1897 – 1983
Germany / Switzerland
The most famous weaver Gunta Stölzl is the first of many masters in our “Masterclass of Pattern Designers“ series. This ongoing Mønster Patterns campaign will feature many distinct biographies in and around the global textile industry & history.
Born 1897 in Munich, Gunta Stölzl enroled as a student at the Bauhaus School in Weimar in 1919. Shortly after she became the first and only female master craftswoman. At the Bauhaus in Dessau she was appointed head of the weaving facility. During her lifetime this was probably a remarkable achievement for a woman. For certain she was not only an exceptional woman in the maledominated Bauhaus circles, but she was also and above all an exceptional human being. However, a very interesting talk by her daughter Monika (Bauhaus: Art as Life – Gunta Stölzl: A Daughter’s Perspective) brings to light through letters and diary entries a radically different story, in which the Bauhaus weaving mill was in actual fact purposefully put under the direction of a lady, so as to keep the female students away from all other courses, which the male administration feared would bring about a feminisation in the renowned school. (A grievance which sadly seems to prevail to this day in the creative industries… but that‘s a topic for a different day.)
This circumstance makes the fact that Gunta Stölzl‘s weaving department was seemingly the most lucrative, i.e. that most financially successful of all Bauhaus departments, all the more satisfying.
Looking at the female weavers‘ works – and in this case the works of Gunta Stölzl – the trained eye and the sharp mind can see these works were by a human of rare talent – works that were often unfairly labelled as “mere decoration“. In contrast to the art of painting, weaving is infinitely more complex. Possibly no other form of (artistic) craftwork requires as much concentration, mathematical skills and strength in intuition as weaving – especially the Jacquard technique. In this technique each thread must be intricately colourised prior to weaving and the complex motifs calculated in advance – in a time without calculator and computer programs a true master‘s act.
Thus were made by Gunta‘s hands woven artworks, individual, unique items, which bear witness to a truly cosmic patience.
In this day and age where we are bombarded by colours, shapes, products and images, we must not forget the „works of old“ in their historical context.
What nowdays can in some cases be reproduced within a few minutes, was in those days a novelty both controversial and brave – of visionary power.
Gunta Stölzl‘s work is wonderful evidence for requiring, in the best of cases, only small group of people who see things differently to guide subsequent generations and have a lasting influence on the status quo of style and spirit. Bauhaus was successful in shaping a new world beyond its limited temporal existence. Only because a group of people came together and had a different perspective on things than hitherto had been portrayed.
People who were ahead of their times – as Gunta Stölzl was.
She was influenced by the Bauhaus myth and its manifesto, within which she could live out what she was interested in the most: not the transmission of the subject as such, but its reinterpretation and repositioning in the grand scheme.
Oddly enough, I was only confronted by Gunta Stölzl, and therefore the Bauhaus, after my studies about 5 years ago. While for years I had only been busy making and designing, over time several people called my attention to Gunta Stölzl and had compared my work to hers. For that I was very grateful, as the works of that Bauhaus artist are so truthful and sincere, so completely ingenious, and in my opinion deserve such respect, which she might never have commanded during her lifetime.
Worth mentioning is also the fact that Gunta was a passionate mountaineer – a person in close touch with nature. Due to political machinations at the Bauhaus she relocated her main place of residence to Zurich in 1931. As a migrant she never again was employed as a master craftswoman, yet she stayed faithful to weaving professionally until old age. Gunta lived in Küsnacht, where also Carl Gustav Jung resided and had his institute. (Whether those two cosmic people knew each other I have so far been unable to find out.) She died in 1983 in Zurich.
Text: Anna Niestroj / Translation: Sean Black
Source of data and images: guntastolzl.org
More: Gunta Stölzl auf fembio.org