Women Designing

Grete Marks (1899-1990)

An exhibition board showcasing Grete MarksGrete Marks trained at art schools in Cologne and Dusseldorf before enrolling at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920. She studied ceramics with Gerhardt Marcks, but left without finishing the course. In 1923 Marks married Gustav Loebenstein and they established the Hael Werkstatten fur Kunstlerische Keramik. She took over the running of the factory, which employed over one hundred workers, on her husband’s death in 1928.

The firm was forcibly sold to a leading National Socialist official in 1934 and Grete Loebenstein was forced to emigrate to England in the following year.

She obtained some design work in Stoke-on-Trent, the centre of the British ceramics industry, but was involved in a number of disputes over the extent to which she should be credited as the designer in the marketing of certain wares.

As a result, and with the support of her second husband, Grete Marks set up her own Great Pottery in 1938, which ceased production with the outbreak of war in 1939. After the war, she and her family moved to London. Marks established a studio pottery and continued to paint and create mosaics until a few years before her death.

Grete Marks’ lack of success in Stoke, as compared with her previous position in Germany, was a fate she shared with a number of refugees during the war. But it can also be seen as a clash between a designer trained at a progressive European Art School and a very conservative British industry. This was compounded by the fact that she was a strong, independent woman who was considered to be ‘difficult’ to deal with by the male managers with whom she had to work.

Grete Marks represents a lost opportunity for British industry to enter into the Modernist debate in terms of design.


Image captions clockwise from the top
1. Grete Marks at the Bauhaus (she is the figure at the back). About 1920-1923.
2. Tableware for Hael-Werkstatten. Similar pieces were designed by Grete Marks for Ridgways in Stoke-on-Trent, when she worked there briefly in about 1934.
3. Earthenware jar and cover and earthenwear two handled bowl, all made at the Great Pottery (two images side by side).
4. Silver plated bowl, very similar in shape to pieces produced at the Bauhaus. It was probably made before Grete Marks was forced to leave Germany in 1934.
5. Pages from a hand-coloured catalogue for the Grete Pottery, set up by Grete Marks in 1938.
6. Catalogue for Hael-Werkstatten fur Kunstlerische Keramick, 1923-1934.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • November 12, 2015

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