Friday, 18 April 2014

Else Grober's Embroidered Wall Hangings: The Magnificence of Trees

Illustration: Else Grober. Embroidered wall hanging, 1902.

Trees in all there complexity and splendour have always been a common subject within the creative arts, no more so than in textiles. There is so much information locked up in these wonderful specimens of plant life, all of which can be used creatively, from the leaf, right down to the root.

Trees have inspired artists through the complexity of line and colour in their leaves, the texture, and consistency of their bark, as well as the different forms of flower, seed, and fruit that they bare. They can be captured and imagined, growing as a complex community in wood and forest, or seen single or in small groups silhouetted against sky, water, and land.

Illustration: Else Grober. Embroidered wall hanging, 1902.

It is perhaps their silhouette, or at least their free-standing structure that interested Else Grober who produced these five embroidered hangings sometime in the early twentieth century. Now I know next to nothing about Grober, apart from her name. I can make a guess that she was either German or Austrian, but that unfortunately is as far as it goes. I can find nothing on a Google search and nothing elsewhere, which is a shame as I would have liked to have shared more than Else's name and work with you. If anyone out there should know more, I would always be more than happy to have them let me know.

Grober did not stand on her own as far as her subject matter was concerned, a number of embroidery artists, particularly in Germany, produced work similar to Grober's. There seemed a particular interest in reflecting isolated or at least human-free environments within the European textile arts of the early twentieth century. Tapestry and embroidery were significant contributors to this narrative of freely natural landscapes. The compositions tended towards the environmentally relaxed, landscapes that appeared natural, non-structured, and certainly non-human.

Illustration: Else Grober. Embroidered wall hanging, 1902.

Much of this type of work, produced in tapestry and embroidery, tended to be centred in Northern Europe, Scandinavian and Northern German artists being particularly affected. However, the theme of seemingly natural untouched landscape could also be inferred as being bleak, even melancholic to some. The lack of human interaction or reference points does disturb some, open rolling landscapes sometimes being associated with a form of urban suffering agoraphobia.

Although Grober produced embroidery work with other themes, all the examples that I have been able to find do tend to have nature as their true base. Although I cannot be certain, as I said I know nothing about the life of the artist, I like to think that Grober produced these five pieces from first hand observation. I like to think that she stood or sat in the environment, appreciated the stillness of the landscape, the uncluttered space, took in the silhouetted trees against the northern sky, breathed in the pure air, savouring her connectivity with the natural world. That she was able to reproduce her experience in embroidery-form, says much about her skill as an observer and as an embroiderer.

Illustation: Else Grober. Embroidered wall hanging, 1902.

It seems obvious to me, though only conjecture on my part again of course, that Grober loved trees. These significant members of the plant world have so often dominated our human environment. For the two million years of our species existence, they have been there for us, giving us shelter, protection, sanctuary, continuity. We have imbued them with spirit and magic, given them a graceful and protective presence over us and our communities. Only within the last few millennia have they begun to recede from our consciousness, due mainly to our relentless exploitation and dismissal of their magnificence. We tear down their communities, forests, and woods, in order to fuel our own voracious communities, clearing them out of existence, both physically and spiritually.

Sometimes I wonder whether we reduce the significance of trees in our lives because of some deep-seated jealousy, they do after all long out live us, some have been around for millennia. As a species, we are well aware that we are a late arrival on the planet, and a very short-lived one. That we can destroy a tree that has lived ten, twenty, or thirty human lifetimes, gives some humans a great sense of achievement, a sense of power over longevity. That it is sadly misplaced does little for the fate of the tree. 

Illustration: Else Grober. Embroidered wall hanging, 1902.

Personally, it is always a tragically upsetting site to see any of these magnificent giants slowly reduced to a pile of timber purely because it interferes with a view, or has to make way for a barbecue area. I would like to think that Else Grober, with her sensitive portrayal of trees within still, peaceful, harmonious landscapes, would feel the same way, but of course, yet again, that is just personal conjecture.

Further reading links:

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Textile Blogs 6th Anniversary

Another year and another anniversary. I thought that last year celebrating the 5th anniversary of The Textile Blog might well have been the last, but here we are again.

I must first of all thank all of my readers, The Textile Blog would certainly have shrivelled up and died without you. Thanks also to all those readers that have left imaginative, intelligent, and perceptive comments; you know who you are :) Also, a big thank you to all of the followers of The Textile Blog on the larger platform that includes Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube. Also a thank you to all of the interesting and diverse individuals that have linked with me on LinkedIn, it is much appreciated.

So what have I been up to in this last year? Well, I have been consistently adding articles to this site, which I hope that you have all enjoyed. Admittedly, many of the posts to this site have become more concerned with the two subjects to which I feel a particular passion, and both of which I feel are intimately connected, namely human creativity and the role of nature as prime source of inspiration. I don't apologise for the concentration on subjects that I feel are important, this site was always one where my own personal perspective was the deciding factor. The thoughts expressed were and are from my own unique position on the path of life, no one else's. I hope that I make sense most of the time and I do so hope that the connections I make resonate with some, if not many of you reading this.

Illustration: Photograph taken locally by me today.

I have been able to expand my writing into magazine formats, which I have enjoyed. My thanks to Boukje Mulder at Handwerken Zonder Grenzen (HZG) magazine for her consistent and sensitive help and support whilst writing my regular articles for her. I also want to thank Marcia Young and Leanne Jewett at Fiber Art Now magazine for their support whilst writing articles for their magazine. 

