From Design Object to Subject
Dr Müller, on the one hand the Bauhaus was one of the first schools for applied arts, accepting those gifted “no matter their age or sex”. In 1919 84 female and 79 male students took up their studies. But shortly after Gropius called for “a strict selection (…) especially from the overrepresented female sex”. Assuming we had a time machine, where would we have encountered women at the Bauhaus?
Initially Gropius had somewhat awkwardly attempted to reduce women to their alleged artisanal tradition of weaving in a kind of women’s workshop. In the end this was an immense source for innovation. As a time traveller one could have contemplated experiments with fabrics, ranging from wool to synthetics, but also the development from the carpet to flooring, from an individual item to industrial production.
The weaving workshop was also the only workshop that had a female master from 1927 to 1931 – Gunta Stölzl. Were women also active in other workshops?
In the metal workshop – among lots of men – we would have met a slim woman with dark hair, Marianne Brandt. She significantly influenced the metal design in her day. We would surely also have met Johanna Hummel before she had to leave the school, because she had – in contravention of the rules – sold the works she had created at the Bauhaus. In the workshop for mural painting we might have seen Lou Berkenkamp, who could often be spotted outside on the scaffolding, despite the work master opposing women’s participation. In the sculpture workshop we would probably have bumped into Ilse Fehling. This was a particular novelty, as the male sculptor was perceived as the prototype of a creator. Probably the most interesting area where one could observe women creating totally new images of women was photography: Women such as Gertrud Arndt were at work here, who staged and portrayed themselves, instead of being mere objects as they had been in painting for millennia.
How could these women eventually assert themselves so successfully despite the resistance of many male colleagues?
As many women were excluded from classic colleges of art, they would often train as photo lab technicians or drawing teachers and at schools of applied art. Many female students were already in their twenties and knew exactly what they wanted. Despite all the resistance against the equal access of women, the Bauhaus strengthened women’s artistic self-confidence. Apart from this, the Bauhaus concept made it possible for many of them to not only engage with art, but for the first time, to complete training in the artisanal field.
Did the scope of influence and development of the Bauhaus women change after the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau?
The increased collaboration with industry during the Dessau period indeed brought about change. Some women took up this collaboration very energetically. A weaving student like Anni Albers advanced her innovative potential by developing materials for industrial use, such as sound absorbing fabric. Others successfully signed contracts for the Bauhaus or were even awarded patents. Take Marianne Brandt as an example. Both her and others were thus able to carve out professional careers as industrial designers.
What do you think are the typical characteristics of the Bauhaus woman…?
On the one hand a woman experimenting in new ways and in fields that had to date not been at her artistic disposal. On the other hand a woman who was also totally innovative in traditional “female” territory and would thus create for art and modernism.
Mrs Müller, thank you for the interview!
[NF 2016; Translation RHN]
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