Albers, Anni (1899–1994)
Albers, Anni (1899–1994)
German-born textile and graphic artist, who taught in the United States. Born Anni Farman on June 12, 1899, in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany; died in 1994 (some sources cite 1993); daughter of S. and T. (Ullstein) Farman; student at Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, Bauhaus diploma 1922–30; married artist and teacher Josef Albers, in 1925.
Hired as assistant professor of art, Black Mountain College, North Carolina, (1933–49); awardedMedal of American Institute of Architects in the Field of Craftsmanship (1961); awarded citation by the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (1962).
Anni Albers first made her artistic reputation as a weaver during the Bauhaus days at the famous design school founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar Germany in 1919. It was the Bauhaus approach she had in mind when she wrote, "The more we avoid standing in the way of the material and in the way of tools and machines, the better chance there is that our work will not be dated, will not bear the stamp of too limited a period." An art teacher at the time, she had little idea of the materials and tools she was yet to master.
The Bauhaus design school was formed amid the economic and political chaos pervasive in Germany at the end of World War I. In his four-page prospectus, Gropius proposed to break down the "arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist" in order to achieve a new unity of industry and art and crafts, while conceiving and creating the "new building of the future."
As a 23-year-old student entering the Bauhaus in 1922, Albers found gender barriers little changed when school authorities steered women toward weaving, because textiles were considered to be "women's work." Uninspired by wallpainting or work in metal, wood, or glass, Albers reluctantly settled on weaving to fulfill her requirement for a workshop. Her teacher was the great contemporary artist Paul Klee, nicknamed "the heavenly father," and, under his guidance, working with threads caught the imagination of Albers and a number of other women, including Gunta Stölzl, Benita Otte , and Marli Ehrman . With their designs ranging from the severely geometrical to riotously colorful and free, the women turned the Bauhaus weaving workshops into an innovative laboratory that set standards for textile production worldwide.
Fascinated with the possibilities of the straight line and abstraction in her chosen medium, Anni Albers became a leader in abstract textile design. For the next 16 years, she concentrated on "a weaver's concern with threads as an artistic vehicle." Believing that "there is no medium that cannot serve art," she experimented with the uses of textiles in industry, and bridled against the distinction generally made between works done in thread, and thus accepted only as craft (with a few notable exceptions, including the great tapestries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance), and works on paper, which found much easier acceptance as art.
In 1933, when the Nazis were taking political control of Germany, they closed the Bauhaus school for its support of "cultural bolshevism." Albers, along with her artist-husband Josef, joined others from the school in moving to the United States to continue to work. Gropius went to Harvard, Mies van der Rohe became head of the architectural school at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Albers joined her husband in teaching art at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she became an assistant professor; four years later, in 1937, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In 1950, the couple moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where Josef was appointed chair of the department of design at Yale, and Anni freelanced.
In the 1960s, when Josef was invited to work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, California, Anni tagged along at first as a self-described "useless wife," until workshop director June Wayne encouraged her to try printmaking. In lithography, Albers noted, the "image of threads could project a freedom I had never suspected," as she learned to make drawings on paper, then transfer them to stones or zinc plates in order to produce a succession of prints. The duplication of lithographic images opened a more accessible path for the presentation of her creative ideas and gained her a wider audience, giving the artist "the longed-for pat on the shoulder" she freely acknowledged.
In 1964, when Tamarind published an edition of Albers' first lithographs and she was offered a fellowship to return the following year, the artist was hooked on her new process. Returning to New Haven, where she found no suitable workshops for lithographic reproduction, she transformed her enthusiasm into the similar working mode of silkscreen printing; from then on, graphic techniques, particularly screenprinting, remained her medium of choice.
Albers, Anni. On Designing. New Haven, CT: Pellango Press, 1959.
——. On Weaving. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1965.
——. Pre-Columbian Mexican Miniatures. NY: Praeger, 1970.
Baro, Gene. Anni Albers. The Brooklyn Museum, 1977.
Welliver, Neil. "A Conversation with Anni Albers," in Craft Horizon. July-August 1965.
Weltge, Sigrid Wortmann. Textile Art from the Bauhaus. Chronicle, 1993.
The Art Institute of Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Art; Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, Germany; Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Mass.; Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; Jewish Museum, New York.
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York; Busch-Reisinger Museum; Fort Worth Art Museum; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kunstmuseum der Stadt Düsseldorf; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; New York Public Library; St. Louis Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; University of California, Los Angeles; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst and Kulturgeschichte, Münster, Germany; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.