Gentle and Intuitive Fighters:
The Queens of the Bauhaus
In the Ancient Greece, weaving was a domestic activity for the women as they were responsible for it as well as their households while they were waiting for their husbands who were working or going to the war. Women were regarded as incapable of doing things in comparison to men; thus, they were doomed to weave that was seen as the only thing they could manage. Besides as a necessity at home, after some time, materials that were used in those textile works started to be requested in the market of the society, accordingly, it soon made for the purpose of commerce.
As getting influenced by the introduction above and highly used in the mythology and literature as well; weaving, knitting, crochet, and textile have come until today as a labor of women’s work. Consequently, that the women of Bauhaus school were mostly occupied with weaving workshops is not expected to surprise us even in the twenty-first century.
Bauhaus is a German school that was founded in Weimar, 1919. The art school’s aim is to reunite the connection, which was lost in the rush of the Industrial period, between the creativity of the artist and the manufacturing to create a new industrial aesthetic, what we call now: design. Combining the applied arts with the lifestyle of the mass produce, the founder of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius claimed that the new community of the craftsmen was to be constituted regardless of any class distinction. However, that notion could not be applied in the same way for the gender distinction. The women members of Bauhaus were refused to enter into some classes such as architecture, sculpture, painting and design; but the departments like embroidery that was regarded as their primary labor since the past. Furthermore, these members, whose works are worthy of note, have not been emphasized today as their male counterparts have been so.
Bauhaus is one of the most significant art institutions in the 20th century as it aims to give a soul to the function of the industry with the breath of art. This modern school have raised a great number of contemporary artists and have influenced their following peers. Despite of all these facts, it seems that the school has failed to be nonconventional when it comes to the gender issue that has been an insoluble problem since the very beginning of the humankind and it caused many of the successful women artists to work in the textile departments in spite of the fact that they were into another field of interest. Let’s have a look at what these “incapable” women have accomplished in terms of the industry, art, perspective and influences on even today.
Anni Albers was born in Germany, 1899. Having studied painting in Hamburg, Albers could not have the chance to study painting when she arrived at Bauhaus. So, she had to specialize in weaving as a fact of being a woman. Combining the techniques of weaving with the modern concept, she became the head of the weaving workshop soon.
Albers was mostly known for her fabrics made for the industrial productions. She also developed the geometrical abstraction in the modern textile. What was regarded as one of her innovative work was a wall covering that was made of cotton and cellophane and it had a function to both reflect the light and absorb the sound.
Going to the United States in 1933, Albers soon became a U.S. citizen. There she developed her various abstract techniques pursuing the contemporary textile design. Her creative designs were so acknowledged that she received the title of the first female textile artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Besides being a creative designer in the handloom, Albers became a significant figure with her writing skills. She published the books of On Weaving and On Designing and conveyed her ideas to the forthcoming students, becoming a strong influential figure.”A longing for excitement can be satisfied without external means within oneself: For creating is the most intense excitement one can come to know.”
Being born in Germany, 1897; Gunta Stölzl devoted herself to inspirit the colors to be able to create an abstract art. In this aspect, her ability to think visually helped her to combine the technical attitudes with the complex patterned weaving. Thanks to that, she was relied upon to be the helm of the weaving workshop and became the only female master in the school. Besides, Stölzl brought a new aspect to the notion of textile as the woman’s work. Until her time, weaving was a notion to be considered as something the females were able to handle since it was a quite simple occupation. However, Stölzl turned it into the idea that it was a creative field of art that triggered the imaginative capacity of people rather than the rational thoughts. In Stölzl’s words, “weaving is primarily a woman’s field of work. The play with form and color, an enhanced sensitivity to material, the capacity of adaptation, rhythmical rather than logical thinking — are frequent female traits of character stimulating women to creative activity in the field of textiles.”
