Bauhaus in Bristol – Otti Berger

It appears that Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane, whose work with Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer is well known, considered employing leading Bauhaus graduate textile designer Otti Berger to work for him.

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund’s new book Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain is a fascinating account of the relationship between Modernist British architects and designers in the 1930s and the founders, staff and students of the Bauhaus design school in Germany. The Design and Industries Association founded in 1915 became a focus for new ideas and brought together an enthusiastic body of people. In 1931 Jack Pritchard and Wells Coates formed the Isokon company with the idea of designing buildings and manufacturing furniture. The first building, the Isokon Flats in Hampstead became a meeting point and when the Bauhaus designers became refugees a haven. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and many others became residents as they tried to rebuild their lives and find work. Most eventually moved on tho the USA but meanwhile having a profound influence on design and architecture in Britain.

Bristol made Marcel Breuer furniture in The Bauhaus in Bristol exhibition at the Stradling Gallery (Stradling Collection, 2019).

Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane was one of the community of people who came together through this process and is best known for his significant collaborations with Marcel Breuer who designed furniture, interiors and a building for him.

Sample of fabric for tubular furniture, Otti Berger. (Harvard Art Museums, BR52.86)

So, it was exciting to read in Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund’s book about Gropius and Breuer’s efforts to find employment for Bauhaus textile designer Otto Berger. Enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1927, Berger later ran the Textiles studios and was the only female student to patent her own designs. She set up independently in 1932 but by 1936, like many of the others, she came to London. She spoke no English and found it difficult to find work. Gropius and Breuer rallied round and called upon their friends to help. In a letter to Walter Gropius write that he has talked to Crofton Gane in Bristol who is keen to help and that he will drive Berger over to meet him and see if a contract can be draw up (Daybelge and Englund, 2019, 164).

Upholstery fabric made from natural fibres on a Marcel Breuer tubular steel chair. Otti Berger. (Undated photo. Harvard Art Museums, BR52.329).

Sample of Curve pattern upholstery fabric, Otti Berger. (Harvard Art Museums, BR52.131. 1-7)

Sadly we have no evidence that Crofton Gane and Otti Berger came to an agreement. She subsequently attempted and failed to move to the United States. In 1938 she returned to Croatia to look after her mother. They were later interned as Jews and sent to Auschwitz where she died in 1944.

Christmas and New Year card, 1937. Otti Berger. Typewritten on silk. 17x13cm. Harvard Art Museums, BR58.166).

Daybelge, L. and Englund, M., 2019. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. London: Batsford.

The Harvard Art Museums images are © the President and Fellows of Harvard University used with permission. For more images see Harvard Art Museums’ Otti Berger page.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages. These include a selection of downloadable documents including the 1936 P E Gane catalogue and a short film made at the symposium.

This entry was posted in Bauhaus, Breuer, Crafts, Furniture, Interior Design, Marcel Breuer, Modernism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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