Preface: I couldn’t find a good picture of Stölzl for the featured image. The one you’re seeing now is a cropped version from an article at Monster Patterns.
This is the fourth installment in our Designer of the Week series. Last one was Lilly Reich.
We have to be honest with you guys. We don’t think we did Lilly Reich justice with the last article, so we’ll try to find ways to represent her more in the coming months. Representation and accurate portrayal do matter to us, as well as justice and actual equality.
So, we’ve decided to try and have a 50/50 publishing rate for male and female designers for as long as I can keep it on this series. Gunta here is the second woman to be featured after Mrs. Reich, following our first two posts (both men). After this article we will publish one about a man, then a woman, and so on.
The Bauhaus had a thing for equality, and they did welcome women into their environment, but at the same time they heavily discouraged all of them from pursuing any kind of work apart from weaving. Thus, the textile department at the Bauhaus in Weimar was where 99% of them worked and studied.
Gunta enrolled as a student in 1919, the very first year of the Bauhaus, becoming the one of the Meisters (or ‘masters’) of the textile workshop in Dessau shortly after. She should’ve been called a Meisterin (female variant for ‘master’), but she famously chose the male variant and stuck with it.
we’ll also admit that she wasn’t a furniture designer per se, but we chose to include her because she provided the Bauhaus with a wide array of textile designs, many of which upholstered the furniture pieces of other designers.
The best example of this is the Eisengarn (iron yarn) that she developed to create the straps of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair. Many people argue that Stölzl should be listed as co-creator of the chair, but we believe the upholstery credit is enough, given that it is a groundbreaking achievement in textile development, with or without the Wassily.
Stölzl’s first collaborations with Breuer took place around 1921, while she was becoming the de facto leader of the weaving workshop or “women’s department,” as she called it. The actual Meister of the workshop was a man who had very little interest in the craft, something that prompted Stölzl to take action and empower her fellow weavers into learning for themselves.
The women from the workshop took a trip to Italy that same year to see the various museums and architectural wonders, and Stölzl kept working at the Bauhaus until she graduated in 1923.
She would return to the Dessau campus to become a technical director and help her old Meister (who remained in charge), but the situation did not change, and she soon found herself running the entire workshop (by herself) once again.
She rode the design wave for a few more years, prompting her fellow weavers and textile makers to experiment as much as they could, and putting an overall emphasis in the artistic parts of textile design (rather than the technical aspect).
As we mentioned earlier, she became Junior Meister in 1927, which is as far as she got in terms of official rank. That appointment, however, turned her into the first and only proper female Meister of the Bauhaus.
Stölzl continued as Junior Master until 1931, when she was forced to resign due to growing antisemitism. She’d married Austrian-Jewish architect Arieh Sharon some years before this and they had a daughter together.
After the Bauhaus, however, she migrated to Switzerland and became a very coveted textile designer. Her legacy lived on long after the Dessau campus was closed and the Bauhaus relocated again.
Stölzl wrote an article entitled The Development of The Bauhaus Weaving Workshop, where she stated that “The vitality of the material forces people working with textiles to try out new things daily, to readjust time and again, to live with their subject, to intensify it, to climb from experience to experience in order to do justice to the needs of our time.“
After finally divorcing Sharon, she remarried and lived the remainder of her days in Switzerland, passing away in Zurich at 86 years old. Most of her works were acquired by a variety of museums.
Nowadays, the importance of her work is given the recognition that it deserves, with most people praising the enormous technical prowess it required. However, they should never fail to mention her own artistic intellect, which was distinctively methodical and broad, in contrast to other famous Bauhaus designers. We encourage anyone who reads this to learn more about Gunta Stölzl, and the women of the Bauhaus in general.