When I graduated from college the name of the game was “get to know as many people as you can because it’s all about WHO you know rather than WHAT you know”.   While I am a very social person I am not a believer of this truth as some would have you believe.  Instead, I will maintain my Pollyanna position that believes I am in control of my future and I will make things happen for myself.  But this is not to maintain that other people will not be a part of my journey, they just will not be the vehicle which drives me. 

You see, I come from parents who had nothing but blood, flesh, family, and the breath they owned.  They created something from nothing, created a family from being children themselves, and created a home where a garden hose breaking apart and spraying everyone on a hot summer day was considered “a great day”.   The chasm between having that type of inspiration to make something of yourself and the mantra of success coming to you because of someone you could have met on the homebound train is so large it boggles my mind. 

Instead of putting all my notorious “success” eggs in one “philosophy” basket; I would rather base my success on reciprocity.  The most profound post-graduation thing I have learned is that my job is to find opportunities for artwork to have life and then invite as many people as I can to join along.   During school it was alluded to that there were certain people who you wanted to befriend because they would open doors for you.  But really, all artists should be opening doors for each other.  We should be more united and be looking out for each other and to promote each other.  See, there’s Polly…but it’s so true.  It doesn’t matter that we’re sculptors, photographers, designers, collagists; instead what matters is we are all trying to find connections between people and our work. 

There is just as much joy in having a friend of mine sell a piece of artwork as there is for me to sell one.  If we all embrace that theory than it no longer matters WHO you know, it just matters that you know everyone.  I would like to be known as an artist who provided more opportunities for others than the numbers of works I created.  I would like people to say that I made a little difference in the arts by trying to reunite all artists to celebrate our differences and likenesses, rather than who knew who.

Girl power!! (part two) week I began to chat about Gunta Stolzl and her fabulous influence on the Bauhaus.  Although Gunta had befriended some powerful people there, such as Klee, Kandinsky, Breuer; it would still be very difficult to be considered for her talent and ability to succeed professionally at the Bauhaus.  Gunta was asked, as a student, in 1920 by Walter Gropius himself to head up a women’s class that was founded by the masters and she gladly accepted. Instruction at the Bauhaus was informal and most often the scenario was the students teaching each other. Shortly after this she collaborates with Marcel Breuer to craft the ceremonial “African Chair”. In 1922 Gunta attends a class on dying materials in Italy and brings that knowledge back to the Bauhaus and establishes a dying facility at the Bauhaus.

Although she was highly regarded by the masters at the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius included, there was not one of these existing masters who would directly assist her in acquiring a teaching position. This would not be acceptable to many of her students and through a powerful group campaign Gunta would become the only person in the Bauhaus to receive her position by a group vote process. The student body at Bauhaus were a powerful group with regards to the value of the instructors. In 1925-26 the women students she taught, after a passionate struggle on their own behalf, finally managed to commandeer a vote and managed to get Stolzl promoted to a senior position. This would prove to be a monumental event as Gunta became proof that a woman could be successful as a senior member of the Bauhaus.

It was in 1927 that Gunta Stolzl was given the title of “Jungmeister” (Young Master) and became responsible for the entire Weaving Workshop now located in Dessau. She completely reinvented the weaving workshop by creating a systematic method of training and restructuring the theoretical and practical approaches to weaving. Gunta Stolzl separated weaving into teaching parts and production parts. She had created pattern books for the fabric industry as well as performing experiments on new hard-wearing materials that could also be affordable. Gunta desired the entire workshop production output to be both professional and cost-effective. Historically Stolzl’s workshop would be considered one of the most profitable workshops in the Bauhaus. The Dessau Bauhaus was more concerned with architecture than the Weimar one was so she was forced to implement harmony in the production pieces that would integrate well with the building styles being produced at Bauhaus. At this time handmade pieces of weaving were becoming increasingly extinct. Gunta left the Bauhaus temporarily in 1924 to use her honed organizational skills assisting Johannes Itten in establishing his Ontos Weaving Workshops near Zürich after he left Bauhaus.

