What made Otti Berger’s Bauhaus textile work so influential?

Otti Berger - Eldrig, 1938, woven textile, Whitworth archive collection
Otti Berger – Eldrig, 1938, woven textile, Whitworth archive collection

Who was Otti Berger?

Otti Berger is a respected name in the corridors of art history. The esteemed textile artist and weaver studied and later taught at the Bauhaus when it was still at the height of popularity in Germany. Born in present-day Croatia, Berger was one of the few female students and educators at the Bauhaus, managing to rack up a respectable reputation for herself despite being surrounded by the likes of Kandinsky and Gropius.

How Berger helped females

Alongside other female artists, she helped to pave a way where female artists and weavers could be taken seriously. The Bauhaus, despite being one of the most notable design movements of the 20th century was not very revolutionary when it came to supporting females.

Children’s carpet by Otti Berger (foreground) & annoymous divan cover (rear), Bauhaus. Textiles and Graphics, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
Children’s carpet by Otti Berger (foreground) & annoymous divan cover (rear), Bauhaus: Textiles and Graphics, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

The reality of gender equality at Bauhaus

Although the Bauhaus claimed to treat male and female collogues alike, the unfortunate truth is that women’s creativity was often obstructed by unnecessary boundaries. As a result, many females found themselves relegated to the weaving and textile classes. Even when the female weavers excelled, they simply were not allowed to outshine the male artists.

Berger’s pioneer work

Otti Berger, however, was different because she completely revolutionized the game. For example, she was the first woman ever to get a protection patent for her textile designs. The de Ploeg Company of Netherlands even made an exception for Berger; they had a policy of keeping the names of designers anonymous but agreed to display Berger’s initials next to the names of her designs.

New fabrics & incorporating plastic textiles

Patenting new fabrics and creating innovative chemical treatments and new materials, the success of this nature was very new for women. Berger soon became a core member of the textile team at Bauhaus, which allowed her to further experiment with textile methodology and materials during her stay at the world-famous German school. Eventually, she even incorporated plastic textiles into her designs which were intended for mass production.

Otti Berger - Sample of Upholstery for Tubular Furniture, 1932-1937, Double weave of cotton and plastic fibers, 32.7 x 72 cm (12 7/8 x 28 3/8 in.), Harvard Art Museums
Otti Berger – Sample of Upholstery for Tubular Furniture, 1932-1937, Double weave of cotton and plastic fibers, 32.7 x 72 cm (12 7/8 x 28 3/8 in.), Harvard Art Museums

Berger’s role at Bauhaus

Along with other textile artists such as Annie Albers1 and Gunta Stözl (who influenced Berger heavily), she helped to show the world that textiles were not just a feminine craft but an artistic one to be taken seriously. During her time at Dessau, she created general text on fabric and the process of textile production, which remained with founder Walter Gropius. Unfortunately, it was never published even after Gropius resigned.

A tragic ending

Aside from creating innovative designs and processes, Berger also served as a deputy in the textile workshop under Lily Reich and she developed a curriculum and served as a mentor to numerous students who adopted various Bauhaus methods. Unfortunately, Berger like many German Jews of that era died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in April 1944. Today, her legacy lives on through her general texts and innovative textile solutions.

Judit Kárász- Portrait of Otti Berger with the facade of the Bauhaus, double exposure

Artworks

Otti Berger - Hortensia Pattern Fabric Samples, textile fibers, Dimensions vary, Harvard Art Museums
Otti Berger – Hortensia Pattern Fabric Samples, textile fibers, dimensions vary, Harvard Art Museums

Otti Berger - Plain weave, cotton, mercerized cotton, 185 x 109 cm
Otti Berger – Plain weave, cotton, mercerized cotton, 185 x 109 cm
Photo: bpk / Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz/May Voigt/bauhaus100.com

Otti Berger - Rug, 1930, smyrna wool and hemp, Bauhaus Weaving Workshop
Otti Berger – Rug, 1930, smyrna wool and hemp, Bauhaus Weaving Workshop

Otti Berger - Sample (Furnishing Fabric), 1919–1933, Cellophane, plain weave, 35.5 x 45.8 cm (14 x 18 in.), artic.edu
Otti Berger – Sample (Furnishing Fabric), 1919–1933, Cellophane, plain weave, 35.5 x 45.8 cm (14 x 18 in.)
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
/artic.edu

Otti Berger - Sample (Upholstery Fabric), 1919–1933, Cellophane, weft band, weft-float faced broken reversed twill weave, 31.8 x 38 cm (12 1/2 x 15 in.), artic.edu
Otti Berger – Sample (Upholstery Fabric), 1919–1933, Cellophane, weft band, weft-float faced broken reversed twill weave, 31.8 x 38 cm (12 1/2 x 15 in.)
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
/artic.edu

Otti Berger - Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, various fibers and weaves, artic.edu
Otti Berger – Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, various fibers and weaves
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
/artic.edu

Otti Berger - Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, Various fibers and weaves, artic.edu
Otti Berger – Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, various fibers and weaves
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
/artic.edu

Otti Berger - Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, Hemp
Otti Berger – Swatches of Drapery, Wallpaper and Upholstery Materials, 1919–1933, Hemp, two-faced complementary warp weave of 3/3 twill weave and of warp-float faced 5/1 twill weave, 23.6 x 15.2 cm (9 3/8 x 6 in.)
Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago
/artic.edu

Otti Berger - Book, mid 1930s, cotton, 9.5 x 24.1cm (3 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Otti Berger – Book, mid 1930s, cotton, 9.5 x 24.1cm (3 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)

Otti Berger - Book (detail), mid 1930s, cotton, 9.5 x 24.1cm (3 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Otti Berger – Book (detail), mid 1930s, cotton, 9.5 x 24.1cm (3 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)

Otti Berger - Book, ca. 1935, Cotton, 14 x 22.9 cm. (5-1/2 x 9 in.)
Otti Berger – Book, ca. 1935, Cotton, 14 x 22.9 cm. (5-1/2 x 9 in.)
Photo: metmuseum.org

Otti Berger - Camelia Pattern Fabric Samples, Textile fibers, Harvard Art Museums
Otti Berger – Camelia Pattern Fabric Samples, Textile fibers, Harvard Art Museums

Otti Berger - Bauhaus Vorhangsstoffe Gewebt Gittertülle (Bauhaus curtain fabrics woven lattice tulle) (Textile sample book) c.1933, 17 x 23.5 cm (6 11/16 x 9 1/4 in.)
Otti Berger – Bauhaus Vorhangsstoffe Gewebt Gittertülle (Bauhaus curtain fabrics woven lattice tulle) (Textile sample book) c.1933, 17 x 23.5 cm (6 11/16 x 9 1/4 in.)
Photo: moma.org

Otti Berger - Christmas and New Year Card, 1937, Harvard Art Museums
Otti Berger – Christmas and New Year Card, 1937, Harvard Art Museums

  1. https://publicdelivery.org/anni-albers/
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