The World in the Province from the Province to the World

Bauhaus Ceramics in an International Context

In this article Hans-Peter Jakobson presents the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. Based on the life paths, inspirations and influences of the few ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg, he traces possible worldwide developments in ceramics to the present day.

Just how serious was Walter Gropius to actualize at the Bauhaus the demand expressed in his manifesto, “art and technology—a new unity” from 1923 is perhaps most impressively demonstrated in the construction of the school’s ceramics workshop, which had already opened at a Weimar furnace factory as early as 1919. However, since Gropius was unable, with regards to ceramics training, to implement the principle of dual apprenticeship in Weimar—with an outstanding modern artist as Formmeister (master of form) and an equally experienced master craftsman who would also be open to new artistic ideas as a “master of crafts” (variously translated as Lehrmeister or Werkmeister)—he had to look for alternatives in the region of Thuringia.

The painter Friedrich Blau drew Gropius’s attention to the brothers Max and Karl Krehan, potters who lived and worked in the small town of Dornburg, about 30 km outside of Weimar. Situated on a high plateau above the Saale valley, the former stables of the three Dornburg Castles stood empty: a scant five minutes away the Krehan brothers, fourth generation ceramicists, were facing difficulties, with no male descendants (hence, no one to carry on the family business) and, despite the superior quality of their wares, falling local sales on account of the postwar economic depression which had adversely affected their main customer base, the poor rural population.

Gropius visited Dornburg together with Gerhard Marcks and several students, accepting the royal stables as a potentially suitable combination workshop and residence for the apprentices. The Bauhaus legation had also been impressed with the person of Max Krehan. Subsequently, the Master Council decided, despite the distance from the head office and the complicated transport connections, to transfer the ceramic workshop of the Bauhaus to Dornburg. Max Krehan was notified of his appointment as Lehrmeister (master of crafts) by a telegram sent on 13 October 1920, which contained the laconic sentence “You are now considered the head of the ceramic workshop.”

Ceramic workshop in Dornburg 1920–25

Gerhard Marcks, who was appointed master of form to the ceramics department, appreciated Max Krehan’s superior professional ability, his openness to new things, and his human qualities. He always worked together with him respectfully. Although Marcks himself had no practical knowledge or skills of pottery, he had already shown a great interest in ceramics prior to arriving at the Bauhaus. For instance, on several occasions he made note of a “most wonderful eighteenth century pitcher”1 purchased in 1918 in Danzig, and in a letter he made an almost passionate plea for the craft: “I thought, ‘Ah, if one could only make pottery!’ I bought books on ceramics; I studied Asian, Greek, and other vessels; and I began modeling pots …. At the Bauhaus I intended to reawaken this old craft in all its beauty.”2

At Dornburg, Marcks’ teaching activities as master of form consisted mainly in conveying artistic ideas and attitudes through the example of his own work—sculpture in wood and clay, which he could only practice to a limited extent in Dornburg, producing mostly drawings and woodcuts. He had learned the technique from his friend Lyonel Feininger in his Bauhaus studio. He also painted ceramic vessels made by Krehan and, later, pottery made by his students Marguerite Friedlaender (who later became well-known in the United States under her married name Marguerite Wildenhain), Theodor Bogler and Otto Lindig. The latter described Marcks’ teaching activities as follows: “His influence, which had a great effect, was based exclusively on conversations with him, on the fact that he offered us an insight in his work, that we all lived together completely free and open-minded.”3 Theodor Bogler experienced it the same way: “His personal works, which were created in a quiet studio, had a stimulating effect.”4

One of the most beautiful artworks of Marcks’ from this time was a book with drawings from different periods, in different handwritings and different techniques. It tells of life in and around Dornburg Castle. The book contains almost naturalistic pencil drawings, geometric and colored compositions, stylized depictions of animals, as well as comic representations of everyday experiences which, despite their humor, are always testimonies of a deeply felt love for people and nature. He wrote on the endpaper in ornamental writing: “What the eye saw and the heart felt, the hand drew and now you have it!” Eye, heart and hand are inserted into the text as pictograms: in her epilogue Martina Rudloff described the book this way: “rather ... a diary or a poetry album ... a very private picture book.”5

Vessel by Max Krehan painted by Gerhard Marcks.
From: Bauhaus Fotoalbum, copy: Archiv Jakobson, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

Gerhard Marcks, Landschaft mit weißem Haus (Landscape with white house), 1921.
Gerhard-Marcks-Haus, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

Theodor Bogler, Doppelkanne, 1922. In the photo album of the Bauhaus ceramics sheet 2, this jug (middle) is mistakenly identified as the work of Gerhard Marcks and Otto Lindig. Bogler’s small incised signature is clearly visible on the lower attachment of one of the jug’s two handles.
From: Bauhaus Fotoalbum, copy: Archiv Jakobson.

Otto Lindig, jugs, from: Bauhaus Fotoalbum, copy: Archiv Jakobson.

I mention the sketchbook here because it is precisely this type of drawing that can be found in Theodor Bogler’s early works, and later—in an even more pronounced fashion—in the American drawings of Marguerite Friedlaender and Frans Wildenhain. The influence of Marcks’ Dornburg woodcuts can also be found in the six-part cycle of the apprentice Wilhelm Löber Dornburger Straßen- und Familienbilder from 1925, a work which allows further insights into the everyday life of the small workshop community.

