Born in Dresden in 1908 Margaret Leischner studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden (State Academy of Applied Art) in 1926. She then attended the Bauhaus Dessau, where she was taught by the artist Paul Klee and worked with Anni Albers (1927-30). On graduation she then assisted Gunta Stolzl, the head of the weaving department. Her ‘Leno’ fabric featured on the cover of the July 1931 issue of the Bauhaus magazine. In this same year she was appointed textile designer for Deutsche Werkstätten, as well as head of the weaving department at the Textile and Modeschule der Stadt Berlin from 1932 to 1936. Marianne Straub RDI recorded her impression of Leischner, when they met during a visit with Ethel Mairet RDI to the Deutsche Werkstätten in 1938: a ‘youngish enthusiastic weaver…very decided character – knows nothing about actual materials – uses what she wants to express her ideas in textiles’.
Later that year Leischner moved to Britain to take up the position of head designer for a firm of furnishing fabric manufacturers in Gateshead. She joined R. Greg & Co in Stockport in 1944 as Consultant Designer with a brief to develop weaving yarns using all kinds of fibres in different combinations, many of which were exhibited at the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition. At the same time Fothergill & Harvey asked Leischner to direct the weaving of a new plastic yarn, extruded in a single strand, from America and known in Great Britain by the name of ‘Tygon’, to be applied to car-upholstery and as baffle boards for wireless sets. In the 1950s Leischner collaborated with Alistair Morton RDI at Edinburgh Weavers on the ‘Checkmate’ fabric for airline seating for BOAC; acted as a fabric consultant for Guy Rogers of Liverpool, the manufacturers of Harris and Donegal Tweeds, as well as being solely responsible for the design of a carpet range, known as ‘Tintawn’, for Irish Ropes Ltd. She also visited Kashmir in 1955 to advise on improvements to designs for their handloom industry and her last consultancy work was with Acrilan fibres for Chemstrand Ltd (1964- 1967). Her imaginative treatment of yarns would have a profound influence on the work of the textile artist Tadek Beutlich.
A founder member of the Textile Group of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA) Leischner was appointed the Head of the Weaving Department at the Royal College of Art (RCA) from 1948. With Donald Tomlinson she staged three exhibitions of the work of the weave students at the Cotton Board in Manchester. During her fourteen years at the RCA Leischner achieved a new stature for art school trained designers of woven fabrics, gaining her the respect of her students and the textile industry. In 1964 the RCA awarded Lesichner an Honorary Fellowship. She served as a member of the Textile/Fashion Panel of the Summerson Council from its inception and her expertise was widely sought within the new DipAD structure, both as an assessor and an advisor for the National Diploma in Design and for the Diploma in Art & Design. She was also a member of the selection panel for the Textile Council’s Travelling Scholarship scheme.
When he presented Margaret Leischner to the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) on 28 April 1970 as a new Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) the Master, Sir Hugh Casson RDI, commented on her consistently high standards and inventive work that had laid the foundations for the experimental work being carried on by the students at the RCA. As ill health prevented Leischner from attending the meeting an equally inventive weaver, Enid Marx RDI, accepted the Diploma on Leischner’s behalf – the two women had been friends for many years and Marx compiled Leischner’s RDI box for the RSA.
Not long after receiving this distinction Margaret Leischner died, on 18th May 1970. A former student, Pat Albeck, wrote an obituary for The Times in which she described Leischner as ‘a woman of exquisite taste, she had nothing around her which was not well designed’.
Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946
- Group N: Furnishing Fabrics – items 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 173, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 258, 286, 287, 288, 289, 290, 291
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Photograph courtesy of RSA, London.