In 1931 Gunta would be forced to resign her position with the Bauhaus in order to save her reputation. The same strength in students that raised her to her position would be the same strength that would pull her back down. A small group of students, who were supported by masters with the same political positioning, would make Gunta’s life unbearable at the Bauhaus forcing her to resign. After leaving Bauhaus she was forced to leave Germany also as she lost her citizenship due to her earlier marriage to Jewish architect Arieh Sharon and she was now classified as a Palestinian. That same year she moved to Zürich Switzerland and begins her professional career as a weaver. She partners with Gertrude Preiswerk and Heinrich-Otto Hurlimann to create a hand-weaving shop, participating in trade shows and fairs. This union dissolves and she remains only with Heinrich-Otto Hurlimann and produces wall coverings, curtains, upholstery, coat and dress fabrics. It is here that she develops a pioneering “cellophane fabric” for the cinema theaters in Zürich. They enjoy successes together, even earning an honor at the Exposition Internationale in Paris in 1937. Hurlimann however leaves the company while teaching at the School of Arts and Crafts (where Gunta was schooled as a child) and Gunta runs the workshop alone while renaming it “Handweberei Flora” (Flora Handweaving Mill).

Gunta continues to go on participating in exhibits, producing blankets, dress fabrics, wall coverings, as well as hand-knotted carpet and drapery fabric. She completes work for the interior of the Swiss Pavilion in Lyon as well as private homes published in the Werkbund journal “Das Werk” and church vestments. In 1976 she solo exhibits at the Bauhaus-Archive in Berlin and dies in 1983.

Gunta Stolzl embodied such strength and courage at a time when it was very difficult for women to establish themselves as equal to men. If you will kindly indulge me, my grandmother carried much of that same philosophy and during roughly the same era. My grandmother, Emma, divorced her husband in 1939 at a time when women didn’t initiate marital divorces; worked numerous jobs to support her four children; and also worked in a factory making bullets for the military during World War II. After the war she opened a tavern in the South side of Chicago which was unusual for a woman to do during that time of male dominance. Although her and Gunta didn’t have similar lives, I believe they both possessed the will to fight against the stigma of what women were to be during their lives all the while winning the admiration of others (male and female), and persevere no matter what the odds are against them.

I admire Gunta Stolzl for reasons that I never would have foreseen in writing this blog.  Gunta’s life and perseverance inspires me to endure, perhaps even idealistically succeed in changing the way some other people think. A woman can dream.


Manifesto. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. cited February 22, 2008.

New Acquistions: The African Chair. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. cited March 4, 2008.

Gunta Stolzl. Bauhaus (Red Book). Konemann (Edited by Jeannine Fiedler and Peter Feierabend), 1999. cited February 13, 2008.

Biography. Gunta Stolzl – Bauhaus Master. cited February 13, 2008.

Hans M. Wingler. The Bauhaus: Weimer Dessau Berlin Chicago. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1969.

Girl power!! Part-one… often enough, when reading about the Bauhaus, are you able to enjoy stories of the female influence there.  Instead you absorb tales involving names like Gropius, Itten, van der Rohe, Klee, Kandinsky, Breuer; but there were some fabulous female gems amongst all that testosterone.  My favorite was Gunta Stolzl, born Adelgunde Stolzl.  I was immediately fascinated by her weavings. Her artwork is bold in color and style as well as having a distinct function as they were used as floor coverings and furniture coverings. Gunta Stolzl truly embodied what Walter Gropius stated in his Bauhaus manifesto in 1919. The manifesto is a call to arms to the creative people to once again return to their sense of “craft” in producing art. Walter Gropius proclaims in his manifesto “The artist is an exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labour of his hand, but a base in handicrafts is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies.” Gropius also declares the decorating of a building was “once the noblest function of fine art”.

It was in learning more about Gunta Stolzl that I came to admire her strength and tenacity as an artist and as a woman. She reminded me of my maternal grandmother who was not on the same path as Gunta, however embodied Gunta’s sense of capability in a time when women were certainly not looked upon as equals. Gunta Stolzl was born in 1897 to a father who was a liberal-minded teacher. She would keep journals of philosophical readings as well as discussions on novels. She would graduate at age 16 from a high school for professional men’s daughters. During that time her father realizes her artistic talents and pushes her to study at Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Munich. There she studies painting, ceramics, and art history while compiling hundreds of sketches. After 3 years there she suspends her education to volunteer as a Red Cross nursing assistant in the war during the years 1917-1918. She stays until the end of the war and continues her journaling and sketching.