The most authentic testimony to the vessels created during these years in Dornburg is contained in a photo album created by the Bauhaus, where in six out of more than 40 pictures the cooperation of the master of form is noted by the remark “after Marcks.” His paintings were given an additional mention. In the catalogue Keramik und Bauhaus Klaus Weber also refers to a direct collaboration with Theodor Bogler on the Doppelkanne from 1922, a particularly striking creation from the early days of the workshop.6

As a sculptor, Gerhard Marcks saw his major task, as an existential artistic element within vessel design, as that of developing an awareness of the quality of form. He recalled in a letter from 1978: “... the form was the main thing. It had hardly changed for centuries, i.e. it had become weaker and weaker. ... The form had to be discovered first.”7His aim was to convey to his students how vessels-as-sculptures possess clearly separated elements whose form combine to form an exciting and expressively organic, functional whole. Therefore, in the early experimental “discovery phase” of teaching functionality took a back seat to the discovery of forms.

In his pedagogical experiments Marcks used traditional regional vessels from the Krehan workshop—Kruken (derived from the Low German for jug, Kruke refers to ceramic jars commonly used by pharmacists at the time for storing semi-solid preparations such as ointments, pastes and creams), bottles and pots of various sizes—as beginning forms. At the same time, due to a lack of original ceramics on hand, he encouraged his students to study ceramics from different cultures, probably utilizing the books on ceramics he refers to having bought in his previously quoted remarks. The assumption that a piece of Central American pottery from the Bauhaus ceramics collection at the Angermuseum Erfurt and a Kyusu (a one-handed teapot with side handle, possibly of Japanese origin) held amongst other vessels of Bauhaus provenance in the Stadtmuseum Gera (acquired by the Städtischer Kunstverein around 1923), could possibly have been original demonstration pieces from the Dornburg workshop cannot, at least as far as the latter is concerned, be wholly proven. However, since Marcks explicitly refers to his study of Asian ceramics in the previously quoted letter, he would certainly have been familiar with the Kyusu-type teapot. Perhaps Theodor Bogler also knew of them as well, since beginning in 1922 he developed modular teapots and other vessels with side handles.

left: Theodor Bogler, teapot with sugar bowl, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Gera, photo: Ulrich Fischer and Frank Rüdiger.
right: Kyusu (possibly of Japanese origin) from the Stadtmuseum Gera, photo: Museum für Angewandte Kunst Gera.

The reference points to Mediterranean and Central American pottery traditions are most clearly discernible in the large vessels Bogler and Lindig created in 1922, partly based on sketches by Marcks. Imaginative variations of various traditional Spanish storage and drinking vessels, they included pottery modeled on the two-handled Cántaros, produced in many regional variations, the Porrón—which are mostly spherical-bellied forms possessing up to two handles (although some are handle-less) and both a filling opening and a lateral spout—as well as the Botijo, which has a voluminous bulbous body, one or more filling openings, and spout from which people drink. Sometimes openings in such vessels are connected by a vaulted bridge, similar to the Thuringian Henkelbraut, which has a handle which joins two pots together. Such bridges were widely used in many local traditional forms of rural pottery, and are also often found in Central American ceramics, used to connect filler necks with nozzles. A Central American influence is particularly evident in the large pot known as the Vogelkanne (bird pot) in the Angermuseum collection, because of its painted surface, done by Max Krehan and Friedlander.

Otto Lindig, Kanne L16, 1923, photo: Ulrich Fischer and Frank Rüdiger, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Gera.

Theodor Bogler, storage jar, ca. 1923, photo: Ulrich Fischer and Frank Rüdiger, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Gera.

Marguerite Friedlaender, ‘Halle’ teaset with tea extract pot, 1929/30, photo: Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen GmbH.

Gerhard Marcks’ intense relationship with and knowledge of ancient Greek culture and art is well known and is also reflected in the Dornburg ceramics—for example, in the proportions and expressive silhouettes of vessels or decorations, whether with lines that support form or in archaically-styled figurative scenes. He also incorporated whimsical sayings common to traditional, domestic vessels. Thus, vessel-sculptures created in the Dornburg workshop exhibit a spectacular combination of traditional domestic vessel forms and decorative motifs—as well as a variety of international inspirations—in order to explore and experiment with changes in form. As demonstrations of artistic imagination and craftsmanship, their value lay in their perceptual properties rather than their practical use. This corresponded neither to the basic idea of Gropius, nor to how a conventional ceramic workshop is run. However, basic design knowledge and a thorough learning of the pottery trade—including turning, glazing and painting, as well as mastery of the kiln—was still imparted, forming the prerequisites skills for those later Bauhaus products, whose masterfully balanced design and high utility value made them classics of twentieth century modernity. These include Otto Lindig’s Kanne L16 and Vase L59, which he later wrote were the best he ever made, Theodor Bogler’s storage jars and Marguerite Friedlaender’s Hallesche Form service ware and vases, designed for the Staatliche Porzellanmanufaktur Berlin.

