1969). She was able to develop textiles that were functionally unique. The textiles combined many properties such as ability to reflect light, absorb heat and minimize wrinkling. The resulting products were durable and had minimal warping tendencies. Some of the designs that she made were published and consequently, she received many contracts to make wall hangings (Stonge, 1997).

            Anni Albers’ approach to textiles was like that of a sculptor.  She believed in the visual power of her woven works of art. It is interesting that Bauhaus, though seemingly very progressive, was run by directors who did not think that women could achieve much in art. No wonder they rejected Anni Albers’ request that she take up an architecture course.

            After ending up in a textile workshop, Albers embarked on the mission of taking the weaving process to completely new heights. At Bauhaus, she became famous for her tendency to experiment with new materials all the time (Troy, 2002). Eventually, she was able to combine traditional cotton and linen with plastic and linen fibers.

Anni Albers teamed up with her husband to come up with designs that improved the lives of citizens. The vision that Albers had of revolutionizing textiles at Bauhaus led her to end up as a refugee in the USA. She and her husband had to run away from the threats posed by the NAZIs. While studying at Bauhaus, she developed the acts-in-action philosophy through the Arts and Crafts Movement. She left an 8-shaft loom of the countermarch variety at Bauhaus upon graduating with a diploma in 1930. By this time, she was the weaving assistant director.

            Her association with Arts and Crafts Movement is based on many factors. To begin with, she had gotten the opportunity to study at all the three different Bauhaus locations: Dessau, Berlin and Weimer. She is also the one who introduced this philosophy to America. While in the U.S, she was interested in investigating different weaving materials as well as all their unique properties. This interest manifested itself in the attitudes that she adopted while teaching at American universities (Wolf, 1981).

            Anni Albers was able to use unorthodox materials to weave unique patterns. This was a unique idea that was very much in synchrony with Bauhaus philosophy. Similarly, for her degree, Albers made a drapery fabric that had bothlight reflection and sound absorption qualities. The back of the fabric was made with chenille while the front was made with cellophane. It was the norm for art, industry and science to be blended at Bauhaus for functional use.

When the Bauhaus was closed in 1933, Anni, who had married Josef Albers, a Bauhaus artist, had to look for an alternative place from where she could further her dream of furthering her art. The couple immigrated into the U.S. where Anni became an assistant professor at Art at Black Mountain, North Carolina (Kentgens, 2000). She became a naturalized American in 1939, and the moved to New York in 1949. At the Yale University, her husband became Chairman of the Design Department. Anni’s contribution to weaving, many people say, led to worldwide recognition to textiles as an art(Kentgens, 2000).

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TheBauhaus and its influence on modern art education

Bauhaus was a school of design which emerged in 1919 in Germany. Bauhaus became famous all over the world because the designers as well as their students were able to break from tradition in order to develop many attractive modern styles. The main intention of Bauhaus school was integrating technology, art and craftsmanship in order to generate new designs, while ignoring all precedents. This way, many highly attractive modern designs emerged from the school.

The Bauhaus school also led to the emergence of a new philosophy of design. Many designs were produced through the motivation of this philosophy. They ranged from furniture to architecture to typography. A common belief in Bauhaus was that any type of design should be considered to be a form of high art just as does sculpture and painting.

In 1919, the German economy was in near collapse immediately after the World War I. A new institution was established in order to help in the work of rebuilding the country through the formation of a new social order. This institution, named Bauhaus, followed a ‘rational principle’ in providing workers with housing. Architects at Bauhaus rejected all “bourgeois” details including decorative details, eaves and cornices (Whitford, 1984). Only classical architecture principles in their pure form were used; ornamentation of any kind was strongly rejected.

Walter Gropius was the leader of Bauhaus immediately upon its establishment in Dessau and Weimer. This school spread to different places all over the world. The school became famous because of the unique way in which it renewed architecture. All its leaders: Ludwig Mies, Hannes Meyer and Walter Gropius, were architects by profession.

 The origin of Bauhaus can be traced to the latter-day forms of pedagogical knowledge. Bauhaus was idealistically based on a program that was socially oriented. Two main social tenets had to be put into consideration for an architectural work to be considered to be from Bauhaus school. First, the artist had to be conscious of the social responsibility that he has towards his community. Second, the community had to accept the artist as well as offer him all the support he needs in order to do his work.