After Bauhaus was closed, Stölzl continued to design and weave in Switzerland. With the help of her kaleidoscopic schemes, she helped the industrial design more and more. Like one of her peers Anni Albers, the Museum of Modern Art had her exhibition with her several pioneer works. Constituting her imaginary mind with her experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, color and form, Stölzl advanced to improve herself and become a role model for the forthcomings.
Gertrud Arndt was born in Poland, 1903 and she went to the Bauhaus with the desire of studying architecture; however, it was only when she arrived at the Bauhaus that she found out that the architecture classes did not exist. Therefore, she was enrolled in the weaving course and she carried many successful textiles into effect; even one of her tapestries was used for Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus’s office. It was after getting more accomplished in weaving that she started to improve herself in the field of photography, by taking the photos of some constructions around her.
Speaking of the photography; her “Mask Portraits”, in which she had a series of the self-portraits, is considered to be her most significant workpiece. Her passion of immortalizing life contributed to both contemporary photography and feminism. In this series, she represents an attired woman with laces, veils, scarves and flowers that are all objects of femininity. And here a problem is being posed: are they really so or just seemed to be “female” objects? Giving the same female character in different images, she draws each onlooker’s attention to the notion of the traditional roles of women; that the women have gone through these images because of their society’s gaze. The contradiction is obvious: a woman’s body is in full of ambiguity, either she can gain her freedom through it or she can be entrapped. Like the philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir says, “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” Having affected so many feminists, Arndt’s influence is seen also on Cindy Sherman who is best known for her conceptual portraits.
Marianne Brandt was born in Germany, 1893. Being a skillful student, Brandt became the first woman to be able to attend at the Bauhaus’s metal workshop in which female students were not allowed to. Still, it was a hard time for her because she was not welcomed well by the students despite their teacher’s decision. She uttered, “at first I was not accepted with pleasure- there was no place for a woman in a metal workshop they felt.” She did not give up, but rather did everything she was asked whether they were heavy, dirty works or not; and after leaving of Moholy-Nagy, who was the head of the metal workshop and invited her to there, Brandt was the one to take over his place and studio’s management.
Brandt accomplished one of the essential statement in the Bauhaus’s manifesto and used art’s feature as something functional. She created many aesthetics of the mass production such as tea infuser and ashtray, also they became iconic designs of the Bauhaus. In doing so, Brandt pioneered many artists who created products for the commercial aims. After the effects of World War II, she could not continue to work as a designer and turned her steps towards painting and sculpture.
Siedhoff-Buscher was one of the most women, who were taken into weaving department after finishing the elementary education of the Bauhaus. But later, she managed to be one of the few and switched into the wood-sculpture department which was dominated by male students. Like her many contemporaries, she worked for art’s uniting with the industrial world. And one of her distinctive features was the game she created for children, which was called as “small ship-building game”. In this play, there are 22 blocks which are constituted with the primary colors and they are to be constructed as a shape of a ship. In doing so, the children are able to imitate the objects they see around themselves. Not only that but also they have the possibility to create something different from these blocks, which triggers their imagination and even their intuition. And it is a quite innovative idea for the fresh minds, who especially grow in a society under the effect of war; even it is a chance for them not to be hooked wholly on the industrialism but to use it through art.
Being a child-friendly person, Siedhoff-Buscher also designed an internal place for the children’s room at “Haus am Horn” which constructed for a part of the Bauhaus exhibition and was a typical aesthetical house of the Bauhaus. There, she produced many creative modern pieces of furniture, giving a priority to the children’s growth and development. While the kids were able to enjoy with a puppet theater, after growing up they were using the theater as a bookshelf. Or a changing table was able to be turned into a school desk. With these ingenious objects, she has contributed to the both art and mass-production and her designs are still produced today.
Despite its short-lived existence, Bauhaus has come until today as a modern and artistic school. And many admirable women, who were doomed to weave, have transformed this chore to a revolutionary textile with their creative minds, intuitional hearts, strong power and passionate workings and have contributed art to blossom another bunch of flower, thus turn the cold, gloomy life of humanity into the spring. So does Anni Albers say: