Anni Albers was a German-American weaver and textile designer, born in Berlin, and a student at the Bauhaus weaving workshop between 1923 and 1925, studying with Gunta Stölzl. She later recalled that this was not teaching in the formal sense, but sitting down and working out problems of construction together. After marrying Josef Albers in 1925, she taught and was an assistant at the Weaving Workshop. She developed her style of intricate weaves, exploring multilayered weave constructions, and for her, the integral relationship between construction and pattern. Function and subordination to the home environment became preoccupations with the Bauhaus weavers, Anni developing structural fabrics with specific uses. These included her leno open weave for curtains in 1929, to shield but also admit light, and her fabric for the Zeiss Ikon Company of the same year, with a cotton warp and cellophane front for increased light reflection and chenille back for sound absorption. This she later called “textile engineering” and was a theme she continued during her career. She also introduced the Jacquard loom to the Bauhaus workshop, which translated her geometric designs more crisply than the handloom could. She was not sentimental about handweaving, stating that “I cannot conceive of machines as anything but a blessing.”
In 1933, she and Josef immigrated to the United States with the closure of the Bauhaus and took up teaching posts at newly founded Black Mountain College, North Carolina. Anni taught and was director of the weaving workshop, which became self-supporting through selling functional textiles and by obtaining commissions. Although using handlooms, the aim was not to become craftspeople but to influence design, primarily in industry. She studied the work of Mexican and ancient Peruvian weavers, traveling around Latin America from 1935 which had a significant impact on her work, particularly in her interest about ciphers and the relationship between language and weaving. In 1949 she became the first weaver to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. For this, she textile-engineered wall dividers of varying opaqueness.
Her rise to preeminence in the United States, and her success at promoting weaving, had a profound influence on American textile designers such as Dorothy Liebes, Jack Lenor Larsen, and Boris Kroll. This was cemented by her steady output of writing that examined both techniques of weaving and her ideas, for example, On Weaving of 1965. The relationship between architecture and weaving was especially important to Anni, the “pliable plane” historically preceding the solid wall of buildings. Weaving was part of the architectural elements, providing hangings and room dividers and an essential part of a modernist interior. She also worked on other creative projects. In 1940, she created a collection of jewelry from basic household items, such as paper clips, pins, erasers, metal sieves, and nuts, with her student Alex Reed. This was anti-luxury jewelry that sought a new definition of value, echoing jewelry found at Monte Albán, Mexico, which combined precious and non-precious elements.
In 1950, Josef Albers took up a post at Yale University and a year later Florence Knoll invited Anni to collaborate with Knoll Textiles, a relationship that lasted thirty years. In 1963–4 she discovered printmaking, giving away her looms in 1970 to concentrate on this medium and designing prints for Knoll. She also taught at art schools across the United States and her work was frequently exhibited, with her first European exhibition in 1975. Anni was a pioneer of abstract art and textile art, believing the good designer was the anonymous designer who did not stand in the way of the material. She regarded machine and handweaving as equally valid and likewise synthetic and natural materials, her work uniting art and utility.
See also Josef Albers; Bauhaus; Black Mountain College; Sheila Hicks; Knoll; Florence Knoll; Boris Kroll; Jack Lenor Larsen; Dorothy Liebes; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gunta Stölzl; Textile Design; Zeiss.