An important goal of Bauhaus school was developing creative minds that were needed in industry and architecture, thereby influencing them to succeed in producing works of art that were practically, technically and artistically balanced. In Bauhaus school, there were workshops for various departments such as photography, stage planning, advertizing art and typography. In all these regard, the form lines of the school were influenced by constructive and neoplastic movements.

According to the manifesto of the Bauhaus school, there is no such a thing as “professional art”; architects, sculptors, weavers, and painters are all craftspeople and should all start engaging in crafts. Additionally, the manifesto recognizes the need for collaboration among all craftsmen in the quest for a unified approach to fine art. This way, the Bauhaus school hoped to bring together different elements of fine art for decoration purposes.

            The manifesto further asserts that no difference between a craftsman and an artist; that the artist is a craftsman who has been exalted. The aim of the Bauhaus school was to eliminate the class distinction that existed between an artist and a craftsman. This way, new building principles would be conceived through collaborative efforts involving sculptors, architects and painters.

            The foundation of the Bauhaus teachings was the concept of a unified approach to practical and artistic tuition. Each student had to go through a preliminary course before entering into a workshop of his choice. Different types of workshops were built: wood sculpture, metal, weaving, glass painting, pottery, cabinet making, typography, three-dimensional work, wall painting, among many others.

            The German government was unwilling to give students general allowances. In fact, political pressure had been mounting on the Bauhaus right the beginning. After the government withdrew economic support to this school, a new location was found in Dessau in 1925. In late 1926, the school got full accreditation by the government and all masters promoted to ranks of professors.This is how the school got the subtitle of “School of Design”. Political difficulties led to closure of the Weimer branch of this school.

Scientific developments in design were promoted during the leadership of Hannes Meyer, a Swiss architect who took over from Gropius in 1928. Bauhaus started losing a splendid universality when it started taking shape as a ‘vocational university’ especially after the takeover of Ludwig Mies der Rohe, a German architect, as director.At the initial stages of education, the school started teaching vocational subjects with little emphasis being put on training. This way, the college started to act like a private institution and continued this way until its closure by the Nazi government in 1933.

Albers role in the Bauhaus influence 

Anni Albers was one of the founding members of Bauhaus weaving workshop. Together with her teachers, her work was instrumental in raising the image of weaving, an art that many people at that time considered “primitive”. Her efforts were instrumental in creating a new approach through which weaving was studied within the realm of modern art.

            Albers took advantage the opportunities presented by her circumstances to achieve many things at Bauhaus. She elevated the level of loom’s craftsmanshipto the status of fine art. However, considering other Bauhaus alumni, she is just one among many other women who made tremendous achievements.

Anni Albers teamed up with GuntaStolzl in order to produce exciting and ambitious textiles which explored many different design permutations. These two women were not merely following in the footsteps of men; they clearly indicated this when they rejected the proposition that the work they were doing was merely a way of visual expression through art(Anscombe, 1984). Through this way of thinking, these women were able to make a very wide range of textile products.

Did women have a voice in the Bauhaus?

At the end of the World War II, Germany was facing so many economic and social problems that there was no room for any for any form of feminist movement to flourish. However, in Bauhaus, women had an opportunity to engage in a rewarding struggle. 

In Bauhaus, some courses were perceived to be the reserve of women while others were thought to be only for men. For example, women were not expected to take up architecture-related courses; rather, they were expected to do weaving. Only men were registered into architecture courses (Anscombe, 1984).

The student body at Bauhaus was always rather small. To begin with, there were only 40 students, a quarter of who were women. This was in 1919. By the end of 1929, there were 170 students 30 percent (51) of whom were women.  Out of these 51 students, 19 were taking weaving courses (Dearstyne, 1986).

            With time, masters started to be more accommodative to women’s demands. GuntaStolzl, together with some other two women requested Gropius, Bauhaus leader, to introduce a class where women could make wall hangings, toys and covers using scrap materials that Women Weimer had donated. This request was responded to promptly.

Although many people thought that women of Bauhaus were only to be found in the weaving workshop, there were many achievements being made by women in other disciplines as well. Marianne Brandt is one of these women. She excelled in the metal workshop. Alma Buscher, on her part, made a lasting impact in cabinet making. This diversity in terms of disciplinary preferences, notes Naylor, 1985, made women’s voices to count a great deal both within Bauhaus school and all over Germany.

