She also worked on functional commissions such as room dividers and curtains. One even earned Albers her Bauhaus diploma: In 1929 Bauhaus architect Hannes Meyer tapped Albers to design a wall covering for the new auditorium he was constructing. Her design was unprecedented—it joined the newfangled material cellophane, on one side, with cotton on the other, to create a sound-absorbing and light-reflecting material.
After Albers had a brief stint as head of the weaving workshop from 1931–32, the Bauhaus was shuttered by Germany’s National Socialist Party. And by 1933, she and Albers were on their way to the United States (Albers was of Jewish descent and, as she said, “had the wrong kind of background in Hitler’s ideas”), where they began teaching at the progressive art school Black Mountain College
near Asheville, North Carolina.
There, Albers continued to cultivate her weaving practice, informed in large part by frequent trips to Peru and Mexico
and the visual languages (symbols, pictographs) and Andean weaving techniques she encountered there. She’d go on to refer to Peruvian weavers as her “greatest teachers,” and described their work as “infinite phantasy within the world of threads, conveying strength or playfulness, mystery or the reality of their surroundings, endlessly varied in presentation and construction, even though bound to a code of basic concepts.”
Albers famously dubbed her tapestries that resulted from these experiences as “pictorial weaving”: intricate woven abstractions that evidenced her belief in thread as a “carrier of meaning,” as Gardner Troy points out in her essay. In some, like Black-White-Gold 1 (1950), lines of thread resembling twisting labyrinths or the silhouettes of age-old architectural structures rise from a shimmering substrate of interlaced cotton, jute, and metallic ribbon. Others, with titles like In the Landscape and Pasture (both 1958), reference the mountain ranges and vistas of Central and South America.
While Albers expanded the capabilities of her medium, she acknowledged that the structure and limitations inherent in the weaving process could stifle creativity—so she always encouraged a healthy amount of what she thought of as “play,” both in her own work and her teachings and prolific writings. In a 1941 article “Handweaving Today: Textile work at Black Mountain College,” she advocated for an elementary approach with “a playful beginning, unresponsive to any demand of usefulness, an enjoyment of colors, forms, surface contrasts and harmonies—a tactile sensuousness.”
This playfulness led her outside of her own weaving studio, too. Albers made jewelry collaboratively with a Black Mountain College student, Alex Reed, from the parts of everyday objects and appliances, like metal washers, bottle caps, and curtain rings. Later, while residing in Connecticut, she also collaborated with the manufacturing and textile companies Knoll and Sunar on fabrics that were produced in bulk for many years. And in 1963, she turned her full attention to printmaking, a medium where she discovered that, through images of threads, she “could project a freedom I never suspected.”