born in munich
12 years at the bauhaus
master of the
afterwards active textile designer in switzerland
In the textile workshop at the Bauhaus 1919 to 1931
We all came from academies or arts and crafts schools, the men mostly still in a soldier's uniform (which we girls quickly gave a civilian look, for example by dyeing and cutting off collars). There were workshops: the pottery in Dornburg, the print shop and the bookbindery, the carpenter's workshop, the metal workshop and the wall painting, so named because the most urgent thing for us was to wash and repaint the walls.
Appointed by Gropius, these »masters of form« were present in 1919: Lyonel Feininger for the print shop, Gerhard Marcks for the pottery and Johannes Itten. Itten exerted a great attraction because he not only had an ideology and a program, but he also did put this program into action. Once or twice a week we met in a completely empty room, sitting on the floor, the sketchbook on our knees, and we drew with charcoal or pencil: rhythms, materials, plants, everything according to a certain theme.
The question: Which material, which workshop should you choose? was an important concern for most people, along with many other discussion topics. After all, we all came from arts and crafts schools or academies where there was no talk of handicrafts.
I wanted to go to the stained-glass workshop. Since it did not exist yet, I had to go to the city to a glass painter as an apprentice. Very quickly I realized that I could only learn stale craftsmanship there. So I decided to do mural painting. There was enough to do, washing up and painting walls, treating windows and doors, even furniture with varnish, the whole Bauhaus academy was in a state of neglect. In the middle of this hard work somebody had a good idea.
»A Dada booth at the traditional Christmas market in Weimar«, that was the motto. Everyone began to create »handcrafted« things.
Decorations, toys, stuffed animals, dolls, paper games, wooden games; especially attractive were animals made of root wood, treated a bit with a knife and very colorfully painting. The pottery of Dornburg brought a lot of earthenware, also doll's crockery. So we presented ourselves to the public of Weimar for the very first time in a cheerful way, and the success was great, especially with the youth, to whom we finally gave our berets because there was nothing left to sell.
Maybe it was this big success that led me and two other girls to think of a women's class. With this idea we went to Itten and Gropius, and our plan succeeded.
We were not only given a room in the workshop building, but recommendations from Gropius to various old ladies in Weimar, where we could ask for leftovers of fabric, yarn, lace and veils, pearl pouches, leather and furs. The Bauhaus had hardly any funds for material, and we hardly had the subsistence minimum. From these treasures we now made wall hangings, blankets, dolls and animals.
Was work the most important thing? I still believe that life was the most important thing.
It was overflowing with impressions, experiences, encounters, friendships. Friendships that lasted for decades. The beautiful evenings at Feiningers, where music was played and we also got to know Weimaraner artists sympathizing with the Bauhaus or artists who lived there. I remember a festival there, with a field kitchen. After the always hungry were fed, we danced, barefoot because of the beautiful floors. We also went to lectures or concerts in Jena, and since no train returned late, we hiked home on foot on the wave-like rising and sinking country roads lined with fruit trees. Small groups also often visited Dornburg.
Dornburg had a special charm. It was the nucleus of the Bauhaus, because there already existed a workshop like it was planned in Weimar.
Form master Marcks, admired by his students, Crafts master Krehan, an ideal potter, five to six apprentices who together lived in one house - the former Marstall - immersed in a very unique landscape above the river Saale. The first winter of 1919/20 was very eventful for all the students. There were no workshops, with the exception of the pottery in Dornburg. Only Itten offered stimulating lessons. The economic basis for almost all »Bauhausler« was very small; it was great to earn a bit of money for an evening as an extra at the theatre. In all other respects, one used the relationships one still had from one's hometown to sell graphics or arts and crafts there.
The canteen was at times bad, but soon a music band was established, and when the soup was swallowed, chairs and tables were set aside, and we danced!
The dancing and small parties played a big role. A year later, when Kandinsky was appointed to the Bauhaus, he made a large exhibition of his paintings in the »Oberlichtsaal«, and in the evening there was dancing in this hall. What an unforgettable celebration, all the dancing couples in front of the large-sized, colorfully glowing paintings! Also the evenings with Gropius are unforgettable for me; a lot of cheerful things were told, soldier experiences were exchanged, in between also passionately discussed..
Gropius, although with distance, was always the understanding comrade. His inexhaustible supply of peanuts, placed in large bowls, strengthened us »disciples«.
