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Behind the Bauhaus: Influential Women Who Helped Shape a Movement

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Textile designer and Bauhaus “Master” Gunta Stölzl in the studio at the Dessau Bauhaus, c. 1927

Courtesy of © Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

Textile designer and Bauhaus “Master” Gunta Stölzl in the studio at the Dessau Bauhaus, c. 1927

As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the legendary German art school, its rarely recognized female trailblazers step further into the spotlight.

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The Bauhaus school of art and design was conceived in the early 20th century as part of a goal to rebuild society following the First World War. Founded by architect Walter Gropius in the central German city of Weimar, the school’s central philosophy championed innovative design that merged avant-garde aesthetics with functionality.

The university only operated in Germany for a brief 14 years between 1919 and 1933, eventually caving to pressures from the Nazi regime, which criticized the school’s progressive curriculum. But 100 years later, the Bauhaus continues to be widely celebrated as the institution from which the pioneers of modernism emerged (and never moreso than this year, as Germany commemorates the school’s centennial with new museums, events, and exhibitions across the country). A lesser-known part of the art school’s lasting legacy, however, is that during its time, the Bauhaus was one of very few academic institutions to accept female students. 

A group of weaving students on the Bauhaus stairs in Dessau, c. 1927

The often-0verlooked women of the Bauhaus

In the school’s founding manifesto, Gropius stated that “any person of good repute” could attend the Bauhaus based on his or her talent, “without regard to age or sex.” When Gropius opened the Weimar school in 1919, women—who had just earned fundamental voting rights in the Weimar constitution—outnumbered men in the class by 84 to 79. Throughout the 1920s, the title Bauhausmädels (“Bauhaus girls”) came to represent the growing population of contemporary women in Germany who pursued their own professional futures with active disregard for traditional gender roles.

Where to Celebrate 100 Years of Bauhaus in Germany This Year

But despite the Bauhaus’s willingness to present women in art and design with new opportunities, various boundaries still remained in place for the university’s female students. While male students were encouraged to take classes in sculpture, furniture design, graphic design, metalwork, and architecture, female students were usually steered toward weaving or ceramics courses under the program directors’ insistence that physically demanding workshops were unsuitable for women. 

Ruth Consemüller, a textile design artist at the Bauhaus, works at the loom in a dress made of fabric woven by herself, c. 1931

To this day, many of the Bauhaus’s most famous names—among them Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Paul Klee—are men who studied and taught at the university. But some of the university’s most trailblazing (yet least recognized) contributors were women. 

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As Germany commemorates the 100th anniversary of the boundary-pushing art school, a new book titled Bauhausmädels: A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists highlights the forward-thinking women who contributed to the Bauhaus’s lasting legacy. With almost 400 portraits taken between 1919 and 1933, the visual book spotlights 87 female artists from the Bauhaus, highlighting their incredible artistic accomplishments and individual persistence in the face of gender inequality. (The book, written by German historian Patrick Rössler, will be published by Taschen on May 29 in the United States.) Here are a few of the important female artists who helped carve the Bauhaus into history. Read on to learn where you can see their works throughout the year in Germany.

Bauhaus photography student Hilde Hubbuch in the Haus der Rheinischen Heimat in Cologne, c. 1928
Gunta Stölzl (1897-1983)

Gunta Stölzl (pictured at the top of the story) was one of the earliest Bauhaus members, arriving at the school in 1919. Stölzl, who became known for her colorful textile designs, often collaborated with Bauhaus architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer to create weavings for his now iconic creations. Stölzl led the school’s weaving department from 1926 to 1931 and was one of the few women to serve as a “Master” teacher at the Bauhaus. Under her direction, the school’s weaving workshop became one of its most successful facilities.

Anni Albers 

(1899-1994)

Anni Albers joined the Bauhaus’s weaving workshop in 1922 because it was the only course that was available to her as a female student when she arrived. She received her diploma in 1930 and just one year later became the head of the department, taking over for Gunta Stölzl. When the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933, Anni and her husband Josef Albers (a fellow Bauhaus thinker) fled to the United States, where both artists became teachers at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In 1965, she published a renowned book, On Weaving. Albers’s wall hangings and other artworks have since been displayed in museums around the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Alma Siedhoff-Buscher

(1899-1944)

In 1922, Alma Siedhoff-Buscher began her Bauhaus studies in the school’s weaving department. One year later, with Gropius’s permission, she transferred to the wood-sculpture department, becoming one of the few female students at the school to do so. Her primary focus was children’s furnishings and toys. While at the Bauhaus, Siedhoff-Buscher created a multi-functional children’s toy that can be constructed into a ship (and other objects) in 22 primary-colored parts. The toy, called the “Small Ship-Building Game,” is still produced and sold to this day.

Marianne Brandt

 (1893-1983)

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In 1924, Bauhaus student Marianne Brandt became the first woman to be admitted to the university’s metalworking program. (László Moholy-Nagy, an esteemed Bauhaus Master, was so impressed with Brandt’s abilities that he allowed her a spot in the industrial design department, which was usually reserved for men.) In 1928, Brandt replaced Moholy-Nagy as the director of the Bauhaus’s metal workshop. The metal objects she designed—including household objects such as coffee and tea sets, bedside lamps, and more—are now considered some of the most defining works to come out of the Bauhaus movement.

Where to see works by the women behind the Bauhaus

Throughout 2019, Germany is paying homage to the hugely influential art and design school with Bauhaus-themed exhibitions and events across the country. Two new permanent museums debut as part of the year-long centennial: At the Bauhaus Museum Weimar (opened April 6) and the Bauhaus Museum Dessau (set to open September 8), extensive collections of trademark Bauhaus artworks will be accessible to the public, including many made by the school’s formative female creatives.

In central Germany . . .
In Erfurt (the capital of Germany’s central Thuringia region), a dedicated “Bauhausmädels” exhibition at the Angermuseum focuses on contributions from four of the Bauhaus’s forward-thinking artists: Gertrud Arndt, Margaret Heymann, Margaretha Reichardt, and Marianne Brandt. The special showcase 
runs through June 16, 2019. €6 for adults (US$7)

In southern Germany . . .
At Munich’s Die Neue Sammlung (Design Museum), a curated exhibition juxtaposes five contemporary artworks with 40 Bauhaus objects that are considered to be icons of modern design. The showcase, called “Reflex Bauhaus,” is on view through February 2, 2020. It includes creations by Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl, Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, and other prominent Bauhaus innovators. €10 for adults (US$12)

In northern Germany . . .
Starting on June 6 (and extending through January 27, 2020), a special centenary exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin will showcase 14 objects from the Bauhaus-Archiv’s collection. “Original Bauhaus” will examine what qualifies certain works by Bauhaus artists, such as the industrial metal teapot by Marianne Brandt, as trademark objects of the Bauhaus. €10 for adults (US$12)

How to get there: Daily nonstop flights to Berlin are available from most international airports. Trains to Erfurt, Dessau, and Munich, and Weimar depart regularly from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof station. (Trains to Weimar require a transfer in Erfurt.)

Germany was one of 25 global destinations to make AFAR’s list of Where to Go in 2019 for the year-long celebration of Bauhaus100.

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>> Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Germany

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