Marianne Brandt explains in Naylor, 1985, that “at the metal workshop, I was not cordially invited since there was no place for any woman here. Later on, things started to settle down and we could get along together pretty well”.  To begin with, Brandt was designing traditional metalwork objects such as silver tea services. With time, she became very concerned with creation of functional objects that were simpler, including lamps, ashtrays and cooking utensils. Through her efforts, she was able to become a dominant figure in the workshop class.

At the carpentry workshop, the only female student was Alma Buscher. She honed her cabinet making techniques to make innovative experimental works of art during the time that she studied at Bauhaus. In order to be able to create designs for children’s furniture and toys, she had to take time to research on many different children’s plays.

Connection between Anni Albers’ husband/Bauhaus and her textiles

Josef and Anni Albers met at Bauhaus. Josef attended the architecture class while Anni attended the weaving class. Anni had interest in pursuing an architecture course like her husband but the school’s administration did not think that architecture was an ideal course for a woman to pursue. While Josef was known as a writer, teacher, color theorist and painter, Anni became a respected weaver, textile designer, printmaker and writer. She inspired people in the textile industry to reconsider fabrics as a form of art, both in terms of their functionality as well as wall hangings.

The main reason why Anni entered the weaving class was because it was the only class that was available for her. The influence of Bauhaus on Anni Albers was as profound as that of her husband. Both influences were important in her quest to try out on new materials in order to make richly colored designs for both textiles and wall hangings.

The greatest influence that the Bauhaus school had on Anni Albers was a shift in focus from being a center of learning per se to a place for coming up with innovations that would be produced and sold to the entire German population. This shift in focus made Anni learn how to integrate the aspect of functionality into her textiles works and wall hangings.

It is through her Bauhaus training that Anni was able to produce many rectilinear designs based on abstract color relationships. On his part, her husband Josef Albers was instrumental in influencing her to start the work of print production in 1963. She was producing prints using screen-printing, lithography, inkless intaglio and etching techniques.

The relocation of Bauhaus to Dessau coincided with change in attention from craft to production. After marrying Josef Albers, Anni began learning many things relating to writing crafts and teaching, things that impacted positively later in life when she started writing, lecturing and producing prints.

It was through her husband that Anni Albers chose to emigrate into the U.S and to take up teaching at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. Until 1949, both of them were teaching in this college. Gropius, who had influenced her weaving career earlier on at Bauhaus, was at it again. This time, he came to her with a commissioning offer. She was commissioned to design fabric patterns for mass production.

For Anni Albers to become a good barometer of measuring the contributions made by women in fine arts, it is worth noting that she succeeded largely because of the influence and support of her husband as well as her teachers at Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was particularly an instrumental launching pad for Anni’s career. The environment was challenging, many prejudices existed and most importantly, Bauhaus school took an extremely liberal approach to fine art, enabling Anni to pursue new artistic ideas that were based on visual stimulation.

The foundation course was grueling and challenging. Although it was not her wish to find herself seated behind a loom, she used the opportunity to lay the foundation for revolutionary changes in the textile industry. Egalitarian as Bauhaus school was, physiques such as Anni’swere considered too fragile to withstand the challenges that students had to face in the metal, furniture and architecture classes (Gropius, 1965). Nevertheless, Anni Albers was able to use her only meaningful opportunity to explore many aspects in textiles that many weavers today always take for granted.

References

Anscombe, I. 1984.A Woman’s Touch: Women in Design from 1860 to the Present Day. New York: Viking Penguin Inc.

Dearstyne, H. 1986.Inside the Bauhaus. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Gropius, W. 1965.The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.

Kentgens, M. 2000. The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, Journal of Design History, 13(4):341-344

Naylor, G. 1985.The Bauhaus Reassessed: Sources and Design Theory. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Stonge, C.  1997. Women’s work: textile art from the Bauhaus, Woman’s Art Journal, 18 (1) p.  41-43.

Troy, V. 2002. Anni Albers and Ancient American Textiles: From Bauhaus to Black Mountain. London: Ashgate Publishing.

Whitford, F. 1984.Bauhaus. London: Thames and Hudson.

Wingler, H. 1969.The Bauhaus. Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.

Wolf, T. 1981.From Bauhaus to Our House. Toronto, Canada: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

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