restricted access 1. Pictures Made of Wool
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1 P i ct u r e s M a d e o f W o o l Weaving Labor in the Workshop 1 The [mass] ornament, detached from its bearers, must be understood rationally. It consists of lines and circles like those found in textbooks on Euclidean geometry. . . . Both the proliferations of organic forms and the emanations of spiritual life remain excluded. The Tiller Girls can no longer be reassembled into human beings after the fact. —­Siegfried Kracauer, “The Mass Ornament” Before the Bauhaus weavers wrote, before weaving had a theoretical armature to secure its status as a medium-­ specific craft, weaving was what Gunta Stölzl would later call “a picture made of wool.” A tapestry from 1921–­ 22 by weaving workshop student Hedwig Jungnik is a good example of such an artifact (see Plate 1). Unlike a bolt of cloth whose fabric might cover, in various dimensions, a bed, pillow, sofa, or window, this small “picture” has a clear beginning and end. Framed by its four sides, it serves little other function than to hang on and decorate a wall. Within these parameters, the tapestry has a distinct composition, one in which waves and circles ebb and flow in and around angular forms. Curved shapes appear to sit below a plane of strongly contoured circles, while sharp, diagonal lines simultaneously cut across the composition and lie beneath the surface of repeated waves. Monochromatic diamond shapes hover behind and in front of the flowing activity, while an arc, toward the lower left, creates an illusion of three dimensions within this otherwise flat, abstract design. Jungnik’s tapestry is a good example to begin the discussion , for it resembles a specific kind (indeed, a style) of pictorial abstraction found in the prewar practices of the 2 P i c t u r e s Ma d e o f W o o l Munich-­ based expressionists, especially the Blaue Reiter group, which grew out of international movements in impressionism, cubism , symbolism, Jugendstil design, and the teachings of the Dachau colorist Adolf Hölzel.1 It is this particular brand of early-­twentieth-­ century expressionism that through a number of side steps found its way into the design work of the Bauhaus workshops, as the school’s earliest form masters Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee offered courses or at the very least broadcast a set of ideas about form and color.2 In the lectures of Itten, Klee, and Kandinsky especially, students were introduced to so-­ called basic principles in form, methods for arranging shapes in an abstract composition, principles they then translated into various household items: cradles, toys, ceramic teapots , carpets. But there are many differences between the form masters’ pictorial principles (based on painting and drawing) and Jungnik’s tapestry. In the latter, three white lines made from markedly thick strands of yarn jut out into the viewer’s (physical) space, beyond the picture plane, drawing attention to the body of this entity. And determined by the woven process—­ the alternating elevation of warp and weft—­ the compositional activity of the tapestry is Wassily Kandinsky, Table 1 (excerpt) from On the Spiritual in Art, 2d edition (1912), in Lindsay and Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings, 178. Re-­ created by the author. first pair (of an inner character, of opposites, I and II. as emotional affect) I Warm Cold Yellow Blue = I contrast 2 movements: 1. horizontal towards spectator away from spectator (physical) (spiritual) Yellow Blue 2. eccentric and concenric concentric P i c t u r e s Ma d e o f W o o l 3 marked by its surface’s pits and falls. The interlocking grid produces an optically resonant field, but it also draws attention to the material fact of the weave.3 The boundaries of geometric forms are not “set free from [the] space” around them, as Wilhelm Worringer had observed among the modern artists obliquely referenced in his 1907 doctoral thesis—­ideas later promoted by the likes of Kandinsky and Franz Marc.4 Rather, these shapes issue from the physical network of threads—­compromised, one might say, by their settling of differences between material and form. (The compromise also suggests a reduction in value of the latter.) Thus on the left side of Jungnik’s tapestry, a circle enveloped in the crest of a wave flows from the tangible construction of interlocking weft and warp beginning at the textile’s edge. The shape is not imposed onto...


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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