Remembering the Women of Bauhaus: Margarete Heymann

 
 

Images: artsy.net

Margarete, a German-born Jewish ceramic artist, was just 21 when she joined the Bauhaus in 1920  – a year after it’s opening. Prior to this, she’d been studying painting at the College of Applied Arts in Cologne and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf. Upon her enrolment at Bauhaus, she was keen to get involved in the ceramics department – and whilst she did get involved, it was only permitted on a trial basis. There were no other women in the department at the time, and it’s thought that workshop Master Gerhard Marcks and his colleague Max Krehan made life hard for Margarete. She was told by the Bauhaus Masters that whilst she had artistic talent, she was ‘not suitable for the workshop’.

Frustrated with the restrictions, Margarete dropped out of the Bauhaus less than a year later. In 1923 she founded one of the leading pre-war potteries in Germany - Hael Workshops for Artistic Ceramics - with her husband Gustav Lobenstein and his brother Daniel. Their concept for the workshop was to combine avant-garde design with down-to-earth craftsmanship. At the workshop there were women working on large scale productions, painting décor on pots, cups, saucers and plates along an assembly line. The ceramic slurry was partially casted in molds, which was a modern production method way ahead of the Bauhaus - where they were still considering larger scale productions. Business developed quickly and their consumer base reached as far as America, Africa and Australia.

The ceramic designs produced in Margarete’s workshop were inspired by the pioneer of abstract art Wassily Kandinsky, and have since become synonymous with avant-garde ceramics. From teapot to ashtray, when the workshop was in production customers could buy many items featuring the same design. Because they were more akin to the works of modernist art than practical items for everyday use, there are a lot of well-preserved pieces being seen at auctions today.

Sadly, in 1928 her husband and his brother died in a car accident on the way to a trade fair in Leipzig, leaving Margarete alone to run the business and raise two children. Unlike many other ceramic companies at the time, Margarete managed to keep the business afloat during a global economic crisis, albeit with huge financial losses. However, being both a Jewish businesswoman and a modern artist, by the 1930s Margarete found herself under significant political pressure. Her entire business inventory was confiscated before the workshop was forced to close in 1933. And if this wasn’t awful enough, Margaretes younger son tragically died in a Berlin apartment fire during the same year.  

Margarete was made to sell her business in 1934 to the secretary of the Reich Association of German Handicraft Henrich Schild, who along with ceramic artist Hedwig Bollhagen, founded the HB workshops there. Contrary to the Nazi belief that Margaretes work was ‘degenerate’, Hedwig retained many of her designs through to the 1960s.

Magazine article: Article from Berlin propaganda magazine ‘The Attack’ – a comparison of ceramics by Margarete and Hedwig, captioned ‘Two different races found for the same purpose different forms. Which one is more beautiful?’.  Image: © Zeitungs-Archiv Ofen- und Keramikmuseum Velten

Magazine article: Article from Berlin propaganda magazine ‘The Attack’ – a comparison of ceramics by Margarete and Hedwig, captioned ‘Two different races found for the same purpose different forms. Which one is more beautiful?’.

Image: © Zeitungs-Archiv Ofen- und Keramikmuseum Velten

With the help of Heal’s in London, who had previously stocked her work, Margarete moved to England in 1936. In 1938 she married Harold Marks and also founded her company ‘Greta Pottery’. Despite a dedicated following from the progressive London art scene, her ceramics never fully hit off in the still-traditional UK ceramics industry. She also found that she didn’t fit in with the role-specific views of the time, and the regions pottery elite disapproved of her feminist, entrepreneurial spirit.

In 1945 she returned to her passion of painting and pursued this as a career until she died in 1990. 

Liking our posts on the female pioneers of Bauhaus? Check our blog next week for the third and last instalment of the series, on the life of Marianne Brandt.

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