A product of Germany’s Bauhaus, Anni Albers brought her inestimable design skills to this country when she and her husband, Josef Albers, joined the faculty of Black Mountain College in 1933. Born Annelise Elsa Frieda Fleischmann in Berlin to well-to-do Jewish parents who had converted to Protestantism, she was educated by tutors until she was thirteen, and then attended the local lyceum. Between 1916 and 1919, she studied painting with Martin Brandenburg, a Post-Impressionist and member of the secessionist group who ran a school for young women. Three years later, she enrolled at the Bauhaus, located in Weimar, and took the required preparatory courses with Johannes Itten, a Swiss color theorist. She initially hoped to specialize in carpentry, metalwork, or mural painting, but was assigned to the weaving workshop because of her gender.
Shortly after her enrollment, Annaliese Fleischmann met Josef Albers who oversaw the glass workshop. Despite their different backgrounds and ages—Josef, eleven years older, was from a modest Catholic family—they were married in 1925. After a honeymoon in Italy, they moved with the Bauhaus to Dessau, where new and larger looms were acquired for the weaving studio. It was here that Anni began to create her distinctive wall hangings, allowing the designs—which combined diverse materials such as silk, jute, metal threads, and cellophane—to evolve organically as she worked. She received her diploma in 1929 on the basis of an innovative wall hanging for an auditorium that consisted of velvet for its acoustical properties interwoven with light-reflecting cellophane.
When the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, the Alberses enthusiastically accepted the invitation to join the fledging experimental college near Asheville, where they delighted in the mountain scenery. At the time of their arrival in 1933, the campus community consisted of twelve faculty members and twenty-two students. Since Josef’s English language skills were lacking, his wife served as his interpreter, while also teaching weaving. In addition to teaching, Anni wrote articles and contributed an essay on the weaving workshop for the exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1928 at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1944, the noted architect Philip Johnson commissioned Anni Albers to create drapery fabric the Rockefeller Guesthouse in New York. The resulting panels, which combined cotton chenille, white plastic, and copper foil yarn, shimmered, especially at night. The Alberses left Black Mountain College in 1949, the same year that Johnson organized Anni Albers Textiles for the Museum of Modern Art. The next year, at the invitation of Walter Gropius, a colleague from the Bauhaus, she designed the bedspreads and room dividing curtains for Harvard University’s Graduate Center.
While the Alberses became American citizens in 1939, they nurtured a love of travel. In 1935, they made the first of fourteen visits to Mexico, where Anni found the native textiles inspirational. Mexico enchanted the couple, who proclaimed that “art [was] everywhere” there. They spent the 1940–1941 academic year on a sabbatical leave in New Mexico and Mexico. Following their departure from Black Mountain, the couple continued their extensive travels—to the Yucatan, Chile, and Peru—before settling in 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut, where Josef had taken a position at Yale University.
Anni Albers concentrated her energies during this time on her design work and writing, although she did conduct a seminar course in 1955 for Yale architectural students and taught a three-week class at the Haystack School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine. In 1963 she began to experiment with lithography at the Tamarind Institute, a printmaking workshop in Los Angeles; she returned the following year as a visiting fellow. Two years later Wesleyan University Press published her influential book, On Weaving, and in 1967 the Jewish Museum in New York exhibited her six-panel tapestry, Six Prayers, which commemorated victims of the Holocaust. A 1985 retrospective exhibition, The Woven and Graphic Arts of Anni Albers, celebrated her multiple talents and was shown at the Renwick Gallery in Washington and the Yale University Art Gallery. She died at the age of ninety-four on May 9, her wedding day. Anni Albers’ work is represented in prestigious international and American public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.