In 1919 Gunta returns to the School of Arts and Crafts in Munich and engages in a student’s curriculum reform organization where she became familiar with Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus manifesto. After reading this document Gunta is drawn to Weimar and enrolls for the autumn session at Bauhaus. In her journals that she kept while there she writes favorably about the ease of communication felt between the students and the teaching staff, which she is enjoying very much. Gunta’s diary during this time also contains a historically valuable recounting of Johannes Itten’s instructional approach while at Bauhaus.

Another strong influence for Gunta, and there were many, was social reform ideas that made their impact on Gunta as well as many Bauhaus members. The most influential ideas came from the Wandervogel movement. The Wandervogel movement was a German Youth Group (functioning much like the English scouts) who was interested in getting away from restrictive societies and moving towards the altruistic lifestyles, which existed in nature and freedom. I believe this movement was influential on those who embraced Bauhaus philosophies as it provided intense camaraderie and closer relations.

Gunta was at the Bauhaus for 12 years total, but 6 of them would be as a student where she studied under Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, and Paul Klee to name an important few. The weaving area, which Gunta would study in and later run, was from the very beginning the domain of the women at Bauhaus. It was difficult for women, especially during the Weimar years, to break free into other workshops. In order to move into another area you had to prove yourself particularly talented due to the “avoid unnecessary experiments” philosophy of the men’s desire to keep women out of the other areas. Men’s desires or not, Gunta would not go unnoticed or unrecognized for long amongst the men at Bauhaus.

Gunta Stolzl was a dynamic student and attended the very first Bauhaus class taught by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky in 1921. The influence of these two men can be seen in her early abstract works on paper (seen at It is not possible to cut and paste these drawings to receive the irrefutable impact Kandinsky and Klee made due to a lengthy approval process by Stolzl’s family who governs her image archive. Along with the imagery influence, Johannes Itten’s color philosophy also has a profound affect, which can be witnessed in her later weavings from 1923 and later. While a student, Gunta crafts two knotted carpets that are both sold during the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition at the House am Horn building.

Gunta, in 1921, collaborated with Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus to create what I believe to be one of the most exquisite pieces to come out of the school. The “African Chair” was made of painted oak wood with weaved fabric freely designed and produced by Stolzl. After creating the fabric piece, she stretched it onto the back of the chair using holes in the framework. The African Chair had been lost for a number of years and only recently recovered in 2004 and returned to the Bauhaus Archive Museum. Prior to that the only proof of the chair’s existence was a black and white photograph of the piece. There is no concrete evidence as to the original purpose of the chair, but historical speculation runs rampant. Some of the inferences include a throne for Walter Gropius to confirm his belief that architecture was the “mother of all arts in classical architectural theory” or that perhaps the chair was a symbolic wedding chair influenced by the budding relationship between Breuer and Stolzl during that time.

Although Gunta had strong allies in Breuer, Klee, Kandinsky, and Itten it would not prove easy for her to advance her teaching status in the Bauhaus to master since she was never technically a protégée of any master.   Come back next week to see how she would fare in her future at the Bauhaus.


Manifesto. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. cited February 22, 2008.

New Acquistions: The African Chair. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. cited March 4, 2008.

Gunta Stolzl. Bauhaus (Red Book). Konemann (Edited by Jeannine Fiedler and Peter Feierabend), 1999. cited February 13, 2008.

Biography. Gunta Stolzl – Bauhaus Master. cited February 13, 2008.

Hans M. Wingler. The Bauhaus: Weimer Dessau Berlin Chicago. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1969.

Finding your inner child….

I was originally going to chat about Johannes Itten and my personal fascination with him, his personality, microbiotic eating habit, and his Bauhaus effect.  However in looking through some old papers, I stumbled across a picture of Paul Klee’s Red Baloon, 1922 and felt compelled to write about it. 

