Gunta Stölzl

GERMANY (1897–1983)

Gunta Stölzl spent 12 years at the Bauhaus, beginning in 1919, when she was invited by Walter Gropius to join as a student, and ending in 1931, when she was forced to resign as director of the Weaving Workshop. What made her departure so surprising was that Stölzl’s artistic strengths and technical abilities made her precisely the type of designer the Bauhaus hoped to create.

Stölzl arrived at the Bauhaus after studying painting at the School of Applied Arts in Munich and spending two years working as a Red Cross nurse behind the front lines during World War I. She’d been drawn to the school after reading Gropius’ prospectus, which spoke of breaking down the barrier between art and craft and promised an environment where women were on equal terms with men. In her preliminary courses, taught by Paul Klee and Johannes Itten, Stölzl displayed a sophisticated understanding of color and abstract composition, but like all the women at Bauhaus at that time, she was encouraged to pursue crafts deemed suitable for the Women’s Department. (The lack of female faculty also pointed to the less-than-ideal circumstances at this “egalitarian community.”) Rather than being frustrated by this, Stölzl saw opportunity in pursuing a subject that didn’t interest the men. Free to make the Weaving Workshop her own, she explored ways to reinvent weaving and, in the process, evolved it from craft to industrial design. In 1922, Stölzl passed her journeyman’s exam and continued to work in the Weaving Workshop. She became the Workshop’s technical director in 1925, and two years later became a senior member of the faculty, making her the first woman to hold this senior position.

Under her leadership, the Weaving Workshop thrived. Stölzl had an affinity for color and an equal fascination with technical innovation, and the textiles produced by her and her students made the department one of the most commercially lucrative areas of the Bauhaus. It’s ironic that at a time when Stölzl’s work was building the Bauhaus reputation for excellence in design, she would be forced to resign. However, the growing right-wing political climate in Germany was reaching the Bauhaus, and Stölzl had lost her German citizenship when she married Palestinian architect Arieh Sharon in 1929.

Forced to exile from Germany, the family moved to Zurich, where Stölzl started a private hand-loom weaving business. After several years, Stölzl started another company, producing hand-woven fabrics for upholstery, draperies and wall coverings, as well as knotted and woven rugs. She ran this business for 30 years, until 1967.

Despite how Stölzl was treated by the Bauhaus in 1931, she remained positive about the experience. In 1968 she wrote, “Even today, I believe that most important of all was life itself. It was brimful with impressions, experiences, encounters and friendships that have lasted over decades.”

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