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 Marguerite Friedlaender Wildenhain  (1896 - 1985)



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Lived/Active: California / Germany      Known for: modernist ceramic vessel, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Marguerite Wildenhain
from Auction House Records.
Double Face Vase
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Marguerite Wildenhain (October 11, 1896 - February 24, 1985), born Marguerite Friedlaender, was a French-born American ceramic artist, educator and author.

 In the second half of her life, having emigrated to the U.S. in 1940, she conducted summer workshops at Pond Farm, her remote mountain top home and studio near Guerneville, California (in the Russian River area), and wrote three influential books.

Wildenhain was born in Lyon, France, to upper middle-class parents (a German father and an English mother) who were silk merchants.  When still in her teens, her family moved to Germany, where she completed secondary school.  Beginning in 1914, she studied sculpture at the Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst in Berlin, then worked as a decorator of porcelain ware at a factory in Rudolfstadt.  Shortly after World War I, while in Weimar for a weekend, she saw unexpectedly the posted proclamation by architect Walter Gropius about the founding of the Bauhaus school in 1919.  Then and there, as she recalled in her autobiography, she decided that she would enroll.

Wildenhain studied at the Weimar Bauhaus for about five years, in the process of which she worked closely with sculptor Gerhard Marcks (her Formmeister or Form Master) and potter Max Krehan (her Lehrmeister or Crafts Master).  In 1926, she left the school with the designation of Master Potter, and moved to Halle, where she was appointed head of the ceramics workshop at the Burg Giebichenstein.  While there, she also became associated with Konigliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (or KPM), now Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, for which she designed the prototypes for elegant, mass-produced dinnerware, most notably the Halle tea set and the Burg-Giebichenstein dinner service (both in 1930).  At about the same time, she married a younger ceramic artist named  Franz Wildenhain (1905-80), who had earlier been her classmate at the Weimar Bauhaus.

When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, Wildenhain was forced to leave her teaching post because of her Jewish ancestry.  With her husband (a non-Jewish German citizen), she moved to Putte, Holland, where the couple established a pottery shop called Het Kruikje (Little Jug), and where, until 1940, they lived by making pottery.  In advance of the Nazi invasion, Wildenhain was able to leave Holland in 1940 and to emigrate to the U.S., but her husband's concurrent request was denied.

Arriving in New York, Wildenhain traveled slowly east to west across the U.S., seeking opportunities.  Soon after her arrival, she held brief positions at the Oakland School of Arts and Crafts, the Appalachian Institute of Arts and Crafts, and Black Mountain College.  In the early 1940s, she settled permanently at Pond Farm, an artists' colony founded by architect Gordon Herr and his wife Jane Herr, about seventy-five miles north of San Francisco.  After gaining U.S. citizenship in 1945, Wildenhain was able to fund and to sponsor the emigration of her husband (who, in the years of their separation, had been drafted into the German army).

Marguerite and Franz Wildenhain, and two other artist colleagues, textile artist Trude Guermonprez (born Jalowetz) and metals artist Victor Ries became the faculty at the first summer school at Pond Farm, circa the late 1940s.  It soon became evident, however, that the four artists were incompatible, and that the Wildenhains' marriage was falling apart. For these and other reasons, the artists' colony abruptly ended.  Soon after, in 1950, Franz Wildenhain joined the faculty at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, while Marguerite continued to live at Pond Farm.

In the years that followed, as Marguerite Wildenhain's artistic stature grew, she continued to operate her own summer school, accepting twenty or more students each year.  She also published three books (Pottery: Form and Expression; The Invisible Core: A Potter's Life and Thoughts; and That We Look and See: An Admirer Looks at the Indians), lectured at schools throughout the U.S., and took solo expeditions to South and Central America, Europe, and the Middle East.  Since her death at age 88, the grounds and buildings at Pond Farm have been preserved, and are now officially a part of the California State Parks system.

