A Ghost in the Machine Age

"A Ghost in the Machine Age: The Westerwald Stoneware Industry and German Design Reform, 1900-1914", Lecture by Freyja Hartzell

Tuesday, December 8th, 4pm at the Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street

"Between the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and the Deutscher Werkbund’s first major exhibition of mass-produced products in at Cologne in 1914, German stoneware underwent a remarkable process of technical and aesthetic modernization. In collaboration with artists and cultural critics, the German region known as the Westerwald transformed its provincial, handcrafted vessels to rank among the exemplary mass-produced goods selected and deployed by the Werkbund to promote – at a domestic, grass-roots level – the development of a modern, national style. But this modern transformation was complicated by the legacy of the past: the Westerwald’s heritage of indigenous craft troubled its manufacture of modern products. “A Ghost in the Machine Age” will trace the Westerwald’s paradoxical approach to modern design as a reflection of Wilhelmine Germany’s ambivalent modernism and employ “modern” stonewares to interpret the Werkbund’s vision of a vernacular past conflated with a technological future. Analysis of Westerwald vessels designed by influential modern artists and displayed, published, and marketed by the Werkbund, will help to concretize the organization’s notoriously elusive program of design theory. To a young German nation in search of an enduring, all-pervasive, national style, the Westerwald offered an “evolved” vernacular fit for modern consumption."

FREYJA HARTZELL is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art at Yale University. She holds a BA in Art and Art History from Grinnell College and MAs from the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture and from Yale University. Her dissertation on German design reform and cultural aesthetics, “Delight in Sachlichkeit: Richard Riemerschmid and the Thingliness of Things” explores Munich artist Richard Riemerschmid’s designs for the domestic interior as a primary locus of aesthetic and cultural transformation during the modern period. An essay on this topic is forthcoming in the Journal of Modern Craft.

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