There are more ebooks in the pipeline, the next will use Art Nouveau and nature as its subject, I'm planning for that to be out shortly. There are also other plans and ideas that I will be rolling out as the months go by, though I am keeping them close to my chest at the moment as they are in the early stages. 

I would like to thank consistent online friends from all corners of the planet, near and far. They are too numerous to mention, but they are all important and make such a difference to life, all for the better. Most I will never meet face to face, but are still just as valued as if they lived down the road from me.

Illutration: A bit of a fuzzy Skype picture, but it's definitely me!

Although this article has been dominated by thanks to various quarters, I do think that it is important to sometimes stop and take a look at the connections you have made, and the differences those connections have made to your life, your perspective, and your centre. None of us stands on our own, all of us have frameworks and networks that surround us, all are kept going, replenished and renewed by friends, acquaintances, and those we don't even know exist.

I would like to think that The Textile Blog has made some small connection to your lives, and will continue to do so in the future. 

My heartfelt thanks to you all



Friday, 4 April 2014

Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill, Fashion, and the Wiener Werstatte

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1914.

The Austrian designer Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill was one of those designers who most obviously focused his talents in one direction, fashion. He ran the fashion department at the Wiener Werkstatte from 1910 to 1922. From 1918 to 1921, he also ran the fashion department at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna. From 1922, he worked first in New York and then at the Art Institute of Chicago, at both cities he was heavily involved in fashion and textiles. In 1925, he returned to Vienna and taught at the School of Applied Arts again until his eventual retirement in 1955. 

You have to wonder, with all the connections that Wimmer-Wisgrill had with the fashion industry, for a time he was often referred to as the Viennese Poiret, that there still seems a reluctance in some quarters to see him primarily as a fashion and textile designer. Some have referred to him as a furniture designer or an applied arts designer, but it is fashion that he mostly called home, so it seems fitting to place him there.

However, Wimmer-Wisgrill did work in other mediums including furniture, jewellery, books, wallpaper, metalwork, interiors, as well as a large variety of work for the stage including set and costume design. His textile design work included pattern work in printed textiles as well as embroidery. I will, in time, post another article featuring some of the printed textile and embroidered design work that Wimmer-Wisgrill produced in the decade before the First World War.

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1913.

His textile work, both for interiors and fashion, used bold, graphic motifs, very often based on flowers. Unfortunately, I don't have any colour photos of Wimmer-Wisgrill's textile pattern work at the moment, but some of the photos that illustrate this article will give you some idea as to the impact they must have made. Personally, I would prefer to use the term costume design, rather than fashion design, even though Wimmer-Wisgrill's work is usually seen as 'fashion'. It seems to me that most of the pieces shown in the illustrations have more to do with projection of individuality than they do fashion, fashion by definition having little do with self-expression, despite its claims. 

The individual as a self-expression was an important part of creative life in the run up to the First World War, and it could be reflected in many ways, including what you read, listened to, lived in, and how you dressed. To make a statement that ran outside the norms of Parisian fashion could say much about where you saw yourself and how you wanted others to see you. To wear a costume, rather than a piece of fashion may seem to be playing with semantics, but it is important to see costume perhaps as being more individual-led, whilst fashion as being more group-led, though the two can be confusing and interchangeable at times. 

Although one of the main identifying themes of the Wiener Werkstatte was its boldness in design, particularly as regards textile design, it would be a mistake to say that the designers who worked for the Werkstatte slavishly followed the theme that was set for them and had no input of their own. The Werkstatte was in many ways an organisation that gathered together the best of the Viennese design world. It must have been an extraordinarily creative hub, with designers constantly in contact with a progression of design work that fed on itself, producing more and more work in a path that led from the first few years of the century, right up until the early 1930s. That many of the Werkstatte designers carried the ideals of the organisation well beyond Vienna and well beyond that first part of the twentieth century is perhaps one of the lasting legacies of the Werkstatte.

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1913.

It is hard to say with the work of Wimmer-Wisgrill, whether he used fashion as a tool to promote and project his textile pattern work, or whether he used textile design in order to better emphasis the fashion statement. It is often a difficult path to tread, particularly if you are involved in both textile design and fashion, as to which takes precedence, if any. To me personally, although the third photograph in this article seems more muted as to textile design, the other photos seem to promote the pattern much more than they do the cut of the costume. It can be hard as a textile designer to underplay motif, line, colour, in favour of the human figure, particularly as bolder colours and graphics are often dropped in favour of muted and small-scale pattern work.

Wimmer-Wisgrill is one of those designers that are perhaps not remembered in the great roll call of twentieth century European fashion designers. He may have been called the Viennese Poiret, but it is Poiret that is remembered in the fashion world today and not Wimmer-Wisgrill. However, that does not necessarily negate the work of this Austrian fashion designer. He may not have been part of the Parisian fashion scene, but the Wiener Werkstatte was never really about projecting fashion in the same way that Paris did. Much of what the Werkstatte did was innovative, controversial in parts, and constantly interesting. Whether perplexing, fascinating, or deliberately confrontational, the Wiener Werkstatte strived to show different aspects of what could be, rather than what was. 

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1912.

That Wimmer-Wisgrill was both part of that need to expand the perspective, whether through fashion, the applied arts, architecture, stage, or fine art, as part of the Werkstatte community, as well as on his own path of creative enlightenment, we should be always thankful for these individuals and organisations. They have left us a vocabulary of inspiration and guidance in which to work and expand in our own directions. That we should be able to hand down our own vocabulary for the next century or so, is part of the great wheel of creativity, long may it keep rolling.

Further reading links: