Valéria Kršiaková

I had the opportunity to speak with Stefanie Kitzberger und Eva Marie Klimpel about women designers and artists who are represented in the collection of the University of Applied Arts (Angewandte) in Vienna. For our project “Creativity from Vienna to the World,” which focuses on the design and pedagogy of Central European women artists who migrated to countries outside of Europe in the first half of the 20th century, it is crucial that this collection comprises many artworks created by former students of the then-called Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule (Vienna School of Applied Arts). Numerous female artists and designers studied at the school, many of whom we have mentioned in our podcasts, lectures, and exhibitions, including Emmy Zweybruck-Prochaska, Felice Rix-Ueno, and Vally Wieselthier. During my conversation with Stefanie and Eva, we discussed not only the origins and extent of the collection but also some of the central issues that arise while researching émigré women artists.

Which women designers from Central Europe who migrated to the US or other countries during the first half of the 20th century are present in your collection/archive?

Eva: As far as I know, objects from at least seventeen women artists and designers who migrated from Vienna mainly due to the approaching Second World War. This includes Felice Rix-Ueno, Emmy Zweybrück-Prochaska, Erika Giovanna Klien, Fritzi Löw, Vally Wieselthier and Elisabeth Karlinsky, to name only a few. Extensive research has been conducted on only a limited number of them, for example, on Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky or Felice Rix-Ueno, who has a monographic exhibition at the Viennese Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) this year. At our institute, we recently completed a research and book project on Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who emigrated to the Czechoslovak Republic in 1933 and later, in 1944, was murdered in Auschwitz. There are several emigré women artists who studied at the then Kunstgewerbeschule and therefore should be present in the collection, but are absent, such as Alice Berger Hammerschlag, Sofie Korner, Lizzi Pisk or Kitty Goldman to name only a few. Although we know of and feel responsible for researching these positions, we have not had the opportunity to explore their work in depth so far.


Stefanie: Many of the artists who worked at the former Vienna School of Applied Arts were forced to emigrate, were murdered, or persecuted after 1934 and 1938. As a result, we know very little about them. Oswald Oberhuber, the founder of the university collection at Angewandte and its former rector, and his colleagues Erika Patka and artist Peter Weibel deserve credit for starting to rediscover unknown figures of Viennese modernism who had been neglected in art historiography after the Second World War. Against the backdrop of the dominant canonization of art in Austria, they aimed to shed light on artistic positions working, living, teaching and being taught in Vienna beyond the confines of a „nationalist“ art history. Among the projects they organized in the context of this endeavour is, for instance, the exhibition and catalogue Die Vertreibung des Geistigen aus Österreich. Zur Kulturpolitik des Nationalsozialismus (1985), which includes a long list with the names of artists who studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule and basic data on their careers.



When it comes to researching these designers, what methodologies do you employ and what kind of problems often occur in the research process?

Stefanie: While conducting research on Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, this question was particularly important to us. There are several methodological questions that we need to answer when it comes to researching these designers. How, for instance, can we write critical biographies including reconstructions of networks and connections, if we are confronted with the issue of a lack of documentation of œuvres due to gender bias, or due to intricacies that forced or non-forced migration entails? Specifically, when it comes to positions that are less visible and documented, one needs a lot of resources and time to do (often times unfulfilling) research on tiny details in a lot of different places. This applies to the already mentioned artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: a huge part of her archive is lost today, not least because she was deported to Terezín and later murdered in the death camp. An important source, which can help to reconstruct what seems to be lost, is what you could call „secondary archives“. The archive of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, for example, holds a lot of records related to teaching methods and lists of students or teachers. In the case of Friedl Dicker, we relied on oral history and on details in her letters to her close friends in the reconstruction and interpretation of her works and personal and professional experience.

It’s evident that we cannot be experts on every artist documented in the collection. Luckily, many other scholars have conducted research on specific parts of the artist’s oeuvres or particular figures, which we are aiming to connect. Part of our job is to collaborate with researchers who have already explored other archives and travelled to search for people who possess valuable documents or art pieces.



Another challenging question involves the relationship of aesthetics and politics on a much broader historical level. Many artists who were connected with the former Kunstgewerbeschule also had ambiguous political affiliations, with some openly supporting national socialist views and benefiting from the so-called Anschluss. These artists adapted their artistic practice and/or aligned themselves with the fascist transformations of institutions like the Kunstgewerbeschule. It is worth mentioning that, following World War II, there were efforts in Austria to establish the country as an independent state. Yet this hindered art historians’ ability to study the former multicultural Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, the so-called Iron Curtain prevented communication and collaboration between art historians from both sides of the bloc. These predictions have begun to shift, and modernism is being viewed from a transnational perspective. In recent times the history of Central European Modernism is furthermore being viewed from intersecting de- and postcolonial and feminist perspectives. Such shifts are crucial for researching emigrant artists’ traces, biographies, networks, and the conditions of artistic production beyond national borders, languages, and cultural formations.



