Marguerite Wildenhain (October 11, 1896 – February 24, 1985), born Marguerite Friedlaender, was a Bauhaus-trained ceramic artist, educator and author. After immigrating to the United States in 1940, she taught at Pond Farm and wrote three influential books—Pottery: Form and Expression (1959), The Invisible Core: A Potter's Life and Thoughts (1973), and …that We Look and See: An Admirer Looks at the Indians (1979). Artist Robert Arneson described her as "the grande dame of potters,".
Wildenhain was born in Lyon, France, to a German silk merchant and his English wife. She received a primary education first in Germany, then in Yorkshire England. At the start of World War I, her family moved to Germany where she completed secondary school. Beginning in 1914, she studied sculpture at the Hochschule fur Kunst in Berlin, then worked as a decorator of porcelain ware at a factory in Rudolstadt. It was at that factory where her passion for the potter's wheel ignited. When she was not working at the factory, she explored the countryside. Shortly after World War I, while in Weimar for a weekend, she happened upon the posted proclamation by architect Walter Gropius about the founding of the Bauhaus school in 1919: "“a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists". Then and there, as she recalled in her autobiography, she decided to become one of the first students to enroll.
Bauhaus and after
During her time at Bauhaus, Wildenhain studied alongside painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and 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 Frans 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, Netherlands, 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 near Guerneville, California (in the Russian River area about 75 miles north of San Francisco) founded by architect Gordon Herr and his wife Jane Herr. 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.
Pond farm and the Austin Creek Recreational Area were recently taken over by an operating agreement between "Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods" and the State Parks. Shortly after Stewards took on the responsibility of keeping this State Park open, Pond Farm was designated a "National Treasure" and with this status, plans are moving forward to restore and preserve the studio and home. Ultimately Pond Farm will be accessible for public use in some appropriate form, yet to be determined.
- Charles Crodel: Die Töpferin Marguerite Friedlaender, Berliner Sezession, 64. Ausstellung: Künstler unter sich. Malerei. Plastik. April / März 1931, Nr. 9 (Veröffentlichungen des Kunstdienstes Nr. 57)
- 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).
- Mady Jones (1981). "Oral history interview with Robert Arneson, 1981 Aug. 14-15". Archives of American Art Oral History Program. Archives of American Art. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- 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).
- R.R. Behrens, "My Bauhaus Connection" in Print. July/August. (New York, 1996), pp. 24 and 233-234.
- R.R. Behrens, Recalling Pond Farm: My Memory Shards of a Summer with Bauhaus Potter Marguerite Wildenhain (Dysart, IA: 2005).
- 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. ISBN 978-0-9761381-5-0.
- Bruce A. Austin, Frans Wildenhain 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century. Rochester, NY: Printing Applications Lab, 2012. ISBN 978-0-615-64527-8
- Museum & Schools Program Educator Guide Kindergarten to Grade 12: Marguerite Wildenhain: Bauhaus to Pond Farm. Santa Rosa, CA: Sonoma County Museum, 2007.