Paul Klee was asked to join the Bauhaus in 1920 by Walter Gropius and he would remain there for 10 years and produce over 10,000 works during his tenure as a professor.  Earlier than that he had become friends with Wassily Kandinsky and the two of them would remain as such for the remainder of their lives.  Klee was known for his impish sense of humor as well as his fascination for producing art which entailed a child-like simplistic quality.  However his work should never be construed simple or as child-like as it is completed with much forethought and with painstakingly accurate use of materials.  One child-like quality of Paul Klee was his inquisitive mind to seek out and experiment with new styles of execution for his artwork.  This inquisitiveness carried through in the various materials and techniques that would in turn drive his work.  He was a colleague of Johannes Itten who was fascinated with color and its relationships with other colors.  I believe this influenced Paul Klee and sparked Klee’s further interest in colors while he experimented with surfaces and material application techniques.  I cannot help but also feel that Klee’s friendship with Wassily Kandinsky was instrumental in the above work that I am writing about, Red Balloon from 1922.  I believe the people that he was surrounded with were very important during his creation of his painting Red Balloon which was done during the time he was teaching at Bauhaus with Itten and Kandinsky.

Paul Klee could be considered “avant garde” by today’s standards as he showed artistic evolution as well as inventiveness with his materials, often leaving the edges of his canvas and paper raw and unpainted which allowed him to add a title line as well as an inventory tracking number.  Most other artists didn’t do that at the time and were treating their works with more formality in structure.  Klee’s inventiveness would carry over to his studio space at Bauhaus which was said to resemble a kitchen, one that might belong to some alchemist.  The studio contained various bottles, paint powders, oils, easels, and one chair.  Klee often worked on many pieces at a time, explaining the numerous easels yet only one chair.  Paul Klee created works that contained multiple layers of materials and textures.  This is well observed in the painting Red Balloon where Klee actually manipulates the muslin the work is painted on. 

Previously working in the creation of lithographs Paul Klee discovered a technique to create that same type of line that he was able to achieve in lithography but instead create it with paint. This technique can be seen in his Red Balloon painting to create outlines.  To fulfill this vision of painted atmospheric lines Klee uncovers a technique called “oil transfer”.   This manual process entails painting with oil paint, which has been thinned, onto one side of a piece of paper.  Using a technique similar to tracing, he treated the prepared painted paper as if it were carbon paper.  Klee draws on the backside of the painted sheet which transfers the dark lines onto the muslin.  In some of the other pieces of work he made, you can actually see darkened areas where Klee’s hands rested on the paper while he was drawing with a stylus or perhaps a pen.  This technique creates a broken up almost chalk like line but with the medium of oil paint.  Klee would not only employ this technique with oil painting during his Bauhaus years, but would use it again in his watercolors.

Paul Klee, along with being so experimental, was very aware of the impact and significance of each mark or gesture in his work from a grain of sand added to paint, to a scratch in a paint surface, and to the gesso leeching through gauze material.  The Guggenheim, in an exhibition writing, refers to Paul Klee as a “technical innovator” with regards to his work and I wholeheartedly agree.  This innovation is what also solidifies his status of being the “avant garde” artist that I mentioned earlier.

While painting Red Balloon Klee utilized his long history of material manipulations and technique processes.  One of my favorite of Klee’s techniques is his ability to create a luminous, almost airy, quality to his work.  For this effect he chooses to use muslin on which to apply paint.  The open and fine weave of the muslin becomes easily wavy and distorted when placed onto a panel. The panel is used to provide additional durability and strength to the otherwise frail muslin fabric.  This combination of open weaved fabric and playful paint application provides Klee with the atmospheric texture that he achieved in his lithographs, but in an oil painting.  The relationship between the wavy muslin fabric weave and the straight, almost graphically designed, lines is a sophisticated yet child-like playful contrast.

