Bauhaus in Krefeld
The names Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich are the first and perhaps the only ones that are usually mentioned when asking about the connection between Bauhaus and the Rhineland textile city of Krefeld in the 1920s and 30s. The close and long-term connection the famous architect and Bauhaus director and his partner had with Krefeld’s silk industry is well studied and its results are still visible today: first and foremost Haus Lange and Haus Esters, representative residential buildings, today mostly used for exhibitions by Krefeld’s art museums, built for the founders of United Silk Weaving Mills (Verseidag) in the late 1920s. And there’s also the so-called Färberei and HE-Gebäude (dyeing mill and HE building), Mies’ only factory building, built in 1931 for Verseidag in Krefeld.
But the fact that, as well as Mies and Reich, more than 30 Bauhaus members, i. e. graduates and former teachers of the Bauhaus School of Art, Design and Architecture, learned, lived and worked in Krefeld from the 1920s, some of them even until the 1960s, is a fact not well known even among experts. They found new fields of activity not only in architecture but also in textile design and particularly in training designers at the various schools in Krefeld (School of Textile Design, Textile Engineering School, Werkkunstschule).
One of them was Johannes Itten, the charismatic but also controversial founder of the Bauhaus educational model, who became head of the newly founded School of Textile Design in 1931 in response to requests from local industry. Another example is Georg Muche who took over Itten’s position in 1938 and maintained a small ›Bauhaus enclave‹ in Krefeld during the war, as he later recounted. The painter Max Peiffer Watenphul also found work here. Others came to visit, such as painter and Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer. ›Such a lot of Bauhaus here and all of them very useful people‹, he wrote to his wife after he had met a number of his former students at one of Georg Muche’s classes: Hans Volger, who worked as a construction official (‘Baurat’) in Krefeld up until the 1960s; his wife Lis Beyer, but also Gerhard and Elisabeth Kadow, who later became teachers at the Werkkunstschule, and others. Bauhaus student Hans Kessler, whose letters to his mother still give us a vivid view of the daily life at Bauhaus, also lived in Krefeld from the 1930s.
The only other cities where so many Bauhaus members lived were Hamburg and Berlin. Why did so many of them come to Krefeld? Due to its large number of textile companies along with all the necessary training facilities and research institutes, the city was quite attractive. There was definitely a great demand for designers in production and training. In addition, there was already contact between Bauhaus and Krefeld stemming from the early days of the famous art school: in 1922, when the Bauhaus weaving mill was still in the process of being established, Bauhaus students came to Krefeld to learn the necessary technical principles of weaving and dyeing at the city’s textile schools. One of them was Gunta Stölzl who later was in charge of teaching textile design at Bauhaus and for a long time the only female Bauhaus teacher.
The intellectual climate that had already started to develop during the Art Nouveau period around 1900 proved beneficial for the lively mutual exchange that resulted during these early days of Bauhaus: the city’s economic and intellectual middle class had a keen interest in the avant-garde. Since the reform movement which took place around 1900, Krefeld’s industries were vital partners of the city’s Museum of Arts and Crafts. The museum’s directors turned it into a forum for the discussion of a new kind of design, adapted to the changed production conditions. The goals of the reform movement and the Werkbund were actively discussed and implemented in Krefeld. The city’s silk manufacturers, in particular, saw these avant-garde artists as interesting partners for the economic goals of their industry when it came to self-promotion and training. The Krefeld-based industrial association ›Verein deutscher Seidenwebereien (Association of German Silk Weaving Mills)‹ played a key role in this process and became an international platform. As a result, the Bauhaus members encountered a scene in Krefeld that was already open towards contemporary trends in architecture, design and art.