In addition to the ever-changing Bauhaus program, there were also celebrations discussed and ideas collected. From a letter dated at the end of 1919: »Christmas was unspeakably beautiful, something completely new, a 'feast of love', even in the smallest parts. A beautiful tree, lights and apples, a white long table, big candles, beautifully covered, a big fir wreath, all green. Under the tree everything white, innumerable gifts. Gropius read the Christmas story, Emmy Heim sang. We were presented with gifts by Gropius, every Bauhausler so dear and beautiful and precious. Then great food. Above all a solemnity and a hunch of the symbol. Gropius served the food to each one of us. Like foot washing.« There was still much to tell about the festivities. The kite festival, the lantern festival. There were weeks of preparations and joint work.
From the very beginning the parties were the barometer of Bauhaus activity and remained so throughout the years.
But how did weaving come about? The women's class existed. Then I discovered private rooms with looms, private because they did not belong to the Bauhaus.
Girls from the city learned there to embroider - birds, butterflies on self-woven ground - led by the Helene Börner, a handicrafts teacher. In the summer holidays of 1920 I borrowed a high loom and weaved my first small tapestry. Encouraged and supported by the students of the women's class, we went to Gropius in autumn 1920 and asked him to give us the opportunity to work on these looms. Gropius agreed, and we managed to settle down there, first dependent on the favour of »Fräulein Börner« and absolutely dependent on her good will (and our diplomacy) to get us material for our work. Over time, all the looms – including the large carpet looms that were still from Van de Velde's time – were incorporated into the Bauhaus. Börner also had to be taken over, although she had very little knowledge of the craft of weaving; she was just a handicrafts teacher.
We were about five girls who made this beginning. Everything technical, the functions of the weaving loom, the possibilities of crossing threads, the type of thread intakes, we could only acquire knowledge by trial and error; there were many guesswork among us poor autodidacts, combined with some tears.
Now there was also a dyeing workshop, a legacy of Van de Velde. I and Benita Otte were particularly interested in this topic, because here we had the opportunity to color the material ourselves. In the spring of 1921, with the help of Gropius and Georg Muche, who had been form master since 1921, we both obtained a short training course at the Krefeld School for Dyeing and a year later a two-month training course at the Krefeld School for Textiles, because in the meantime Muche and we had become aware of how varied the field of weaving is and that one cannot do without basic knowledge of weaving and material. The students now came from Itten’s preliminary course; it did show a certain clarification as to where the talent and inclination of the individual tended to go. At least a fluctuation was possible; there were students who only tried for a few months and moved then to another area.
One could experiment freely in the weaving workshop under the management of Georg Muche. Whether one dared to try a carpet or a pillow was at the discretion of the apprentice.
1921 was my first occasion to take part in furniture design when I was given the »African Chair« by Breuer. I stretched the warp threads of coarse yarn directly onto the chair seat and backrest through fine holes and stuffed the forms into them like tapestry; the next step was then, again for a Breuer chair, a colourfully structured belt covering. I made another attempt in 1922 with a large hand-knotted floor carpet. I had to work out the Smyrna technique, because there was no instruction. Subsequently, various large floor carpets were created, including one for Gropius' office.
When Itten left the Bauhaus in spring 1923, Muche took over the preliminary course and Klee and Klee took over the weaving workshop for a short time as master of form.
I owe him conceptually clarified problems of form, relationships and colour values. Since 1922 we were able to develop the colours ourselves. We dyed with natural stuff such as cate-chu, cochenille, woad, indigo as well as vat dye and others. Our own workshop was a great help for experiments. Our first weaving works were "painted fabrics", finely structured, with many shades, a rich colour scale. Time was not important; the attempt to live and form the »new« was the only urgent topic. Until 1923 the weaving workshop mainly produced individual pieces, compositions on the flat loom with inlaid forms, knitted wall hangings on the high loom, various double fabrics. Formally and technically, they were constantly »invented«.
With these works we ventured into the Leipzig Trade Fair. The success was considerable and led us in the direction of functional fabrics, fabrics by the metre like curtain and upholstery fabrics.
At the beginning of 1923, all were working intensively for the Bauhaus Week 1923", our first exhibition in the summer of that year. The feverish work pace was unbelievable, but then richly rewarded by the festivities and the success of those days; even all previous storms and battles were completely forgotten in the ecstasy of joy.
From January to autumn 1924 Johannes Itten called me to Herrliberg (Switzerland) to set up and run a small weaving mill there. I accepted this first independent task with enthusiasm. In the autumn of 1924 the great conflicts with the government of Thuringia began. The Bauhaus faltered, the mood fell and rose. Which city will take us in? When the die was cast, there was even more intensive discussion. Programmes were drawn up and rejected.
At the end of 1924, after exciting weeks, the decision had been made: the Bauhaus would come to Dessau.