The fact that Bauhaus ceramics did not become more widespread was due to the relatively short duration of the Dornburg workshop’s existence, during which time its products were unable to be scaled to industrial production. The workshop was an educational facility, operating at a relatively low technical level, and therefore could not achieve any relevant production output of sufficiently high quality. In addition, Thuringia’s small and medium-sized porcelain industry was reluctant to take on Bauhaus models.

The End of Ceramic Work at the Bauhaus

With the abandonment of the State Bauhaus in Weimar in 1925 and its subsequent move to Dessau, the hopeful development of the Dornburg workshop broke down completely. To this day, the reasons why a ceramics workshop was not set up in Dessau are not fully known, even though the workshop in Dornburg was on the verge of industrial series production.

Gerhard Marks, Marguerite Friedlaender, Frans Wildenhain and later Wilhelm Löber all moved to Burg Giebichenstein in Halle. Theodor Bogler (the brother-in-law of Otto Lindig) became artistic director of the stoneware factories Velten-Vordamm. Otto Lindig remained in Dornburg as head of the ceramic workshop of the State Building School of Weimar, the successor of the Bauhaus, as did fellow Bauhaus ceramicist Werner Burri, until he succeeded Bogler in Velten-Vordamm in 1928. Burri, a Swiss citizen, returned to his native country in 1939. In 1930 Otto Lindig leased the Dornburg workshop, running it as a commercial pottery until he moved to the Landeskunstschule Hamburg in 1947.

However, the abrupt discontinuation of the ceramic work at the Bauhaus did not, in the end, mean the pioneering achievements in ceramics that had been made there were lost. The leading graduates and their master of form influenced both national and international ceramics with their own work and as teachers—of course due to the pressure of drastic political changes. The ceramists returned to the world from the small East Thuringian workshop located away from all major metropolises in a variety of ways.

Influence of Bauhaus Ceramists after 1925 in Germany

Otto Lindig played the greatest part in spreading the Bauhaus idea in his own country through his teacher training at the Bauhaus, his own workshop work from 1930–47 and, from 1947, through his professorship at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg8 (as well as through his design work for the Majolika ceramics manufactory in Karlsruhe). In the products and in what he conveyed to his numerous students and apprentices, the Bauhaus idea not only continued to live on, it multiplied itself again in their production and their subsequent training of aspiring ceramicists.9

Theodor Bogler had little influence on German ceramics after leaving the Velten-Vordamm stoneware factory, entering the Benedictine monastery Maria Laach in 1927. More remarkable is the work of Margarete Heymann, who moved to the ceramics workshop after her preliminary course at the Bauhaus, but left it again during the probationary period in 1921. Together with her husband Wilhelm Loebenstein she founded the Haël-Werkstatt in Marwitz, which was very successful both artistically and economically. Although she cannot be regarded as a representative of Bauhaus ceramics, her stoneware products often evoke the formal language of the Bauhaus and the influence of Kandinsky’s painting in her decorations. Of Jewish origin, she was forced to sell her company in 1934, immigrating to Great Britain two years later. There she did not receive the attention she had in Germany before the Nazi regime. In the rooms of the Marwitz workshop, Hedwig Bollhagen, with the collaboration of Countess Thoma Grote—also a student of the Dornburg workshop—built her HB workshops, which are still successful today. In addition to her own work, which is close to that of the Bauhaus, Werner Burri’s influence is clearly perceptible.

The International Influence of Bauhaus Ceramists

Werner Burri

While Werner Burri was still clearly present in Germany through his work with the HB-Werkstätten für Keramik GmbH (HB Workshops for Ceramics) after his return to Switzerland, his image slowly faded in Germany. From 1941 until his retirement in 1963, this excellent pottery wheel practitioner taught at the Berne Ceramic Technical School, where he instructed students in this basic ceramics technique while at the same time continuing to paint on ceramics, draw and pursue art historical research. The influence of his work and thus also the indirect relationship to Bauhaus ceramics was not discernible in Switzerland after 1941: Burri, at founding member and later honorary member of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Schweizer Keramiker (Swiss Ceramists’ Association) lived in seclusion until his death in 1972, and the association posthumously dedicated a memorial exhibition to him. In general, the German ceramist Volker Ellwanger sums up this topic as follows: “Over the last five centuries, German and German-Swiss ceramics have often shown the same technical and design characteristics. This is only in a few cases due to a German influence.”10 This also applies to Bauhaus ceramics.

Eva Overdieck

Burri collektion at Hedwig Bollhagen, 1937, ©

Eva Deutschbein-Oberdieck, vase, ca. 1963, Sammlung HJT, photo: Heinz-Joachim Theis.

