Anni Albers and Beyond: 5 Women Artists of the Bauhaus School

The Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany.

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Though the Bauhaus was founded as an egalitarian enterprise designed to break down barriers of hierarchy, the radical school was not radical in its inclusion of women. Opportunities for women were more abundant in the early days of the Bauhaus, but as the school was quickly overwhelmed by female applicants, the weaving workshop soon became the repository for most female students (though there are some notable exceptions). Architecture, considered the highest of the programs offered at the Bauhaus, did not admit women.

Anni Albers

Perhaps the best known of the Bauhaus weavers, Anni Albers, was born Annelise Fleischman in 1899 in Berlin, Germany. Studying art from a young age, the independent 24-year-old decided she would join the four-year-old Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1923. When asked where she’d like to be placed, she insisted on joining the glassmaking workshop, as she had glimpsed a handsome young professor inside, whose name happened to be Josef Albers, eleven years her senior.

Black, White, Grey (1927).  Courtesy of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Though she was denied placement in the glass workshop, she nevertheless found a lifelong partner in Josef Albers. They married in 1925 and remained together for more than 50 years, until Josef’s death in 1976.

While at the Bauhaus, Albers made a name for herself as a writer and as a weaver, eventually serving as master of the weaving workshop in 1929. She received her diploma after completing her final project, an innovative textile for an auditorium, which both reflected light and absorbed sound. Albers would employ the skills in designing utilitarian textiles she learned at the Bauhaus throughout her life, completing commissions for everything from school dormitories to private residences. Her Éclat design is still produced by Knoll today. 

Albers would go on to teach weaving at the post-modernist school Black Mountain College, where she would move with her husband in 1933 after the Nazis forced the school to shutter.

Gunta Stölzl

Gunta Stölzl was born Adelgunde Stölzl in 1897 in Munich, Germany. Stölzl arrived at the Bauhaus in 1919 after having served as a Red Cross nurse in World War I. Though she came from a family of weavers (including her grandfather), she did not immediately start her education in the weaving workshop, which was formed after her arrival to accommodate the large number of women enrolling in the school.

When the school moved to Dessau in 1927, Stölzl was the first woman to hold a teaching position and would eventually become Master of the weaving workshop, where she embraced an interdisciplinary approach and collaborated with fellow Bauhaus teacher, architect and designer Marcel Breuer to make furniture, to which she would add her colorful textiles as upholstery.

A chair by Marcel Breuer with upholstery by Gunta Stölzl.  Via Wikimedia Commons

Stölzl married Arieh Sharon, a Palestinian Jew, and received Palestinian citizenship, which enabled her family to escape Germany during the Second World War.

Stölzl resigned from her position at the Bauhaus in 1931, fed up with the anti-semitic harassment she received due to her husband’s heritage. The family moved to Switzerland where Stölzl ran a weaving mill until she was in her seventies. She died in 1983.

Otti Berger

Otti Berger, born in 1898 in Croatia, was a highly successful commercial designer of textiles, establishing her own business beyond the walls of the Bauhaus.

Berger entered the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1926 and became known for her ability to express theories of weaving verbally, publishing the influential essay Stoffe im Raum (Materials in Space) in 1930. Berger served briefly as co-Master of the weaving workshop with Anni Albers while Gunta Stölzl was on maternity leave in 1929.

In 1932, Berger set up her own weaving studio, where she produced patented designs, but her Jewish heritage impeded her entry into Germany's Imperial Council for the Visual Arts, which hindered her business’s growth. As the Nazi’s power increased, Berger tried to escape the country, but was unsuccessful in her attempt to find work in England.

Finally offered a position in 1937 at the Chicago Bauhaus (where Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and other Bauhaus professors had decamped after the school’s closing in 1933), she briefly made a detour to Yugoslavia to visit a sick relative. Before she could make it to the United States, however, passage out of the country was barred. Otti Berger died in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 1944.

Isle Fehling

Isle Fehling was a German costume and set designer. She arrived at the Bauhaus in 1920, where she attended stage and sculpture classes. By 1922, at the age of 26, she had patented a design for a circular stage that allowed for productions in the round.

After leaving the Bauhaus she became a successful stage and costume designer, and was known for her architectural, geometric designs, which she produced as the sole costume designer at the Schauspieltheater in Berlin.

Though she worked in the theater by profession, Fehling never abandoned her love of sculpture. Working in both abstract and figurative work, she produced many portrait busts of significant members of Germany’s theater scene.

As with many of the Bauhaus artists, Fehling’s work was labeled “degenerate” by the Nazi party in 1933. Her studio was confiscated and her worked bombed in 1943, leaving little of it behind.

Ise Gropius

While not an artist herself, Ise Gropius was an instrumental figure in the success of the Bauhaus project. The second wife of Walter Gropius, Ise acted as the school’s unofficial face of public relations and marketing. She often wrote about the school for publication in the German press.

Ise Gropius at home.  Getty Images

The courtship of Ise and Walter Gropius was fairly unconventional, as they fell in love at first sight when Ise heard Walter speak about the Bauhaus at a lecture in 1923. Already engaged, Ise left her fiancé for Walter, who had divorced Alma Mahler three years earlier.

The Bauhaus was as much a school as it was a way of life, and Ise Gropius was an instrumental piece of the lifestyle. As the wife of the director, she was meant to exemplify the “Bauhaus woman,” running a functional and well-designed home. Largely unsung, Ise Gropius' impact on the success of the Bauhaus should not be underestimated.

Sources

  • Fox Weber, N. and  Tabatabai Asbaghi, P. (1999). Anni Albers. Venice: Guggenheim Museum.
  • Muller U. Bauhaus Women. Paris: Flammarion; 2015.
  • Smith, T. (21014). Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Weltge-Wortmann S. Bauhaus Textiles. London: Thames and Hudson; 1998.