Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wilhelm Wagenfeld, German Crystal Glass Maker, Part I

Wilhelm Wagenfeld was a German industrial designer and printmaker. He began his artistic training as an apprentice in the design office of a Bremen silverware factory (1914–18) and attended lessons in script and drawing at the local Kunstgewerbeschule (1916–19). A grant enabled him to continue his studies at the famous Zeichenakademie in Hanau (1919–22), where he received a varied training including silversmithing, engraving, design and modelling. The graphic works that he produced in 1920–23 were probably made during a short stay in Bremen and at the Worpswede artists’ colony; they are mostly woodcuts and engravings with religious themes, for example Death and the Virgin (woodcut, 1921; Bremen, Focke-Mus.), motifs from everyday life and the world of work. These are mostly in a brittle style, expressing themes of destruction, hunger, pain, suffering and death. By 1923 the themes became more optimistic and were depicted with a soft voluminosity.

In 1923 Wagenfeld entered the metal workshop of the Weimar Bauhaus, where he worked under László Moholy-Nagy. He submitted a gravy-boat for his apprenticeship examinations in 1923. His time at the Bauhaus was the beginning of a long and fruitful period as a designer and model-maker of industrially-produced consumer goods that made him famous worldwide. In 1923–4, in collaboration with Karl J. Jucker, he created the famous Bauhaus table-lamp, with hemispherical frosted-glass shade, glass stem and base, which has continued to be reproduced since the first models were made (Berlin, Tiergarten, Kstgewmus., 1983, 73; 1972, 46). Its construction and design, aimed at industrial production, demonstrated the spirit of the industry-oriented second Bauhaus phase (from c. 1925).

From 1926 to 1930 Wagenfeld became an assistant in the metal workshop of the Staatliche Bauhochschule in Weimar. He worked mostly on models of lamps and household objects such as bowls and kettles for various companies (including the Bau- und Wohnungskunst GmbH, Weimar). After the closure of the school (1930), the Finance Ministry of Thüringen commissioned him to improve the quality of glass production by the glass-blowers in the Thüringer Wald. Wagenfeld’s committed attempts to do this failed owing to the lack of cooperation of those involved. A year later he held a professorship at the Staatliche Kunsthochschule in Berlin (1931–5), also working at the Schott & Gen. glassworks in Jena (1931–5). Under his artistic direction the company produced many household containers made of heat-resistant glass, for example the Wagenfeld tea service (1930–34), which retained its popularity owing to its elegance (Berlin, Tiergarten, Kstgewmus., 1975, 44; 1986, 9). The functional and unpretentious beauty of these Jena glass products was influential on other manufacturers. To be continued.

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Pictured above: Vintage Wagenfeld blown crystal vase, available at our Mall Store at: Penny's Antiques & Wedgwood Pantry

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