Eva Overdieck, also a student of the Bauhaus ceramics workshop, was active in Austria, although from a rather late period—only after 1946. Prior to her apprenticeship at the Bauhaus and following its completion she worked with the respected ceramist Kuno Jaschinsky in Goslar. Jaschinsky mainly produced crockery, which the master himself turned, making Overdieck’s potential influence on design in his workshop difficult to prove. After marrying Otto Deutschbein in 1941 and losing their Berlin home late in the war, the couple eventually set up a ceramics workshop in Graz in 1946 (she died there in 1973). In a statement from 1966 the ceramist described her time in Dornburg with some ambivalence, characterizing her principle activity as mainly that of turning out goods for the so-called “economic fires” of the Bauhaus workshop. She writes:

“It meant a lot to me to have been in Dornburg. I learned what a proper form is. ... It was a very good method in Dornburg to teach us nothing. You acquired what you needed by watching, or you didn’t learn anything. ... Unfortunately, I didn’t learn anything about throwing ... When I started working here in Graz, I didn’t know what a vase should look like. In Dornburg vases were frowned upon. ... Furthermore I didn’t learn anything about glazes. ... Furthermore, I did not learn anything about firing.”

Nevertheless she sums up: “All in all it was a good, strict time in Dornburg. Undoubtedly, it has bred a great deal of pride in us. But of the better, obligatory variety.”11 In Graz, Overdieck-Deutschbein probably worked alone. She reported: “I burn about every 4 weeks, because I have about 3 hours a day for pottery, according to household and garden (responsibilities).”12 The products from these years correspond to a general pottery workshop standard and appear rather inconspicuous. The surfaces are often unglazed and scratched. There is no discernible influence of her work on contemporary Austrian ceramics. She seems to have led a relatively unobtrusive life, as no further information could be found about her.

Marguerite Friedlaender and Frans Wildenhain

Marguerite Friedlaender and Frans Wildenhain began production in their ceramic workshop “Het Kruikje” in their Dutch exile Putten/Gelderland in 1934. It consisted of freely turned or cast vases, cans, jugs, bowls and bottles with handles in series production as well as individual pieces—i.e., the typical repertoire of a studio using a handcrafted working method. The character of the products was directly linked to the work in Halle. In addition, there were probably faïences in line with the market situation, painted by Frans Wildenhain, who was mainly responsible for one-off productions. In 1937 Friedlaender designed the tea service Five o Clock for the stoneware factory De Sphinx in Maastricht, derived from the Hallesche Form. In the same year it was awarded a Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Paris. When German troops were about to invade the Netherlands in 1940, Friedlaender managed to escape to the United States in March: her husband could only follow in 1947.

Marguerite Friedlaender’s life, especially in the United States, is extraordinarily well-documented by art historical texts and several autobiographical publications (although, as previously mentioned, she was known by her married name in the United States, for the sake of consistency within this text I refer to her by her maiden name). Her student Dean Schwarz presented the most comprehensive account in 2007. In Germany, Klaus Weber of the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin published his standard work Keramik und Bauhaus in 1988, and for many years Katja Schneider, the art historian and long-time director of the Stiftung Moritzburg Halle, intensively studied Friedlaender’s life and work. Schneider summarized her current research in the catalogue of the exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the “Burg”—a nickname for Burg Giebichenstein—in 2015.13

Friedlaender’s start in the United States was relatively uncomplicated. Her elder brother had lived in New York for many years and the rest of her siblings soon settled there. From this base she quickly sought contact with other Bauhaus emigrés. She had also prepared herself well for her new start by taking along numerous reference ceramics. In May 1940 she was started teaching at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After an unsuccessful attempt to take over the leadership of the ceramics class of the Appalachian Institute of Arts, in 1942 Friedlaender founded the artist colony Pond Farm in Guerneville, California with her friends Jane and Gordon Herr. Pond Farm was to remain the focal point of her life until her death in 1985. After its dissolution in 1949 and her separation from Frans Wildenhain, who also worked there after emigrating, she continued to run Pond Farm as a ceramics workshop. In addition to her own ceramic work, Friedlaender continued to teach, making use of her many years of pedagogical experience—especially the years spent at Burg Giebichenstein (where part of the State School of Applied Art (Kunsthochschule Halle) is located)—holding an annual summer workshop at Pond Farm for (mostly) young ceramists from 1952 onwards. With her comprehensive technical knowledge, she imparted her specific design ethos to the 30-odd participants who attended every year in a course primarily aimed at the fundamental importance of the sovereign craftsmanship. For her course enrollees, her teachings formed a self-evident and inalienable basis for artistic creativity and maximum expressiveness—with the term “German teaching” coming to circulate among workshop participants, meaning a pedagogical approach that was at once strict and unyielding as well as sensitive and understanding education. Her course participants admired her, a fact particularly evident in the elaborate monograph edited by Dean and Geraldine Schwarz in 2007.

An extraordinary event for everyone involved was the workshop at Black Mountain College in North Carolina held in 1952. International figures of twentieth century ceramics participated: Friedlaender, the British ceramist Bernard Leach, as well as Japanese potters Soetsu Yanagi and Shoji Hamada: the latter received the honorific “Living National Treasure” in 1955. They all had a lasting influence on international ceramics until the turn of the millennium. However, irreconcilable differences between the “Japanese faction” and Friedlaender also arose during the workshop. While the Japanese practitioners saw recourse to Japan’s pottery tradition as a means of rescuing the craft from what they considered a general decline occasioned by “artistic” ceramics, Friedlaender pleaded for the further development of ceramics, as well as the diversity presented by different traditions openly coexisting.

Marguerite Wildenhain, Atitlan, 1978, Luther College Fine Arts Collection; Decorah, Iowa.

