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Not a nice hobby for nice girls

The history of the Bauhaus is a history of men. They not only had the say at the legendary art school, but also systematically pushed female students to the sidelines. So it's high time to tell the story differently - and to show that the Bauhaus women were anything but marginal figures.

Not in the mood for good housework: Marianne Brandt and fellow students © Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

Text: Manuel Almeida Vergara

Forgotten, overlooked, underestimated – for a long time this suited Anni Albers and her strikingly patterned fabrics. It also suited Marguerite Friedlaender and her simple tea sets and Gunta Stölz and her abstract tapestries. It suited the toy designer Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, the photographer Gertrud Arndt and the sculptor Ilse Fehling. The only 14-year history of the art school, which was founded in Weimar and achieved international reputation in Dessau, is not just a story of the avant-garde concept, the compatibility of art and crafts, and the friendship of both genres. The history of the Bauhaus is also a history of men.

At least they themselves were convinced of this, the men, teachers and students around school founder Walter Gropius. “In this sense, the Bauhaus was not a role model,” says Uta Brandes. The professor emeritus taught “Gender and Design” at the Cologne International School of Design and today, as co-founder of the International Gender Design Network, she advocates for gender-sensitive design and a fair distribution of roles in the industry. Her voice becomes a little sharp as she reads out Gropius' program for the school's founding in 1919: "Any person in good standing, regardless of age and gender, whose talent and further training is considered sufficient by the master council will be accepted as an apprentice." Surprised and shocked, perhaps one The architect Walter Gropius was a bit offended when many women applied for university places, and in the first year even more women than men studied. A little later it was said that there was a need for “serious sorting out immediately after admission, especially when numbers are based on the over-represented female gender,” Brandes reads. “And if they were already there, then they should at least do what women could already do,” she adds in her own words. “Crochet, knit, embroider, cherish and look after.”

It is known that female students at the Bauhaus were encouraged early on to devote themselves to weaving and ceramics classes. It is even said that they were pushed. The assumption was still valid - even at the progressive Bauhaus - that women were better suited for delicate, simpler tasks than for working with metal or easels. It is all the more remarkable that the women in these classes achieved outstanding results. “Ultimately, it was the textile workshop that brought in the most money for the school,” says curator Müller-Schareck. “In Dessau, the women initiated more and more collaborations with industry, organized trade fairs and made designs for large companies.”

They thought up and produced – not just decorative wall hangings with pretty patterns, but real textile innovations. Anni Albers, for example, invented a sound-absorbing fabric for her final thesis in 1929/30 and then succeeded Gunta Stölz as head of the workshop. “Anni Albers also later said in interviews that she was pushed in this direction,” says Müller-Schareck. “But it’s just impressive to see what the women made of their situation.”

Things were different with Marianne Brandt. She had fought her way through to the hard forms. “At first I wasn’t welcomed warmly. The opinion was that a woman does not belong in the metal workshop,” she later wrote in her “Letter to the Young Generation.” But with adjustable bedside lamps, which were sold under the brand name “Kandem”, she created one of the most commercially successful products in the entire Bauhaus history as early as 1926.

Pictures in the slider: 1: A highly complex process: Anni Albers at her loom | 2: Bauhaus photographs: Lucia Moholy and her work | 3: That fits: Among other things, the “Hallesche Form Mocha Service” from 1930 is now on display in Halle an der Saale.

And yet: interest in the Bauhaus artists and their diverse works only grew towards the end of the 20th century. Today they are more in focus than ever: “They are all united by a search for the timeless, the enduring,” says curator Maria Müller-Schareck. “And the absolute will to create something, to bring something into the world that is not screaming, that does not demand attention, but rather develops a quiet power.”

So it's high time to tell the Bauhaus story differently, to look at the work of the Bauhaus women, the weavers and ceramicists, differently. As functional, innovative and valuable – and just beyond that as decorative, aesthetic and pleasing. Not just a nice hobby for nice girls. “Weaving, for example, is a highly complex and challenging process that has nothing to do with the small manual sewing jobs that women did in the 19th century because they were not allowed to do anything else,” says Uta Brandes. She takes out her quotes again, this time one from Oskar Schlemmer, the versatile artist and head of the mural painting workshop: “Where there is joy, there is also a woman who weaves, even if it is just to pass the time,” she reads. And her voice gets a little sharp.

The article by Manuel Almeida Vergara was published in stilwerk magazine 02/2019 “Anders”.


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