Monika Stadler, Stölzls daughter, with Mathew Bourne of Christopher Farr Rugs in the autumn 2005 issue of Modern Carpets + Textiles.
Matthew Bourne: Did your mother or her associates in the Bauhaus weaving workshop have any particular things that they were looking at while they were designing textiles and rugs? Old oriental weavings for instance?
Monika Stadler: All we know for sure is that the still-existing library of the Bauhaus in Weimar contains quite a few books on ethnic art. Primitive art' was in the avant-garde at the time - not only at the Bauhaus.
MB: Where did Gunta learn the principles of weaving - in particular hand-knotting?
MS: In 1920 she borrowed a Gobelin loom from a handicraft teacher in Weimar and wove her first little wall-hanging. In the following months a group of Bauhaus students started their first experiments on handlooms. Their handicraft teacher knew very little about weaving herself. So they experimented, more or less as autodidacts. They soon realised that they had to learn the techniques elsewhere. The first thing Gunta and one of her colleagues wanted lo learn was dyeing. So they attended a course in Krefeld.
From then on, till the end, the Bauhaus had its own dyeing facilities. A year later they followed a two-month course in weaving techniques. In 1922 she knotted her first huge Smyrna rug - 3 x 2m. In 1968 she wrote in an article in Das Werk: This technique I had to find out about all by myself. There was no instruction. In the early years of the Bauhaus the students felt very much that they wanted to discover things for themselves. Stölzl said later that they almost felt that they were reinventing weaving. They wanted to discover its possibilities without having to take over the aesthetic principles of past generations.
MB: Do you know where yarn was sourced?
MS: All I know is that material was difficult to get in the post-war years and they often had to make do with inferior material. In Switzerland she used a lot of hand-spun wool and had it dyed in exactly the colours she needed. She did some dyeing herself also. My sister Yael Aloni remembers the strong smell of ammonia in their small flat in Zurich!
MB: Did Gunta have a view as to how carpets should be used in an interior scheme, and if so was it formed as part of a Bauhaus orthodoxy or was it a privately held view?
MS: What I remember from the 1950s and '60s is that she thought textiles should add warmth to the interior of contemporary concrete, steep and glass buildings. For functional textiles she still advocated that they should fit unobtrusively into the whole of the interior, but they should be intriguing in their structures, colours and tactile qualities. She certainly saw a place for wall-hangings, producing many such hangings in her Swiss years. The Bauhaus, in its final phase, had no use any more for either wall-hangings or artistic rugs, but the stubborn weavers produced them anyway. Stölzl used woven as well as knotted rugs on floors and walls (not beds though) all her life.
MB: Were many of Gunta's designs produced by the weaving workshop for private clients?
MS: Yes. Many designs mention the name of a client in her handwriting.
MB: Was there a 'Bauhaus' approach to the design of carpets that fitted with its views on architecture?
MS: The Bauhaus in its early Weimar years made use of very imaginative rugs that were also allowed to dominate the interior. The room of the director illustrates this. Later on they distinguished strictly between purely functional and purely artistic textiles and somehow they had no more use for such dominating rugs on the floor.
MB: When Gunta was producing so many designs did she believe they would ever be made by the workshop or was she just very prolific and could not stop designing?
MS: Probably both. Her designs might also be part of her teaching. Designs for various techniques: Smyrna, double weaves, jacquard weaves and so on.
MB: What carpets did you have around you as a child? Can you remember? MS: There were floor rugs, and we always had a wall-hanging in our living room.
MB: What do you think Gunta would have made of the current boom in modern rug design? Would she have had a view on hand-knotted versus gun-tufted for instance?
MS: In an article she wrote for the magazine Das Werk in 1936 she wrote: The producer of machine-made textiles uses the most complicated procedures to make the cheapest material appear 'rich' and 'effective'.'' This might also be her answer on gun-tufted rugs. She hated cheap stuff that wanted to look expensive through imitation. On the other hand she might say: ''Let's study this gun-tufting technique thoroughly and see if we can think of completely new designs that are specifically suited to this technique.
MB: Did Gunta ever get involved with natural plant dyes?
MS: Her article in Das Werk 1968 states: We dye with natural dyes such as cochineal, wood, indigo and also with various synthetic dyes. One of her most interesting wall hangings used plant-dyed wools.
MB: How influential do you feel the work your mother did has been on rug and textile design of the last thirty years?
MS: My sister and I don't live in the design world. We have no idea really, but the many publications of the past ten years must have had an impact on designers. The textile department of the Bauhaus gets more and more attention in these publications. I see firms that produce textiles in the spirit of the Bauhaus, textiles that are original, but that also have a lasting simplicity and beauty. But of course there is a lot of trendiness that soon becomes boring and that my mother would have abhorred.
MB: Did Gunta enjoy the actual process of hand weaving or was it a means to an end?
MS: I am sure she enjoyed designing on the handloom. Not weaving huge quantities though, at least not during my lifetime. I remember that she knotted carpets herself in the 1960s. The one in the photo she made for her own house. She enjoyed doing this. As to woven fabrics: all her life she defended the handloom as the place where textiles should be developed, and she regretted that only a few firms, such as the Dutch firm De Ploeg, worked in this Bauhaus tradition, thereby producing textiles that were interesting and functional. She praised England in this connection. In her article for the magazine Das Werk in 1936 she wrote: In England, the homeland of textiles of classical, practical and aesthetic quality, the cooperation between handloom and mechanical loom was never interrupted; each major firm developed patterns and qualities on the handloom.''
Monika Stadler in her home, examining an original Stölzl fabric.
Monika Stadler in her home, examining an original Stölzl fabric.