Although Friendlander remained true to her beliefs after they were no longer compatible with developments in ceramics at the time, she continued to influence American ceramics. She contributed significantly to the dissemination of the principles of her Dornburg education with Marcks and Krehan and its further development at Burg Giebichenstein through her teaching activities at several institutions based on the Arts and Crafts tradition, as well as through numerous private courses. In this way, a Bauhaus-inspired ceramics philosophy found its way into the ceramic work of a significant portion of America’s post-war ceramists. But for her it was self-evident—and true to the lessons learned in her Dornburg period—to take in suggestions from the New World. Several journeys to Central and South America are impressively reflected in her drawings, sculptures, reliefs and vessels. The drawings—whether landscapes, everyday scenes or portraits—are further illustration of the influence Marcks’ drawings exerted on his students, characteristic traits being soft and organic yet clearly defined forms, humorous exaggerations, and cross-hatching or rubbed-in grey values. But ceramics had also changed. The undecorated and glazed surfaces favored at the Bauhaus and Burg Giebichenstein were increasingly supplemented in ceramic product by joyfully narrative painting, carving or appliques and colorful decorations. Figurative vessels, including vases, bowls and pots with sculptured faces, were inspired by the Indigenous peoples of Latin America, as were wall reliefs and figurative sculptures. However, craftsmanship and thorough knowledge of the properties of clay and the awareness of form and proportion remained a foundation for these more eclectic creations.

Marguerite Friedlaender was awarded an honorary doctorate from Luther College for her artistic and pedagogical work; she died at Pond Farm on 24 February 1985, which was integrated into the California State Parks system and designated a “National Treasure” by the United States National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2014.

Marguerite Wildenhain, Double Face Pot, 1960s, Luther College Fine Arts Collection; Decorah, Iowa.

Frans Wildenhain’s influence on American ceramics in the second half of the twentieth century is roughly equivalent to that of his wife and, like her, was manifested both through his artistic and pedagogical work. However, his life and work were not documented and published nearly as comprehensively as hers, especially not in Germany. To this day no German monograph exists, not even in translation. At least from today’s perception, already in Halle and at the couple’s Dutch studio in Putten he stood in the shadow of his wife, although, as Klaus Weber has stated, in some respects he was more active in designing and experimented more eagerly than Friedlaender.

After Wildenhain left Pond Farm in 1950, he became a member of the School for American Craftsman (now School for American Crafts), which had just moved from Dartmouth to the Rochester Institute of Technology, teaching there for the next twenty years. His teaching program was based on his own experience in the early years of Kunsthochschule Halle at Burg Giebichenstein. When the ceramic education there had been divided into a porcelain design class led by Friedlaender and a pottery class under his direction, Wildenhain was able to act with greater independence, consolidating his pedagogical skills and expanding the production program with his own designs and enrich the surface treatment by increasing the use of colored glazes as well as scratch decoration. These developments were strengthened and systematically expanded by him, first at Het Kruikje and then in the United States. Thus at the School of American Craftsmen the serious and thorough training in craftsmanship, as well as the development of a deeper understanding of clay, remained essential teaching fundamentals for the pupils, so that they achieved a mastery of the techniques of ceramics so that research and experimentation proceeded from this solid basis: the school’s principle of allowing students of different years to work together in the studios and thereby learn from each other favored this form of education. Richard Hirsch and Henry Gerhardt are among his most famous students.

In addition to numerous vessels, which have their origin in the almost classical forms and surfaces of his time at Burg Giebichenstein, non-figurative sculptures of an organic and partially colored nature resulting from tightly controlled improvisation make up a large part of Wildenhain’s personal work. His talent as a painter also came to the fore in his American work—after all, he initially enrolled at the Bauhaus to study fine art. These various talents led him to pursue another field of artistic work—monumental ceramic friezes designed for public space, in which Wildenhain realized a synthesis of painting, sculpture and relief that exhibited a moving and lively interplay of intercommunicating details: painterly elements; free relief structures; and glazed and unglazed ceramic. Klaus Weber described this public work as a “late implementation of the unity of art and craftsmanship in the service of architecture propagated by Gropius in 1919.”14

Wildenhain was also instrumental in establishing Shop One, a store based on an earlier cooperative in Rochester that existed from 1953 to 1976, with an affiliated workshop, enabling artisans a commercial outlet for their production.

“In many significant ways, Frans Wildenhain’s life, his art, his career and his work encapsulate virtues that are models for us all,” said Bruce Austin, RIT professor and organizer of the exhibition Frans Wildenhain (1950-1975): Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century. “He was the consummate and complete artist, a business entrepreneur and innovator, and a mentor whose students today are internationally admired.”15 Frans Wildenhain died in Pittsford, New York, on 25 January 1980.

At this point, questions arise as to the extent to which the biographies and creative ethos of both Friedlander and Wildenhain continued to exert an impact on contemporary ceramics artists, whether in the United States or Germany. Studio pottery’s position within the incredibly diverse range of practices found in contemporary American ceramics—where one encounters strong Japanese and Korean influences—is also a pertinent topic. Another question is what relationship do contemporary students of the ceramic and vessel design classes at the Kunsthochschule Halle in Burg Giebichenstein have to the history of these two great ceramists “of their castle.” Is the work of Marguerite Friedlaender and Frans Wildenhain at the “Burg” still a living legacy that is being creatively developed today or only a piece of carefully preserved history?