Eva: It’s also important to note that this collection was founded in the 1980s, more than half a century after the artists we’re talking about visited the school and long after the Second World War. Many were born in remote regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and came to Vienna to pursue professions in the applied arts. These women were successful as fine artists as well as so-called Kunstgewerblerinnen (“arts and crafts women”) during their time in Vienna, but we have little information about what happened after they left. We only know their brief, often fragmented or open-ended biographies. On the other hand, the collection contains more objects from designers who remained or returned to Vienna after World War II, which is logical because they were more accessible. Like every collection, this one has grown historically and reflects different interests of oftentimes opportunistic figures that were powerful within the institution. Some of the objects in the university collection were acquired before Oberhuber established it: they were not purchased by him but had been stored in the school for a long time without being formally listed and were later integrated into the collection’s inventory. Some of these artworks had previously been used as teaching aids (models for artistic training). While such objects shed light on specific artistic and pedagogical practices at the Kunstgewerbeschule, our research poses a persistent challenge related to their provenance. The majority of the objects in our possession are linked to the artist’s student days and lack signatures, making it impossible to identify authors. Especially in most cases of garments manufactured before the middle of the 20th century, we only have knowledge of the textile pattern’s creators, but not the person responsible for the costume’s design and realisation. Furthermore, works are frequently school projects associated with specific courses but not independent creations. An example of this would be the numerous unsigned artworks created in classes taught by Franz Čižek.




Franz Čižek was a pioneering figure in the realm of Central European progressive pedagogy. His courses were designed to foster and nurture the creative potential of children and young adults, providing them with a diverse range of techniques and materials to explore and experiment with. Čižek also encouraged joint discussions among his students, allowing them to share their ideas and insights with one another. Some of the aforementioned designers studied with him and incorporated his ideas into their own pedagogical practice. For instance, Erika Giovanna Klien developed his teaching methods in the US after emigration. In our online series Julia Harasimovicz has devoted her paper to the Popularization of art from the Franz Čižek class by female charity workers. Additionally, our colleague Megan Brandow-Faller has recently undertaken a project that focuses on the dissemination and popularization of Secessionist ideas of child creativity in postwar America, including the influence of Franz Čižek.


Stefanie: Yes, as part of the exhibition Lill Tschudi and Franz Čižek. A delightful sort of game (at the University Gallery of Angewandte until December 16th 2023) we started to conduct research on Erika Giovanna Klien and Elisabeth Karlinsky, who had studied with Čižek in Vienna. As preserved letters show, both of them corresponded with him after their immigration to the U.S. During their student years in Vienna in the early 1920s, both attended Franz Čižek’s course in Ornamental Morphology. At that time, Čižek’s course was mandatory for every new student as a part of their first year. Interestingly, this  “class” originates in an introductory course for the application of ornaments on (designed) everyday objects – a realm where women students were tolerated earlier than in that of the fine arts – however, due to Čižek’s specific notion of the ornament as a veritable locus of non-mimetic expression, it became a veritable artistic laboratory, where contemporary avantgarde practices, as well as bodywork and rhythm, were explored, thereby dismantling the dichotomy between fine and applied arts. This aspect of Čižek’s pedagogical approach exerted a profound impact on the work of Klien and Karlinsky, both of whom went on to further develop Čižek’s principles. Notably, they evinced a keen interest in connecting his pedagogical methods with psychoanalysis. Following the completion of their studies, Čižek recommended Klien and Karlinsky to teach at the Elizabeth Duncan School in Kleßheim near Salzburg. In the late 1920s, both artists migrated to the United States and began teaching at various schools in New York, including the New School for Social Research, the Dalton School, the Walt Whitman School (Klien), and the Walden School (Karlinsky). Klien also theorized her pedagogical approach and produced a large manuscript that is now part of the university collection.
Franz Čižek has written a book on his pedagogical endeavours and methods, that is now lost. Thus, his concepts – which do not indicate a clear methodology that ties his principles together coherently – subsist in the form of two memories, which themselves must be analysed carefully. One is a partially completed CV by his former assistant Ada Schimitzek, which contains aspirations towards national socialist language and ideology, indicating that it was meant to be published. The other is a transcript of an interview that one of his former students, Leopold Wolfgang Rochowanski, conducted with him during the Second World War. In the interview Čižek seems to be more ambiguous.

Eva: A lot of texts on and lectures by Čižek were first published in Great Britain and the US thanks to the pedagogue, writer and refugee relief worker Francesca Wilson as well as the Junior Red Cross‘ general secretary Wilhelm Viola, who published  two monographs on Child Art. This is noteworthy because it shaped the reception of Čižek’s work and strengthened the international ties of the class and lead to multiple exhibitions in the English-speaking world during the 1920s and 30s.

Do you think there’s a difference in researching male and female designers? Is one gender easier to research than the other?

Eva: Definitely. The first rather obvious factor creating a discrepancy is that men historically kept their last names, while female biographies are fractured by marriage.

