Anni Albers. Photo: Helen M. Post. Courtesy the Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War a manifesto entitled Hand-Weaving To-day was published by Faber & Faber. It argued for fresh forms of expression demanded by new conditions, observing that weaving in particular needed to find a context within 'architecture, based on the new building materials – steel, concrete, glass'. A 'synthesis of artist, craftsman and architect', was envisaged, and it was noted that 'the weaving being carried on now in modern workshops all over Europe is a creative movement, involving experimentation with new techniques, with new raw materials – involving the constant recognition of the needs of the moment – the recognition of the needs of modern building and of modern life'. Ancient Peruvian, 15th-century Chinese and early Icelandic textiles were cited as inspirational. The author was the British weaver, spinner and dyer Ethel Mairet and her book reminds us that experimental hand-weaving was an important, if overlooked, genre of artistic and industrial modernism in the first part of the 20th century. The story of the weaver Anni Albers, the subject of an impressive monographic exhibition organised by the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf (where it was seen by this writer) and Tate Modern (11 October–27 January 2019) and curated by Ann Coxon, Briony Fer and Maria Müller-Schareck, takes us into the complexities and contradictions of this 'lost' 20th-century modernism, which was almost entirely led by women.