International Impact of “Second Generation” Bauhaus Ceramics

I have already mentioned Otto Lindig’s role in spreading the Bauhaus idea in Germany through his privately run workshop in Dornburg, which also produced three apprentices who, in the “second generation,” contributed to the international impact of Bauhaus ceramics after 1933.

Rose Krebs

In 1930 the young Berliner Rose Krebs started her pottery apprenticeship with Otto Lindig at his Dornburg workshop. Looking back, she described her apprenticeship as a synthesis of traditional pottery and Bauhaus elements: “The routine was much the same as it had been in the latter days of the Bauhaus. We produced certain shapes, and although we could make up our own shapes, we never went beyond a certain point. We never cut up pots and put them together again, or combined shapes.”16 She also remembered the unique course in color theory led by a painter who lived temporarily in the house. All in all, in her memory the apprenticeship remained a happy time and she stayed in touch with Lindig and his wife, visiting the couple later in Hamburg.17

Frans Wildenhain, earthware. Photograph by A. Sue Weisler, published in Frans Wildenhain, 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century.

Frans Wildenhain, Mural created for Overlook Hospital, Summit, New Jersey, 1966. Photograph by Bruce A. Austin, published in Frans Wildenhain, 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century.

Rose Krebs at the potter’s wheel.
Nachlass Rose Krebs Archiv Jakobson.

After the traditional examination signifying the end of her apprenticeship, Krebs, who was of Jewish origin, fled the National Socialists, immigrating to Palestine. From 1937 she worked in the workshop of the painter and ceramist Eva Samuel, daughter of the first rabbi of Essen who had immigrated to Palestine in 1932. The exact circumstances of her employment have not been recorded. Writing about the Bauhaus, Samuel described how smooth, unpainted ceramics had been in demand in Palestine for some time, continuing: “Even though I recognized the Bauhaus objects and some of them were really beautiful things, I am glad that today people are again turning to more rich and imaginative things ... in ceramics, old Persia, Italy, Spain are suddenly modern.”18 Under these conditions, it is unlikely Krebs influenced the workshop very much. The forms and probably also the ideas of Bauhaus ceramics did not play a far less prominent role in early Israeli ceramics than Bauhaus architecture, which manifested itself in the so-called “White City” of Tel Aviv.

At present, nothing is known about Rose Krebs’s further journey in Palestine, nor of the years immediately after her move to the United States. She herself writes, without referring precisely to time or place, that she first opened a ceramics studio in New York and later worked as a professor at the C.W. Post Center of Long Island University, starting in 1971. She was in loose contact with the two other German ceramists of the Dornburg workshop, appraising Wildenhain higher than Friedlaender, whom she described as less-than cooperative. Her conclusion about them was this: “Both were influential as teachers but not as ceramic pioneers.”19

As a consequence of her training with Lindig, so interested was Krebs in the history of the Dornburg workshop that she contacted Marcks in an effort to learn more about this time. She also visited the Bauhaus sites and the relevant German museums in the 1960s, beginning to publish on the Bauhaus on the basis of this information—although whether this went beyond the aforementioned article in The Studio Potter or another published in Keramik Magazin is currently unknown.

Work by Rose Krebs.
Nachlass Rose Krebs Archiv Jakobson.

She wrote the following about her own artistic development in the “New World”:

“When I first came to this country, I was a functional potter. I was very much influenced by expressionism and my work, especially my sculpture, assumed a biomorphical character. … I’ve come closer to the early Bauhaus style which I never experienced directly. In its early days, the Bauhaus was under the influence of suprematism and cubism. Theodor Bogler used geometric elements in his work—spheres, spheric segments, and cylinders. Now I’m working with one geometric form—the hemisphere. … In the development of my ceramics over the past thirty years, I have searched for simplicity, without giving up the richness, the color, and the experiences of my life which I bring to them. The essence of Bauhaus philosophy relates to minimal art. In a way, the Bauhaus was a precursor of the minimal in art. The Bauhaus said: ‘Let’s limit ourselves. Let everything be determined by function.’ In minimal art, function isn’t as important as the economy of means. … I do that in the details. In limiting myself to one idea, however, I do experience growth. This doesn’t mean others should function this way. Ceramics is a tree with many branches. Everyone should not have to sit on the same branch. It’s important to find your own branch; but if you jump from one branch to another, you’ll never find yourself; and if you don’t find yourself, no one else will find you either.”20

Rose Krebs with a student and late work.
Nachlass Rose Krebs Archiv Jakobson.

