Not 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 http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/1540942_7ocu8#74244138). 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. 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.