Last 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. http://www.bauhaus.de/english/bauhaus1919/manifest1919.htm cited February 22, 2008.
New Acquistions: The African Chair. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. http://www.bauhaus.de/english/aktuelles/neuerwerbungen.htm cited March 4, 2008.
Gunta Stolzl. Bauhaus (Red Book). Konemann (Edited by Jeannine Fiedler and Peter Feierabend), 1999. http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/1897708/1/95700545 cited February 13, 2008.
Biography. Gunta Stolzl – Bauhaus Master. http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/2222182 cited February 13, 2008.
Hans M. Wingler. The Bauhaus: Weimer Dessau Berlin Chicago. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1969.