Stefanie: Most women artists faced difficulties related to reproductive labour and gender-related discrimination. Additionally, as we already mentioned, women artists had different experiences when it came to studying and producing art. They were not allowed to study at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna until the late 1920s, which meant that they were often not recognized as legitimate artists with their own careers, especially in the fine arts. At the Kunstgewerbeschule it was possible for them to study there since it opened in 1867, however women were relegated to the role of decorators, at the beginning primarily studying in the textile department. The aforementioned course taught by Franz Čižek was actually a course for the composition and execution of „ornaments“ in different media, which meant that students were expected to learn how to paint decorations from an ornamental perspective in order to apply them to objects of applied arts. Čižek in his course, as he pursued an interest in finding new forms of “authentic” expression through ornaments, however shifted his focus to different strands contemporary visual arts and dance as models – thereby (accidentally) offering specifically to women students new models of artistic subjectivity and praxis.

The final question I have prepared concerns the challenges of transitioning artistic forms with an artist to a new country with different environments, customs, and tastes.

Eva: Unfortunately, we have not conducted research specifically on this topic yet. What we are currently focusing on is the migration of forms from so-called folk art into modernist Viennese artworks. These forms and aspects originated from rural regions or economic „peripheries“ of the former monarchy Austria-Hungary. At the turn of the 20th  century, especially textiles from such areas were bought by artists ( Emilie Flöge, Gustav Klimt for example) and cultural theorists (such as Michael Haberlandt or Alois Riegl) who lived and worked in „centres“ like Vienna, Budapest or Prague. While within the nascent fields of ethnology and art history attempts to document how these non-industrialized art practices (often referred to as „primitive“ or „original“) were made, modernist artists appropriated patterns and designs within their own creations. Even though the artworks served as models and their formal language was copied, there is no documentation of the individual artists that created them, or they‘re subsumed within their regional group and therefore remain anonymous, which indicates a colonial gaze with which those interested in so-called folk art acted. Among them was Rosalia Rothansl, head of the textile workshop at the Kunstgewerbeschule, who trained many of those women artists who later became part of the Wiener Werkstätte. She used her extensive collection of artworks from regions that are now part of Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine or Hungary as teaching aids.

Stefanie: These products were not considered as art, but rather used like „ethnographic“ objects (not by chance this interest coincides with the emergence of ethnography and art history as academic disciplines), or, as Eva already said, from a „primitivist“ perspective, as anonymous patterns for modern crafts, which themselves would have formed a counterpart to cheap mass production.

Unknown artist, from Rosalia Rothansl’s collection of teaching aids Hungarian apron: Surc, linen/metal/silk, ca. 1900 84 x 82 x 1,5 cm KM 100/388, Collection and Archive, University of Applied Arts Vienna


Could you share an example from your collection?

Eva: For example, the Wiener Werkstätte created many of these colour-block prints on silk. The designs frequently resemble embroideries in our collection, to me it looks as if the form was moved from 3D to a flat surface. While this is certainly not the only inspiration the WW designs drew upon, textile designs like Felice Rix-Ueno‘s Camille, Mizzi Vogl-Piekarski‘s Edelmarder or Lotte Fochler-Frömel‘s Grünfink reinterpret 19th  century artworks from rural regions of Eastern and Central Europe through the lens of modernism.

It is interesting to note that most of the teaching aids at Rosalia Rothansl’s workshop as well as the objects she taught her students to produce were not silk prints, but time-consuming to make, such as hand embroideries or bobbin lace. It is crucial to understand the production conditions of these objects as well as their reception. On the one hand, the anonymous rural objects represented an idealized form of artistic conduct untouched by industrialization and commodification, however on the other hand, the production of crafts for a market of the 20th century, implies the need for relatively fast production. I guess this is why the WW artists in the end opted for block print instead of aforementioned technologies (such as XXX) that took much longer.


Stefanie: We have numerous folk textiles whose authorship is unknown. Currently, we are comparing these objects with similar artworks whose provenance is documented. Our aim is to find formal and material resemblances to hopefully at least be able to list the objects by the regions they were made in and reconstruct some of their cultural heritage. By approaching the objects like this, we try to highlight the migration of forms but also of techniques and materials in an effort to recover parts of what’s lost in translation. Our aim is to also deepen our understanding of the market that folk textiles were sold through and to find out more about the protagonists involved in it.


Eva: Right now, our understanding of cultural translation within the Austro-Hungarian empire is limited to German speaking, rather hegemonial sources like Riegl, and therefore full of blind spots. We hope to collaborate with cultural theorists, curators and artisans from different parts of Central and Eastern Europe who are interested in similar questions in order to widen our horizons on questions of cultural translation and appropriation in the former k.k. monarchy in Modernism at the turn of the 20th century. 

Lotte Fochler-Frömel for Wiener Werkstätte Grünfink, silk block print, 1908—14 14 x 10 x 0,3 cm KM 8557, Collection and Archive, University of Applied Arts Vienna