Anni Albers is perhaps the best-known textile artist of the twentieth century. She worked primarily in textiles, but later in life also worked as a printmaker. She produced numerous designs in ink washes for her textiles, and occasionally experimented with jewelry. Her woven works include many wall hangings, curtains and bedspreads, mounted “pictorial” images, and mass-produced yard material. Her weavings are often constructed of both traditional and industrial materials, for example sometimes combining jute, paper, and cellophane.
She was born Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann in Berlin on June 12, 1899 of Jewish descent. Her mother was from an aristocratic family in the publishing industry and her father was a furniture maker. Albers took up painting at an early age and studied under an impressionist from 1916 to 1919. Upon seeing a portrait of hers, Oskar Kokoschka asked Albers sharply, “Why do you point?” causing Albers to question her artistic ability. She attended the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg for only two months in 1920, but in April 1922 went to the Bauhaus at Weimar.
Albers studied under Georg Muche and Johannes Itten at Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus. During her second year, Albers was unable to enroll in a glass workshop since she was a woman and instead reluctantly enrolled in a class on weaving. Despite her reluctance, her instructor, Gunta Stolzl, taught Albers to love the tactile construction challenges presented by weaving.
In 1925, Anni married Josef Albers, who had rapidly become a “Junior Master” at the Bauhaus. That same year, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau and shifted its focus from craft to production, prompting Albers to develop many functionally unique textiles that combined properties of light reflection, sound absorption, durability, and minimized wrinkling and warping tendencies. For a period, Albers studied under Paul Klee until she accepted a teaching position in 1928 to teach next to the Klees and Kandinskys.
When the Bauhaus closed in 1933 under pressure from the Nazi party, Anni and Josef Albers accepted teaching positions at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Both taught at the college until 1949, during which time Anni Albers’ weavings were shown throughout the United States, culminating in her 1949 show at the Museum of Modern Art, the first textile show at that museum. Albers was established as the most well known weaver of her day.
After leaving Black Mountain College in 1949, Josef Albers accepted a position as chair of the design department at Yale and Anni began working from their new home in Connecticut. She was commissioned by Gropius to design a variety of bedspreads and other textiles for Harvard and spent much of the 1950s working on mass-producible fabric patterns. In 1963, Albers experimented with printmaking at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles and thereafter spent most of her time on lithography and screen-printing. She published two books, On Designing and On Weaving.
Albers had several more exhibitions of her textile and print work after her husband died in 1975 and received half a dozen honorary doctorates and lifetime achievement awards since that time. In 1980 she received the second American Craft Council Gold Medal for “uncompromising excellence.” She continued to make prints and to lecture until her death on May 9, 1994 in Connecticut.