Friday, November 12, 2010

Designer of the Month: Trude Guermonprez

Week 2: Black Mountain College

While Trude Guermonprez did not attend the Bauhaus, her schooling was greatly influenced by this important institution. Guermonprez studied at the Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where the majority of the faculty was composed of Bauhaus-educated teachers, with Gerhard Marcks, a former master at the Bauhaus, serving as the school’s director.[1] Also in Germany, at the School of Textile Engineering in Berlin, Guermonprez studied with another former Bauhaus student, Benita Otte-Kuch, one of the most accomplished of the Bauhaus’s weaving students.[2] At the close of World War II that Guermonprez left Europe for America, taking her first teaching job at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina.[3]

 Trude Guermonprez, Detail of First Snow, 1957. 1993-121-1, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York.

I'm not going to go into the whole background of Black Mountain College, since I wrote a lot about it last year, suffice it to say that Black Mountain held as its core the belief in the idea that the arts should be central to any education and integrated into all aspects of a liberal curriculum.[4] In 1947, under the guise of a visiting weaving consultant - a necessary requirement to get her into the country - her family, who worked at Black Mountain College, and whom had been unsure of her safety during the war years, expedited Guermonprez's arrival in the United States.[5] While the visit was only meant to be a short one, it happened to coincide with a sabbatical leave of the Albers.[6] Anni, head of the weaving department at the school, invited Guermonprez, along with Franziska Mayer, a student at and fellow European émigré, to run the department in her absence.[7] When Albers returned the following year, Guermonprez was invited to stay on as permanent faculty, working as a teacher while also creating her own work.[8]

  Trude Guermonprez, Leaf Study, 1948. Trude Guermonprez Archives, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library, New York. 

Along with the designs that Guermonprez executed for private commissions, her most well-known piece from the time is the tapestry Leaf Study (1948), based on a leaf motif created by a painted warp, a technique called pictorial weaving that Guermonprez and Anni Albers were both experimenting with at the time, and which was perfected at Black Mountain.[9] Pictorial weavings had been one of the main focuses of textile design at the Bauhaus, with both Guermonprez and Albers taking up this method and working to add to and refine it throughout their careers. As Guermonprez explains about the process and how it relates to her own work:
At that time pictorial weaving had been done mostly in the Gobelin technique, where the weft thread carried the color and formed the image. Often painters were the designers of those tapestries, and trained weavers had executed them. My thought then was this: Painters used woven canvas as the base for their brushwork; why then should not I, as a weaver, enter the process at an earlier phase. I would paint on the warp and see how subsequently the perpendicular interlacing of the weft would later color and texture…Still in the grip of tradition, I asked a painter friend at Black Mountain to make a design which I could paint on the warp. This is how Leafstudy came about.[10]
Similar techniques of printing images onto finished woven pieces, such as batik and other screenprinting processes, had been around since the early 1900s, and were made popular by such designers as Marion Dorn, Ilonka Karasz and Ruth Reeves.[11] Taking the idea of the printed image and working with it in a new way, Guermonprez and Albers’ notion of painting the warp directly rather than printing on a finished piece further integrated painting into the weaving process, creating nuances of color that could not otherwise be achieved. While the history of pictorial weaving is a long one, dating back to medieval tradition of tapestry design, it was a traditional process that utilized the weaver as a technician only, whereas this new pictorial weaving process combines the work of both the painter, who designs a work, and the weaver, who executes the design, merging these two distinct artists into one. Not only does the weaver design and implement the work, but the entire piece is enhanced by the use of a painted warp, being thought less of as the separate entities of warp and weft, but as a single work.[12] This pictorial approach to weaving is carried throughout Guermonprez’s career, although she quickly abandons the idea of actually painting on the warp, creating woven pieces that embody the same painterly aspects of these first works without the actual use of paint. This approach is particularly indicative of the idea of the whole craftsperson, one whose creation is theirs from start to finish, one of the tenets of the Bauhaus and a continuation of the Arts and Crafts ideal, an idea that continued to influence Guermonprez throughout her life.[13]

[1] Anna Rowland, “Introduction,” The Bauhaus Source Book, 6. 

[2] Mary Emmas Harris, The Arts at Black Mountain College (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 132.

[3] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 6.

[4] Mary Emmas Harris, "Introduction," The Arts at Black Mountain College (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), xxi.

[5] Ibid., 132.

[6] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 6.

[7] Mary Emmas Harris, The Arts at Black Mountain College (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 132.

[8] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 6.

[9] Mary Emmas Harris, The Arts at Black Mountain College (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 132.

[10] Hazel V. Bray, “Introduction,” The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez (Oakland, CA: Oakland Museum, 1982), published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Tapestries of Trude Guermonprez” shown at the Oakland Museum, 6.

[11] Mary Schoeser and Whitney Blausen, “‘Wellpaying Self Support’: Women Textile Designers,” Women Designers In the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference, ed. Pat Kirkham (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 148.

[12] Jan Janeiro, "Trude Guermonprez: A Quiet Journey," Surface Design Journal, (Fall 1991), 6-7.

[13] Anna Rowland, “Introduction,” The Bauhaus Source Book (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990), 10.

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