The paint application is light handed but precise in placement.  This style creates an airy feeling in his work that I personally respect and enjoy.  Very often oil paint can emulate a heavier feeling because of the properties of the materials, however Klee’s light paint application on the muslin allows you to readily see the texture of the fabric and the open air holes in between the weave of the fabric, thus resulting in that feeling of atmosphere.  This visual openness of the weave is instrumental to the sense of light, almost as if the work has an aura around it and coming through it.  Compositionally the work remains playful, especially with the red balloon being placed at the top center of the picture, commanding attention to what it is proposing within the picture.  I believe the splatters of red throughout the composition lead the viewer’s eye back and forth around the picture which provides an additional sense of movement to the painting.

To the viewer the picture Red Balloon is easily interpreted, but I don’t believe it was meant not to be.  The vision of the red balloon provides me a sense of wonderment and adventure.  I do believe the picture was created to provide that sense of journey and if looked at during the period it was created, perhaps this was to be a journey out of Germany in 1922.  Since Germany was going through such awful financial hardship financing the debt for WWI, it would seem appropriate for a painting to be completed that shows an escape from all that hardship to a land that was unseen but had to be better than this one.  That type of thinking would also fall in line with that playful child-like thought behavior that Klee possessed.

I admire Paul Klee’s playful banter involved in this painting between figuration and abstraction.  I also enjoy seeing his Bauhaus influences as well, such as the graphic styling and colors from Itten and Kandinsky.  The primary goal of my artwork revolves around the exploration of materials and application techniques which has given me great appreciation for Paul Klee’s self-evolvement within his art practice.  I have not yet begun to work with lighter fabrics such as gauze or muslin as he did, but I look forward to working with them after seeing their potential effects while learning more about Paul Klee.  My previous artwork usually involved the fabric weave to be in uniform direction; however I will instead use the weave of the fabric within my work and not so much as just a structure to place it on.  I have always been conscious of adding light and airiness into my oil painting work and that was the reason why I chose to write about the painting Red Balloon because I respect what he was able to achieve with this piece.  My thoughts of contrast making a painting interesting are somewhat simpatico to Klee especially when it involves painting style with strong linear aspects.

I am looking forward to what influence Paul Klee will have on my work. With this essay he has given me many ideas surrounding material manipulation that I am eager to start on.  I believe his work resembles much of the philosophy of what the Bauhaus presented to the rest of the world.  With respect to the sensitive color usage, strong graphical linear characteristics, and the circle in contrast to the square it is not surprising that this work was created during Paul Klee’s Bauhaus years.  This is further cemented when research is done on Johannes Itten and Wassily Kandinsky whereas you cannot deny how much they all influenced each other during that time. Paul Klee may have been trying to emulate how a child creates art, but his techniques and materials are anything but child-like or naïve, which I believe adds depth and interest to this painting as well.

For more information on Paul Klee try the following references:

From Picasso to Pollock: Classics of Modern Art. Guggenheim Museum.

Hall, Douglas. Klee.  London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1998

Merrell Publishers (Edited by Stefan Frey and Josef Helfenstein). Paul Klee Rediscovered: Works from the Burgi Collection. London: Merell Publishers Limited, 2000.

Happy Anniversary Bauhaus!

2009 marks the 90th Anniversary of the infamous Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany.  

The Bauhaus was an important historic enigma for me.  I origially studied the arts while attending Iowa State University in the early 80’s.  During the 80’s there was a frenzy of dissection and scrutiny over the training styles of the Bauhaus educators.  Each class I had, whether it was engineering or design, calligraphy or color theory; there was always an intertwining ribbon of Bauhaus history that ran underneath the basis of each class. 

The Bauhaus and it’s philosophy of blending form and function has gone through a slew of dissections of both its influences as well as its impacts since its inception in 1919 as a utopian environment combining all the arts in an ideal unity.  Bauhaus would bring together the talents of many renown architects such as Mies Van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Lazlo Maholy-Nagy.  Included were also artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten (discoverer of the color wheel), Oskar Schlemmer, Margarite Freedlander, Gunta Stolzl,  Joseph Albers, and Paul Klee.

The Bauhaus began in 1919 in Weimer, Germany and it should not have survived as long as it did.  This was a disastrous time in Post WWI Germany where most of the areas were in shambles from the fighting and artillery.

