Few movements in design history have captured the public’s imagination like Bauhaus has.
Bauhaus was an avant-garde German design school that operated between the years of 1919 to 1933, when it was forced to close from pressure by the Nazi Party. The utopian vision from the founder, Walter Gropius, was to establish a radical new type of design education. The Bauhaus aesthetic is often recognisable by its distinct approach to design, and has become a defining feature European modernism during the interwar period. In more recent years, research into the women within the movement have gained traction.
Otti Berger was a textile designer and weaver who studied, and taught, at Bauhaus of Jewish heritage. Berger was born in Zmajevac in Austro-Hungarian Empire (present day Croatia) in 1898. Her career in design began when she enrolled into the Royal Academy of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb. She continued her studies until 1926 when she enrolled into Bauhaus in Dessau. Berger’s talent quickly became noticed, and many consider her to be one of the most talented weavers at Bauhaus at the time. Her designs were often in bold colours based on repeating geometric shapes.
Bauhaus curriculum was loosely based on the aesthetic ideology of ‘gusamptkunstwerk’. Translating to ‘total work of art’, it describes the synthetisation of many artistic expressions into a singular one. When Berger enrolled she, like all other students, undertook a basic foundation course titled ‘Vorlehre’, before specialising in an area of interest. Despite its progressive attitudes towards gender and education, deep rooted bias meant that most women were railroaded into areas deemed appropriate for women including weaving, pottery and bookbinding.
Berger attended Bauhaus between the years of 1927 and 1930. In 1931 she began teaching at Bauhaus at the recommendation of Gunta Stolzt. The limited options available for women meant many had little or no practical experience with weaving when entering the school. This has partially been attributed to their experimental approaches to design. Berger was amongst those who explored unconventional materials and worked with industry to create innovative solutions to problems through textiles. In more recent year, Art historians presented that the women of the Bauhaus were making fine art statements through the medium of textiles. Berger left Bauhaus in 1932 and set up her own design business.
Legislation passed in 1936 banning Jewish people from having business in Germany. Berger was forced into exile, coming to London whilst awaiting an American visa. Berger’s work in the UK was limited, but she worked briefly with Helios Ltd and Marianne Straub. Helios’ design ethos was to produce good quality designs that were inexpensive. She produced a total of three designs for Helios including Reigate, Burdale and Ascot which were all power woven designs. There were also two additional designs that have been attributed to Berger, but seems that they were never put into production. Helios would later be acquired by luxury textile manufacturer Warner & Sons.
After failing to find substantial amounts of work, and due to the ill-health of her mother. Berger was forced to return to Croatia. Her return to Croatia would tragically result in her deportation to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz where she was eventually murdered. Many believe that had Berger survived, she would have gone on to have an equally as successful career as other designers such as her close friend Anni Albers.
Holocaust Memorial Day is held annually on 27 January to commemorate those murdered under Nazi genocide. It is estimated that 17 million people were brutally killed, of which 6 million were Jewish men, women and children.