Date of this Version
From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).
In the context of daily life of artists and artisans, I sought to learn about the intimate thoughts, conversations and ideas of the artists who provided the designs for the tapestries of the Kunstwebschule Sherrebek in Germany (1896-1903), as well as those of the artists/weavers who translated such designs into woven forms. Like many an intellectual endeavor, my industrious search revealed little information of this type. Nonetheless, it is possible, though surely only second best without the voices of the artists themselves, to glean some understanding of the founding of the Sherrebek institution, the people who worked there, and the fame of the weavings through historical documents and contemporary literature. While history of this workshop is little known today, it was a world recognized weaving school and thriving textile cottage industry, albeit for a brief period of time.
It is not by chance that Germany's premiere tapestry weaving center was established in a northwest province of Hamburg. There were two logical reasons for this. Tapestry weaving of a regional character had been going on in the Schleswig-Holstein area since the 17th century.1 Justus Brinckmann, Director of the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, himself lamented the pathetic state of tapestry weaving in his country throughout the 19"1 century, since he knew of the fine quality of historic Nordic tapestries as his museum housed a formidable collection of woven cushion covers from northern Germany and Norway. Stylistically related to the Swedish tapestry tradition, the subject matter of such weavings was that of the standard western European repertoire, — Christian, mythological or allegorical in nature. The other reason for the establishment of the Sherrebek Weaving School near Hamburg was the fact that Brinckmann held a keen interest in Japanese art, the British Arts & Crafts movement, in the works of William Morris & Company in particular, and the international Art Nouveau movement, of which the so-called utilitarian decorative arts reigned supreme. The museum in Hamburg acquired contemporary decorative arts of an avant-garde nature and today houses one of the premiere collections of what is commonly called Art Nouveau.2 Justus Brinckmann also was in sympathy with Morris's view of socialism, which, with regard to art extolled the virtues of hard physical work and high aesthetic standards applied to the production of functional objects for the supposedly "average" person ~ the joy of labor and the goal of a return to handmade objects of beauty was a part of the founding spirit behind Sherrebek. But in the institution of Morris & Company tapestry weavers were male. William Morris himself made a complete Cabbage and Vine weaving between May and September of 1879. He maintained that ideal tapestry weavers were artists, good colorists, able draughtsmen, and that only boys or men could accomplish such work. Morris thought girls and women capable only of working "the greeneries."3
The other great tapestry workshop Brinckmann and Morris himself admired was the Gobelins, the French Royal Tapestry Works. There were two aspects of the Gobelins that impressed both Morris and Brinckmann. The system of high quality weavings produced by boys and men after cartoons by some of the leading artists of the day, such as Aristide Maillol, espoused the contemporary application of a medieval tradition.4 The second aspect of the Gobelins that had an impact on the formation of the school at Sherrebek was the extraordinary dyeworks studio, led by the great chemist Chevreul from 1824 to 1889. From its inception Sherrebek was dedicated to the production of natural dyestuffs made chiefly with plants collected in the local countryside.5 The Schule fur Kunstweberei in Sherrebek was started on 18 February 1896. It was the initiation of a select group of people in Brinckmann's circle that brought about the opening of the school. Pastor Jacobsen, Ritter Petersen, J.H.N. Thamssen, W. Jaeger, W. Voigt, Dr. Fredrich Deneken, Lassen and Justus Brinckmann's oldest daughter, Maria Brinckmann, signed the school statutes on 25 March 1895.