Women and Weaving at the Bauhaus

May 22, 2019

The Bauhaus weaving workshop was one of the most inventive and commercially successful departments of the pioneering 20th-century school of art and design. Notably, most of the artists involved were women.

These women were “exploring textiles’ potential, both as works of art and as utilitarian fabrics,” said Laura Muir, research curator for academic and public programs and curator of The Bauhaus and Harvard at the Harvard Art Museums. (Hear more from Muir in the video above.) Collaboration and innovation were paramount in the workshop: artists pursued new designs suitable for industrial production and experimented with novel materials and techniques.

Unlike male students, who could choose their area of focus from among wall painting, carpentry, metalwork, and more, women, with few exceptions, were assigned to the weaving workshop, which was considered a more feminine arena.

Despite those limitations—indeed, in many ways because of them—the weaving workshop today offers some of the richest and most underexplored topics of Bauhaus-related research and artistic inspiration. Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers, for example, is the subject of a recent groundbreaking retrospective at London’s Tate Modern.

Here at the Harvard Art Museums, another important Bauhaus weaver, Otti Berger, is receiving long-overdue attention. Berlin-based artist and author Judith Raum recently delivered an affecting lecture-performance that evoked Berger on the occasion of the opening of The Bauhaus and Harvard. Raum also showcased Berger and the Bauhaus weaving workshop in a video displayed in the museums’ Lightbox Gallery.

Berger “helped to pull weaving out of obscurity,” Raum said during her lecture. “Her importance also lies in the level to which she insisted on experimentation in designing a fabric.”

In the Art Study Center, artist Judith Raum discusses the textiles of Bauhaus weaver Otti Berger.

Raum and other artists and researchers have used the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s Bauhaus collection to research the women of the Bauhaus. With approximately 1,100 textile samples by Berger along with some of her writings held in the Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard is home to the world’s largest collection of Berger objects and papers.

A significant number of works by other Bauhaus weavers, including Albers, Margarete Köhler, Marli Ehrman, and Gunta Stölzl, are a key strength of the collection, and highlights are featured in The Bauhaus and Harvard. Other objects not displayed in the exhibition—such as the selection shown below—are accessible to the public by appointment in the Art Study Center.  

  • BR48.48 Anni Albers, American, Design for a tapestry, 1925. Watercolor and gouache over graphite on heavy cream wove paper. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Anni Albers, BR48.48.

  • BR49.697 Gunta Stölzl, Swiss, Textile sample, 20th century. Textile fibers. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund, BR49.697.

  • BR66.34 Margarete Köhler, American, Wall hanging, c. 1920. Cotton. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Margarete Koehler Estate, BR66.34.

  • BR52.86 Otti Berger, Yugoslav, Sample of upholstery for tubular furniture, 1932–37. Textile. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Ludwig Hilberseimer, BR52.86.

  • 2007.201 Lena Bergner, German, Weaving Technique: K. Six Weaving Designs, 1943. Black ink, partly over graphite, on cream laid paper. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Markus Michalke in honor of Timotheus R. Pohl, 2007.201.

  • BR48.40 Bauhaus Weaving Workshop, Textile sample in red, black, and white,Textile sample in red, black, and white, 20th century. Textile fibers. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Anni Albers, BR48.40.