Bauhaus Weaving Theory REVIEW by Pauline Verbeek-Cowart
Author: T’ai Smith
University of Minnesota Press, 2014
Published text validates the writers’ pursuits and imbues their work with clarity and purpose. In Bauhaus Weaving Theory, author T’ai Smith chronicles the Bauhaus weavers’ journey to identify and justify their work through writing. The book is organized in six parts: an introduction, summarizing the premise of the book, four chapters outlining the efforts and accomplishments of the Bauhaus weavers through the writings of Anni Albers, Gunta Stolzl and Otti Berger, and a conclusion.
The Bauhaus weavers were born from a theoretically charged matrix, where the articulation of ideas was as important as the practice. They had to secure their status by way of text to validate their existence. What the weavers accomplished through their writing was a profound step in the recognition of weaving as a specific craft – one that could be compared to, and differentiated from, other media.
Smith has carefully reconstructed the struggles of the Bauhaus weaving workshop, presenting the reader with statements pulled from hundreds of reference texts to make her point, taking the reader on an expansive intellectual journey. Personally, I regret that some of the referenced texts written by the Bauhaus weavers were not available in an appendix as I was hoping to get a glimpse at some of the writing in their original form. Nevertheless, the focus and strength of the book is clearly in the thorough analysis of these and related texts, as well as the important questions and arguments that are addressed through their juxtaposition.
I especially appreciated the persistent use of the original terms in German, with their translations, as these terms are always very specific and often have multiple meanings. This is beautifully illustrated in the example of Otti Berger’s writing about the primacy of the tactile quality of cloth. The verb “begreifen,” for example, is used to connote understanding (with the mind) as well as phys- ical grasping (with the hands).
I am writing this review through the dual lens of a practitioner (my artistic practice is firmly rooted in weaving) and an arts administrator (I chair the Fiber Department at The Kansas City Art Institute). In my role as educator at an art school, we are still, or again, confronting notions of medium specificity and fighting the battle of our mere existence in education and in the art world. Looms take up a huge chunk of real estate and every program is continually faced with defending its territory especially against the ever-expanding realm of digital media.
What the author has accomplished through her carefully crafted analysis is to raise awareness and provide a platform to continue the important discourse of the Bauhaus weavers. As such, this very scholarly text parallels the efforts of the Bauhaus weavers– as it represents a treatise for renewed value in the work of the weavers while at the same time giving us the tools to engage in the important dialogue that could frame the future of weaving in academia.
Albers advocated in education to “restore the experience of the direct experience of the medium,” to reengage immediate perception of the medium through practice. This argument can help us restructure and reformulate the importance of looms and weaving in the education of textile designers and fiber artists today.
Pauline Verbeek-Cowart is a Professor and Chair of the Fiber Department at The Kansas City Art Institute. Her creative research involves all areas of constructed textiles but is primarily focused on weaving. While her dobby woven work explores the marriage of material, structure and finish, she is equally engaged in the possibilities of Jacquard technology in hand weaving and in industrial applications.