Within the Bauhaus each art department would be responsible to create their wares and sell them in town at the farmer’s markets.  Any money they earned from their “artwork” was returned to the school in order to purchase food and provide financial support for the school.   Some of the items sold were furniture, ceramic pots, fabrics, wallpaper, etc.  In order to be a participant in the market you had to make functional items or “usable artwork” thus being sellable.  This was the beginning of form/function in the arts.

By 1923 hyper economic inflation occurs in Germany in order to pay for the war.  People were being paid employment income 3 times each day and each time they would receive pay they would immediately run out to buy needed items such as bread, toilet paper, milk, etc.  This hyper inflation is what became the catalyst for staff and students to invent things to survive.  Bauhaus was primitive when it came to tools and materials.  Students and staff had to dig their own clay out of the ground and or weave their own fabrics to make clothing, towels, furniture covering.

Also in 1923 the Bauhaus holds an informational exhibition.   The students created and built the steel house in Weimar to hold it in.  The structure still stands today and is now a museum.  One of the items featured in the exhibition was something called Jena glass.  This type of glass substance would eventually be leased to Corning and became Corningware in this country.  Jena, and later Corningware, is the combination of glass with Borax in it allowing it to withstand open flame as well as freezing temperatures.   

In 1929, while at the Bauhaus,  Walter Gropius submits an entry to Chicago for the Tribune Tower and gets denied.  

Hitler took over power after being elected in 1933.  He despised the Bauhaus and therefore sent the Berlin police there to deny access to the students.  Hitler claimed a teacher was Jewish and claimed that Wassily Kandinsky was a Communist.  The Jewish teacher was actually Lutheran.  Hitler was demanding their removal from Bauhaus, however Mies (in charge at the time) gathered all the staff together.  After long discussions Mies and the staff agreed to all quit and close the Bauhaus down.  Hitler wanted to keep Bauhaus around but the staff thought better to have no Bauhaus than one run by a dictator.

1937 in Chicago a Bauhaus teacher, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, comes to create the New Bauhaus school of design.  This was financed by a family named Pepke (who owned the land that is now Aspen, CO).  Mies never liked Moholy-Nagy when in Germany.  Moholy-Nagy was married to another Bauhaus teacher, Lucia Moholy-Nagy.

 Shortly later Mies van der Rohe comes to Chicago because of  the architectural explosion the area was facing.  Mies discovers the New Bauhaus and sues Moholy-Nagy for the name rights because Mies held the school’s name ownership earlier.  After 18 months of fighting Moholy-Nagy changes the name of the school to the Institute of Design which still exists.  Mies goes on to open his own school which becomes the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Mies also goes on to construct 868-880 Lake Shore Drive in 1949 which becomes the Grandparent buildings to the Sears Tower.

IIT in the 50’s & 60’s was the best architectural school in the world.  Myron Goldsmith came here to Chicago and using a slide rule only creates some very famous buildings.  He works for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (also known as SOM – “Sons of Mies”).  Myron Goldsmith is the mathematical genius behind the John Hancock building and it has been said that Calatrava nods his head at Goldsmith in his own work.  Calatrava is the architect who designed the Milwaukee Art Museum as well as the Chicago Spire which is still in its beginning stages.

The Bauhaus’ education system was interesting.  During the first 6 months you studied an overview and introduction to all the programs and their hierarchy within the system.  Next was a study of materials, color composition, material composition, workshops, and nature study.  After that, your study surrounded color, glass, clay, stone, metal, wood, and fiber.  You also had a 2 year internship to fulfill before graduation.

Some of the educators were rather radical.  Oskar Schlemmer was into theater, dance, painting, and sculpture.  He designed the 1913 exhibition poster creating the Bauhaus’ colored rectangles  and squared face motif which would be its trademark.

Wassily Kandinsky began working for Lenin and after leaving Lenin went to work at the Bauhaus.  He would eventually take over for Johannes Itten as a color educator.

NEXT WEEK:  Johannes Itten – he studied Eastern/Western religious philosophy and was a colorist.  He created color studies and the play on psychology and the tricks to the eyes color plays.  He made his own clothing and invented the color wheel.  In 1919 he created the macrobiotic diet in the cafeteria at Bauhaus.  He eventually goes to Vienna and is replaced at Bauhaus by Kandinsky.