In 2007, scores of Wildenhain’s students (along with international scholars) contributed essay-length memoirs, photographs and other materials, to the compilation of a large-format 776-page book (with 837 illustrations) about her life, her teaching, and her influence on the subsequent growth of ceramic arts and crafts.  Titled Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology, the book was co-edited by (her former student) Dean Schwarz and Geraldine Schwarz.

Writings by Marguerite Wildenhain:
Pottery, Form and Expression (New York, 1962)
The Invisible Core: A Potter's Life and Thoughts (New York, 1973)
…that We Look and See: An Admirer Looks at the Indians (Decorah, IA, 1979)
R. Kath, ed.: The Letters of Gerhard Marcks and Marguerite Wildenhain, 1970-1981: A Mingling of Souls. (Ames, IA, 1991).
D.L. Schwarz, ed.: Marguerite Letters to Franz Wildenhain (Decorah, IA, 2005).

Writings about Marguerite Wildenhain:
E. Levin: "Wildenhain, Marguerite (1896-1985)" in J.Heller and N. G. Heller(eds.): North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. (New York, 1995).
Robert V. Fullerton Art Museum: Ripples: Marguerite Wildenhain and Her Pond Farm Students. Exhibition catalog. (San Bernardino, CA, 2002).
Dean and Geraldine Schwarz, eds.: Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus: An Eyewitness Anthology. (Decorah, IA: South Bear Press, 2007). ISBN 978-0-9761381-2-9.
Dean and Geraldine Schwarz, Centering Bauhaus Clay: A Potter's Perspective. Decorah, Iowa: South Bear Press, 2009.

Text based on her biography on, with additional information provided by (former Wildenhain student) Roy R. Behrens.

These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
Marguerite Friedlaender Wildenhain was born in Lyon, France on October 11, 1896.  Wildenhain immigrated to the U.S. in 1940 and briefly taught at the California School of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.  She soon settled in a mountain-top studio-home near Guerneville, California.  She died there on February 24, 1985.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Fine Arts Collection, Luther College:
The Pond Farm Concentration, named for the Guerneville, California, home and school of noted ceramic artist, Marguerite Wildenhain, was created to celebrate her artistic and educational legacy by providing tangible evidence of the accomplishments her students.  The concentration is composed primarily of ceramic art but consists also of other art works, all created by students who attended the Pond Farm summer workshops offered by Wildenhain for over thirty years (1947-1980).  Countless reminiscences by many of these students testify to the vivid impression Wildenhain left on everyone with whom she had contact.

The concept of a Pond Farm Concentration was prompted by two visionary exhibits: the 1996 Luther College sponsored exhibit, The Visible Core, held as part of the centenary celebrations of Wildenhain’s birth, and the 2002 exhibit, Ripples: Marguerite Wildenhain and Her Pond Farm Students, curated at California State University, San Bernardino.  Both exhibits featured art works created by "Pond Farmers" pursuing a variety of careers, including professional artists. A selection of these students, focusing on those who participated in these exhibits, was asked to contribute a mature art work they had created to form the core of the Pond Farm Concentration.

This "collection concentration" will be used to educate a varied audience of students and faculty, campus visitors, artists and scholars, about the enduring imprint of the Bauhaus educated ceramic artist whose teaching inspired the creation of the works. It recognizes significant bodies of work contributed by multiple donors which are considered to contain research value beyond the local or regional level.

The importance of Wildenhain to the Fine Arts Collection at Luther College is immeasurable. Over her lifetime, she visited Luther College at least seven times presenting workshops and instructing students. In 1969, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in recognition of her many contributions as artist and teacher. Through the influence of Art Department faculty member, Dean Schwarz, she also became a patron of the arts at Luther College. Her superb gift of her own best pots was supplemented with subsequent donations of rare books, her rock and mineral collection, drawings, and important personal papers. She also bequeathed to the College her splendid collection of drawings, woodcuts, and sculptures by her teacher and mentor, the German artist Gerhard Marcks. The resultingMarguerite Wildenhain Collection forms the single most important collection of art works within the Luther Fine Arts Collection.

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