Grete Marks: industrial ceramicist. Form and surface; and the vicissitudes of the inter-war years.
My dissertation explored the attempt by the German, Bauhaus-educated, Jewish ceramicist Margarete Heymann Löbenstein Marks (1899-1990), know in the UK as Grete Marks, to establish herself as a modernist designer and manufacturer in Germany at the Haël Werkstätten from 1923-1933, and then, following the Nazi-imposed enforced-sale of her German company, in Stoke-on-Trent at Minton’s and the Grete Pottery from 1937-1939. The dissertation focused on Marks as a ceramic industrialist and considered the factors in Germany and the UK that facilitated, and prevented her achieving her goal of manufacturing modernist table- and domestic-wares.
The generous DHS Student Travel Grant enabled me to research in several German archives and museums. At the Jewish Museum Archive, Berlin, I read the restitution papers that enabled Marks to gain compensation for the Nazi enforced-sale of her factory. These papers included statements by Herr Katz her factory manager, her lawyer Herr Kügelmann, and Marks’s hand-drawn plan of her factory (Katz, 1965; Kügelmann, 1965; Marks, 1976). At the Brandenburg State archives I saw the official plan of the factory and Marks’s regular planning applications that, with the restitution papers, confirmed that the factory was expanding and successful during the 1920s. I also looked at the papers of Dr Heinrich Schild who bought the factory and installed the ceramist Hedwig Bollhagen. The most exciting find was an envelope of photographs in the Hedwig Bollhagen Archive of Haël display photographs. These photographs both attested to the extent of the Haël ceramics’ range and also showed that, possibly to soften their impact for German retailers, Marks had displayed some of her modernist ceramics in a traditional setting; the still life.
A visit to the Velten Ofen and Keramik Museum enabled me to compare Haël ceramics with the work of her Bauhaus teacher Gerhard Marcks, and fellow students Theodor Bogler and Otto Lindig. The adjacent Hedwig Bollhagen Museum included the design of one of Marks’s Haël jug forms that Bollhagen continued to manufacture but with a domesticated surface design (figs 1; 2). A visit to the Bollhagen factory at Marwitz revealed that this form is still manufactured but now with a plain yellow, green, or mauve surface glaze (fig.3). The same jug form was produced in late 1930s Britain by Ridgeways for Marks and decorated at the Grete Pottery with a modernist rendering of a floral surface design. This jug formed one of my case studies and demonstrated the ceramic form’s passage through time as its surface decoration changed from its modernist beginnings to German Heimkunst, then to a British hybrid design, and finally to a German ‘contemporary’ design. The case study demonstrated the impact of politics and economics on design; and exemplified Marks’s adaptation to British manufacturer and consumer tastes. It also confirmed Fallan’s, Sugg Ryan’s and Light’s assertions of the co-existence of traditional, hybrid and modern artefacts in any age, and showed that Serrès enfolded nature of time exists within material objects (Fallan 2009:142; Sugg Ryan (2018:8); Light, 2013:10; Serrès,1995:57)
Katz, H. E. (1965) Restitution Statement. Dokumente zur Entschädigung von Grete Marks at The Jewish Museum archive at W. M. Blumenthal Academy, Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn Platz 1, 10969, Berlin. 2006/171/0 1965.
Kügelmann, H. W. K. (1965) Restitution Statement. Dokumente zur Entschädigung von Grete Marks. The Jewish Museum archive at W. M. Blumenthal Academy, Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn Platz 1, 10969, Berlin. 2006/171/0 1965.
Marks, G. (1976) Map of the factory drawn by Grete Marks; Restitution papers Jewish Museum Archive, Berlin. Schenken von Frances Marks Dokumente zur Entschädigung von Grete Marks. 2006/171/0,1966.
Schild-Löbenstein Contract (1934) Dokumente zur Entschädigung von Grete Marks at The Jewish Museum archive at W. M. Blumenthal Academy, Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn Platz 1, 10969, Berlin. 2006/171/0
Fallan, K. (2009) ‘One must offer “Something for everyone’’’. Journal of Design History, vol 22, no 2, pp. 133-149.
Light, A. (1991) Forever England: Femininity, Literature and Conservatism between the Wars. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Serrès, M. (1995) In Serrès, M and Latour, B. Conversations on Science, Culture and Time. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Sugg Ryan, D. (2018) Ideal Homes, 1918-1939: Domestic Design and Suburban Modernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
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