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xiii I n t r o d u ct i o n Textiles, Text, and a Medium-­Specific Craft The structure of a fabric or its weave—­ that is, the fastening of its elements of threads to each other—­ is as much a determining factor in its function as is the choice of the raw material. In fact, the interrelation between the two, the subtle play between them in supporting, impeding, or modifying each other’s characteristics, is the essence of weaving. —­Anni Albers, On Weaving Anni Albers published her second book, On Weaving, in 1965. A well-­respected German American weaver who taught from 1933 until 1949 at Black Mountain College and had developed popular fabric designs for Knoll, she was also a prolific writer. Like her former volume On Designing, which was initially published in 1959 and reprinted several times due to its popularity, On Weaving became at the outset a powerful voice of the midcentury textile design movement in the United States.1 Professional and amateur weavers read her texts, finding in them a philosophy of their craft’s “essence”—­ the “supporting, impeding, or modifying” tension between structure and material that described a fabric’s dimensions. But Albers’s books also participated in a wider discourse within modernism concerning medium specificity. Indeed, the former Bauhaus student learned much from her education at that school, where different workshops investigated the limits of specific materials—­like thread, clay, or celluloid and light—­ and tools—­ like looms, pottery wheels, or cameras —­to grasp and articulate the principal elements of each craft. Drawing on the language of her mentors and peers, she analyzed “basic” and “modified” textile structures, narrated the loom’s technological history, and argued for a “tactile sensibility”—­the activation of “a distinctive textile trait”: the “tactile blueprint” or “latent perceptivity of matiere.”2 So with her 1965 book, Albers synthesized what could be xiv I n t r o d u c t i o n described as the definitive treatise on weaving as a field of practice, a specific craft or medium that also, in so many tangential ways, could speak to other disciplines: to “those whose work in other fields encompasses textile problems.”3 To understand how Albers’s philosophy of weaving developed—­ how this craft came into a modernist language and also challenged its fundamentals—­ it is important to begin at the so-­ called beginning . The initial Bauhaus text, a 1919 brochure titled “Program of the State Bauhaus in Weimar,” scripted by founder and director Walter Gropius, is well known for its attempt to establish the school’s goal of art-­ craft “unity” in the aftermath of World War I. Here, Gropius envisions the school as a means toward the “unified work of art—­the great structure” that is the built house. Yet among the bullet points of its final page concerning the “Range of Instruction ,” he also outlines areas of “craft training,” distinct workshops. Applied arts intermingle with fine arts and theoretical instruction, suggesting that unity is a pedagogical matter of joining “practical and scientific areas of work.”4 The pedagogical program sketched in this manifesto would, it should be said, prove less than stable.5 As the workshops’ identities and products shifted under the weight of economic pressures and the school’s changing artistic and political allegiances, many of the initial crafts (“wood carvers, ceramic workers . . . lithographers ”) would be dropped over the course of the first several years, while new areas (furniture, advertising, and photography) would be added.6 Significantly, only one mentioned area, weavers, was equipped with tools (several looms) shortly after the school opened in the city of Weimar and would continue to operate until the institution ’s doors finally closed in Berlin under pressure from Nazi forces. Weaving materialized in this context as a specific practice or craft—­ one dealing in a particular technology, material, and set of structures based on the interlocking of warp (vertical threads) and weft (horizontal threads). But perhaps more significant to this narrative is the fact that Bauhaus weavers began writing essays to develop parameters (and justifications) for their woven objects. Unlike most of their craft-­ workshop colleagues at the Bauhaus, the weavers were avid about the practice of writing; they were preoccupied with formulating (and reformulating) a theory of their craft’s Stoffgebiet (material field) or Gestaltungsgebiet (formal field). I n t r o d u c t i o n xv Through texts that explored weaving’s material elements, loom practice, and functional...


Subject Headings

  • Textile design -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Weaving -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women textile designers -- Germany.
  • Bauhaus.
  • Modernism (Art).
  • Art and craft debate.
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