Anni Albers is a name now synonymous with weaving and textiles, however her preliminary studies on paper made with ink, gouache, pen, pencil – and even the keys of a typewriter – were integral in the designing of these seminal weavings.
Anni Albers’s (1899-1994) life traversed three continents: sometimes for research and at other times for necessity. Born in Berlin, Germany as Annelise Elsa Frieda Fleischmann to a Jewish family, Anni rebelled the traditional route of wife and mother expected from her parents and instead tracked the life of an artist. In 1922 she became a student at the Bauhaus in the weaving workshop when the now-famous school was situated in Weimar. Here she met her husband-to-be, Josef Albers, and together they would continue their art investigations side by side.
In 1923 when the Bauhaus school moved from Weimar to Dessau, Anni and Josef moved with it where Anni, along with weavers such as Gunta Stolzl and Otti Berger, developed a strong, critical theory of weaving and textiles that reverberates through the years with an influence that can be found in many designs today.
In 1933 the Albers’s, like many others, were forced to leave Germany. Anni and Josef headed to Asheville, North Carolina, USA, to teach at the new experimental Black Mountain College which also attracted artists Robert Rauschenberg, Ruth Asawa and John Cage. Anni’s move to the United States allowed travel to Latin America during the summers – a place the Albers’s would revisit many times – and in Mexico, Chile and Peru Anni learnt different weaving techniques and fell in love with the textiles.
Anni brought these techniques, along with the experimental spirit of Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, into her own practice using innovative materials such as cellophane, newspaper and horsehair alongside natural fibres of jute and cotton. Although some of her weavings may look experimental with hairy tufts and burst of metallic shine, they were considered and planned structurally through drawings often on gridded graph paper.
The grid is the structure all threads are woven through, and Anni would often create preliminary drawings on gridded paper plotting out the pattern using graphic materials such as pencils, ink, felt tip pen, watercolour and gouache. If we consider thread as a line, we can imagine why a graphite pencil or ink line would be a perfect substitute for thread in these paper studies. Sometimes these lines would be organic in style, swishing and swooshing, at other times a typewriter would be used where a repeated key, an ‘S’ or a ‘:’ or ‘%’ would form its own pattern. In other studies, Anni would mimic the tactility of a fabric such as in ‘Design for Wall Hanging 1927’, using gouache and ink on paper where the Indian ink had been delicately sprayed to create a mottled fabric-looking effect.
Anni’s weaving designs on paper often included a key grid of colours painted in gouache with pencil notes next to the key and annotated again on the design indicating the specific colour or fabric that was being proposed, others had roman numerals codes and pencil written notes of mediums used like “gouache, Indian ink, sprayed” or “size: sketch: 75/8” x 101/8”” with her name pencil written as “Anni Albers” or “Annelise Albers”. These ink and pencil studies are worthy of their own critical fame and can be found in museum and institution collections around the world; her gouache on paper designs for wall hangings are beautiful in their own right, whilst also performing the vital task of allowing Anni Albers to map out on paper the structure and design of her complex and experimental textiles.
Find out more about Anni Albers and her work via the Black Mountain College website.