In a letter dated 16 April 1988, Krebs stated she had entered the last of her full professorship but wished to continue to supervise some classes and also detailed plans for future free ceramic work.21 As a teacher, Krebs was highly appreciated by both students and workshop staff. Her student Phyllis Kudder Sullivan, an internationally recognized American ceramist, expresses this in an emotional statement:

“Rose Krebs’ work was understated, elegant, honest, poetic. Every mark of her hand was imbued with meaning. There was not the slightest hint of superfluous decoration. Although Krebs was diminutive of stature, she, and her work, commanded attention. Both possessed that rare quality that performing artists call ‘presence.’ Unfortunately, Krebs was working in a culture and a climate that favored an excessive, bigger-is-better, attitude. Her quiet, powerful aesthetic was, in my opinion, unappreciated and undervalued. As is the case with many transformative and forward thinking artists, she did not receive the recognition she deserved in America. I took away from my studies with Rose an appreciation for the quiet dignity of her work. In my own studio practice I continue to feel the contemplative presence of her work, her humanity and her creative spirit. I am honored to be a small part of her legacy.”

According to Sullivan, Rose Krebs died in 1989. Her age of death is listed as 76 years, however her date of birth was changed when she emigrated. No one alive knows her real date of birth.22

Both ceramics of the “fist generation” (Wildenhain and Friedlaender) as well as of the “second generation” (Rose Krebs) were openly received in the North American ceramics scene at the time of their appearance and enjoyed a high level of acceptance. Bauhaus emigrés adhered to their artistic and creative values first acquired in the Dornburg ceramic workshop, as a community under the leadership of their two teachers, the sculptor Gerhard Marcks and master potter Max Krehan, and from 1930 through Otto Lindig, they developed their own artistic forms of expression and teaching methods. At Dornburg and the many workshops where Bauhaus ceramists perfected their craft, they acquired a sovereign knowledge of clay, a sure craftsmanship in all aspects of ceramics, as well as exhibiting openness and creativity towards new influences. This openness became abundantly clear when they were exposed to the diverse traditions of the multi-ethnic country to which they now belonged. This emergent methods of handling of clay in a more spontaneous and free manner than the European craft tradition is epitomized by American practitioners like Paul Soldner and, above all, Peter Voulkus who combined free art and ceramics, pushing back the influence of the more craft-minded Bauhaus masters.

Erich and Ingrid Triller

To conclude my survey of first and second generation Bauhaus ceramists, Otto Lindig’s privately run workshop in Dornburg produced two more apprentices: Erich and Ingrid Triller. Born in Krefeld in 1898, before passing his journeyman’s examination with Otto Lindig in 1932, Erich Triller had studied at Paul Dresler’s well-known pottery workshop in Grotenburg and at the Bunzlau Ceramic College where he worked with two important experts, the glaze specialist Eduard Berdel and the designer Artur Hennig. During this time, the Swedish-born Ingrid Abenarius (1905), also worked in the Lindig workshop. The pair married, founding a ceramics workshop in the small Swedish town of Tobo in 1935, which they ran for the next 37 years. Such a long lasting work was possible on account of the open society the couple encountered in Sweden, which was well prepared for their creative ideas. “Svenska Slöjdföreningen,” The Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, which took up many ideas and attitudes of the Deutscher Werkbund, has for years promoted design as a synthesis of function, construction, material and the expressive value of form. To this end, the society also organized exhibitions. However, the Scandinavian country was always the international receiving partner for such developments, and this also applied to the ideals of the Bauhaus. On the other hand, the strength of Swedish creativity lay in its firm roots in living Nordic traditions. The Triller workshop, for example, was very successful with the clear shape-emphasizing, physicality of its vessels, in which intense luminous silk-matt glazes were used.

Ingrid Triller created most of the shapes on the potter’s wheel and Erich— based on the special glaze training in Bunzlau— was responsible for the surfaces. In 1936 the first exhibition of the workshop took place in Stockholm. Numerous others followed, initially in Sweden, in connection with museum purchases. Her works were also shown at the 1939 New York World Exhibition and the 1960 Milan Triennial. The Swedish crown prince, Gustav Adolf, was one of the most important collectors of Triller ceramics. When Erich Triller died in 1972, his wife closed the workshop. In 1975, the Stockholm National Museum and the Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg held an extensive retrospective entitled Triller of Tobo: Stoneware 1935-1972, from Erich and Ingrid Triller’s Workshop in Tobo. This is evidence of the great respect for the work of the two ceramists in Sweden and a special appreciation for an original theme of ceramics which has accompanied humanity from pre-history—namely, the vessel for itself.

Ingrid Triller died in 1982.


In this article I have tried to present the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. As far as it is possible to ascertain today, my intention has been to trace the life paths, inspirations and influence of the ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg and their effect on worldwide developments in ceramics up to the present day. As I have attempted to demonstrate, the number of ceramists was limited to a relatively small group of people: three were direct students and three others passed on Bauhaus ceramics ideals as conveyed to them by Otto Lindig in their own way. This small number should come as no surprise. Between 1920 and 1925 there were only 14 apprentices working in Dornburg, four of whom passed their journeyman’s exams there and five who cut short their training prematurely for various reasons.

It was not only those who experienced the Dornburg workshop firsthand and their later decisions and products that accounts for the international influence of Bauhaus ceramics. Its distribution at various levels of communication, such as exhibitions or media reports, was also responsible. The significance of the Bauhaus for today can only lie in its further development, as an international site for dealing with design problems, both present and future, the ever-evolving technical possibilities and processes that designers employ, and the further internationalization of its ideals—but the museumification of the school’s legacy should by no means play a role in any of this.

