As we conclude Women’s History Month, we will reflect on the life and work of Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, who enjoyed an unusual career of furniture and toy design at the Bauhaus. It is noteworthy to consider that the women at the Bauhaus began their artistic careers at the moment when German women earned the right to vote for the first time in January 1919.
Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (1899 –1944)
Alma Buscher could not know that her early art studies would lead to the field of furniture-making and toy design and a deep interest in child pedagogy. By the time the artist enrolled at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1922, she had attended several art schools, including the State Arts and Crafts Museum in Berlin. At the Bauhaus, she took the preliminary course taught by Johannes Itten and attended classes by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, as was standard. She became one of only a few women who continued in an area other than weaving when her teachers Georg Muche and Josef Hartwig supported her move into the wood sculpture program.
In 1923 Ms. Buscher’s furniture designs were shown in the school’s first exhibit in the Haus am Horn – the first example of a building based on Bauhaus design principles – and included furniture designed for the children’s room, as well as toys and a puppet theater. What was unique about the artist’s furnishings – such as the cabinets she designed – was that they encouraged children to explore space on their own and rearrange the brightly painted crates that were part of the cabinets in any way they wished. She incorporated the element of movement when she added wheels to the crates, allowing children to further create and pursue their own narratives.
“Children should, if at all possible, have a room in which they can be what they want to be…everything in it belongs to them and their imagination designs it …”
– Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, 1926
Only a year later, the Zeiss kindergarten was outfitted with children’s furniture designed by Ms. Buscher. Her furniture and toys were exhibited at a conference for kindergarten teachers and youth leaders, as well as the “Youth Welfare in Thuringia” exhibit in Weimar. In 1926, her designs were shown at “The Toy” exhibit in Nurnberg.
Her most popular toy designs were the Kleine Schiffbauspiel (“Little Shipbuilding Game”) and the Groβe Schiffbauspiel (“Big Shipbuilding Game”), small brightly painted wooden blocks that could be constructed and re-arranged freely. Other popular toys were her simple colorful building blocks and her Wurfpuppen (or “Throw Dolls,” dolls made of straw and with bead heads) and coloring books. In 1927, she designed crane and sailboat cut-out kits, published by Otto Maier-Verlag in Ravensburg. The shipbuilding games and cut-out kits were reintroduced into production in 1977.
Ms. Buscher married her fellow Bauhaus student, actor and dancer Werner Siedhoff who worked closely with Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus stage. The couple moved to Dessau when the school relocated there in 1925. Two years later she graduated from the school and worked there for a year. Because of her husband’s line of work, the family – which by then included a son, Joost, and a daughter, Lore – moved frequently. She performed freelance work after leaving the Bauhaus and died in an air-raid in 1944.
In 2004, the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar opened a solo exhibition, “Alma Siehoff-Buscher: A New World for Children” which traveled to the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin in 2006. The Haus am Horn as part of the Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau/Berlin is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is scheduled to reopen in May 2019 after extensive renovations to return it to its original appearance.
By Eva Santorini, German Embassy
Comprehensive information on the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus can be viewed at bauhaus100.com.
“Bauhaus Women: Art, Handicraft, Design” by Ulrike Müller.
An interview with Alma Siedhoff-Buscher’s son, actor Joost Siedhoff, is available in German.
“Bauhaus and Harvard” is on view at the Harvard Art Museum in Cambridge, MA through July 28, 2019.
“Bauhaus Beginnings,” an exhibit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles runs from June 11–October 13, 2019.
“Bauhaus: Building the New Artist,” an online project of the Wunderbar Together initiative, runs from June – October 2019. More at www.getty.edu/research and wunderbartogether.org.