Hardly anyone knew this city. Which of the masters is coming with us? Who of the students, the journeymen? In the preceding weeks of complete uncertainty, some older students had already been offered apprenticeships at arts and crafts schools. The pottery remained in Dornburg. Marcks was called to Halle, and some went with him. After a few months Benita Otte was also appointed to head of the weaving workshop at the Giebichenstein School of Arts and Crafts in Halle. I got a contract as "teacher of weaving" in Dessau. Muche remained form master until his retirement in spring 1927.
From then on until my retirement in autumn 1931 I was the »Jungmeister« in charge of the textile workshop.
I had to work out the programme for the apprentices' training course up to the journeyman's examination, I had to set up the programme for all the new equipment in the workshop to be procured, order the suitable loom systems, the material for the dye works - from Weimar we could only take very little with us. The construction in Dessau was a training workshop and a production workshop in a large room, a dyeing mill in the basement. The loom systems had to be as versatile as possible, suitable for the beginner as well as for the production; because the aim was now to stimulate experimentation by means of larger orders (also materially, we were still a poor Bauhaus). Until it moved into the new building in November 1926, the workshop was housed in a factory hall. In the new, large, bright room with various loom systems I had about ten to twelve pupils, a foreman and an employee.
The interlocking of training workshop and production workshop was extremely fruitful. The beginner gets the right insight into all processes, he is stimulated in every direction.
The advanced student comes to independent design and execution and participates in the orders - it was experimented in groups - the student could take over the execution (against payment), and large quantities were executed by the employees. Through the connection with the other Bauhaus workshops, larger orders could be processed together. In this way, the student gained an eye for the whole and thus the right attitude to his task.
In addition to these orders, which justified the individual handcrafted production, there were now also orders from industry. These were mainly curtain fabrics, upholstery fabrics and wall coverings.
We didn't work much for fashion. Our main interest was to test new types for the interior. Experimenting with new materials, clearly investigating the functions of fabrics, transparent, dense, soft or stiff fabrics, a precise colour scale and the like were the themes. Our aim was to find out what was strictly appropriate for the material. The composition of the individual piece - be it a tapestry or a floor carpet - receded from Weimar, although even now some fabric pieces were created - freely swinging out, not limited by function and technique. The dyeing shop has retained its important function, because it was precisely for the experimental work that much had to be dyed in small amounts. Each student was able to carry out his own colour experiments, initially under guidance. With my students I visited larger textile enterprises; also during the holidays volunteer positions in mechanical weaving mills were arranged.
The working discipline in Dessau was considerably tighter than in Weimar.
There a student could walk into the weaving mill, weave a floor carpet or a wall hanging and disappear again, and these were sometimes the best pieces. So Peiffer-Watenphul, Bittkow, Kerkovius, Mrs. Schreyer (and others) came to us. In Dessau, however, the three-year apprenticeship contract with the journeyman's examination was regarded as the conclusion; some time later, the Bauhaus diploma could still be acquired. Whether, as in Weimar, a common life and traditional aspiring, still without finished norms and forms - or a more tightly organized school as in Dessau - whether fertilization of artistic creativity through craftsmanship or »art and technology – a new unity«.
The Bauhaus idea did not become ossified; it always remained in the making. It has given meaning and purpose to the obligated persons of a liberated design, no matter in which particular field it was.
born in Munich
admission to the Kunstgewerbeschule Munich
red cross nurse
back to the Kunstgewerbeschule Munich, there through Richard Riemerschmid encounter with the Bauhaus Manifesto. Summer trip to Weimar to meet Walter Gropius. in September admission to the Bauhaus Weimar.
apprentice/journeyman of the Bauhaus weaving; involved in setting up the workshop
appointed to Herrliberg by Johannes Itten, establishment and management of the hand weaving mill; back to the Bauhaus in autumn
april: moving to the new Bauhaus Dessau, as a teacher for weaving. rebuilding the workshop. Education of the students to journeyman's examination and Bauhaus diploma.
1927-1931 Bauhaus Master
marriage to Arieh Sharon (Tel Aviv), student of architecture at the bauhaus; birth of daughter Yael
moving to Zurich, opening of a weaving workshop, until 1937 in cooperation with H.O. Hürlimann
marriage to the writer Willy Stadler
birth of the second daughter Monika
after the closure of her studio she works as a textile artist
she dies in Männedorf, Switzerland
Weimar, fall 1919. What did I find? A small group of students, more men than women. A large building with studios, some of which were occupied by the old academy, next to it large empty rooms, a workshop building, a canteen, a studio house for students, but only for men. Finding a room was not difficult. But where could one work? Which craft did you feel attracted to?
Weaving workshop, Bauhaus Dessau
From: Das Werk: Architektur und Kunst|L'oeuvre: architecture et art, 1968. Download via e-periodica
born in munich
12 years at the bauhaus