Erich and Ingrid Triller, earthware vase.
photo: Bukowskis.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in various ways during my work on this interesting project. I wish to thank in particular Anja Guttenberger, Iris Ströbel, Heinz-Joachim Theis of the Keramikmuseum Berlin, Christina Bitzke of the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Gera, Karin Roscher, Gera, Daniel Jakobson and Dirk Allgaier. Michael Baers and Iris Ströbel translated my article into English.

  • 1 Gerhard Marcks: letter to Rose Krebs, 12 May 1968. In: The Studio Potter, vol. 10, 1981, p. 57.
  • 2 Ibid.
  • 3 Otto Lindig: letter to Annegret Janda. In: Bauhauskeramik, Sonderdrucke aus Kunstmuseen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Vol. 2, 1959, p. 105 ff.
  • 4 Cited in Klaus Weber (ed.): Keramik und Bauhaus (exhibition catalogue), Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin 1989, p. 39.
  • 5 Gerhard Marcks: Dornburger Skizzenbuch 1920-1923, Gerhard-Marcks-Stiftung, Bremen1985.
  • 6 In the photo album of the Bauhaus ceramics sheet 2, this jug is mistakenly identified as the work of Gerhard Marcks and Otto Lindig. Bogler’s small incised signature is clearly visible on the lower attachment of one of the jug’s two handles.
  • 7 Gerhard Marcks: bauhaus 3 (exhibition catalogue), Galerie am Sachsenplatz, Leipzig 1976, p. 21.
  • 8 After the war, a small “Bauhaus colony” of teachers formed at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg, consisting of Gerhard Marcks, Else Mögelin (textile), Wolfgang Tümpel (metal), Otto Lindig (ceramics) and Kurt Kranz (painting/graphics).
  • 9 In this regard, I mention only two names which remained of special importance until the 1990s: Liebfriede Bernstiel in Ahrensburg (Schleswig-Holstein) and Walburga Külz, who set up a workshop in Erbach (Rheinhessen).
  • 10 Volker Ellwanger: “Der Einfluß der deutschen Keramik auf die Keramik der deutschen Schweiz.” In: KERAMIK 8 Publication für Töpfer Sammler und Museen, Liechtenstein 1980, pp. 45 ff.
  • 11 Eva Overdieck-Deutschbein: “Die Erinnerungen einer ‘alten Dame’ an Dornburg August 1966.” Typed manuscript (five pages), Keramikmuseum Berlin.
  • 12 Ibid.
  • 13 Publications by and on Marguerite Friedlaender (selection): Marguerite Friedlaender: The Invisible Core: A Potter’s Life and Thoughts, Pacific Books, New York 1973 (Autobiography); Marguerite Friedaender: …that We Look and See: An Admirer Looks at the Indians, South Bear Press, Decorah 1979; Ruth Kath (ed.): The Letters of Gerhard Marcks and Marguerite Wildenhain, 1970-1981: A Mingling of Souls, Luther College Press, Decorah 1991; Dean Schwarz: Marguerite Wildenhain: A diary to Franz, South Bear Press, Decorah 2004; Dean and Geraldine Schwarz (eds.): Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology, South Bear Press, Decorah 2007; Burg Giebichenstein. Die Hallesche Kunstschule von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (exhibition catalogue), Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg, Halle 1993; Katja Schneider: “Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain: Vom Bauhaus an den Pazifik.” In: Britta Jürgs (ed.): Vom Salzstreuer bis zum Automobil: Designerinnen, Aviva Verlag, Berlin 2002, pp. 52–71; Claudia Kanowski and Ingeborg Becker: Avantgarde für den Alltag: Jüdische Keramikerinnen in Deutschland 1919 – 1939. Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, Margarete Heymann-Marks, Eva Stricker-Zeisel, Verlag Bröhan-Museum, Berlin 2013; Katja Schneider: “Burg im Exil Marguerite Wildenhain.” In: Christian Philipsen (ed.): Moderne in der Werkstatt: 100 Jahre Kunstschule Burg Giebichenstein (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthochschule Halle, Halle 2015, pp. 89 ff.
  • 14 Klaus Weber (ed.): Keramik und Bauhaus (exhibition catalogue), Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin 1989, p. 174.
  • 15 Cited in press materials for the exhibition Frans Wildenhain (1950-1975): Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-century, Rochester 2012.
  • 16 Rose Krebs: “The Bauhaus Pottery.” In: The Studio Potter, Vol. 10, 1981, p. 59.
  • 17 See ibid.
  • 18 Ulrike Thomas: Mut zu einem Neubeginn: Leben in Palästina von 1932 bis 1948; Auszüge aus Briefen von Eva Samuel und ihrer Familie, Beiträge zur Förderung des christlich-jüdischen Dialogs, No. 2, Berlin 2010, p. 110.
  • 19 Rose Krebs: letter to the author, 20 October 1987.
  • 20 Krebs: “The Bauhaus Pottery,” p. 63.
  • 21 Rose Krebs: letter to the author, 16 April 1988.
  • 22 Phyllis Kudder Sullivan: statement for this article, e-mail, 15 March 2019.
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