Anni Albers entered the Weaving Workshop at the Bauhaus in 1923 having completed the legendary Bauhaus Preliminary Course. She remained a key member of the workshop until the Bauhaus was forced to close in 1932. In January 1929, at the time an assistant to Gunta Stölzl, head of the workshop, Albers was appointed to teach Design Theory to the Bauhaus weavers. In September that year she became acting director. At Black Mountain College from 1933 to 1949 she was head of the weaving department and after she and Josef moved to New Haven in 1950, she accepted a select group of individual students whom she taught privately at her home. During the 1950s she gave a course of guest lectures to architecture students at Yale University and at schools across the US.
Albers described how, at the Bauhaus, beginning in 1922, teaching and learning took the form of experimentation. With very little direct instruction or guidance, she wrote, ". . . Technique was picked up as it was found to be needed and insofar as it might serve as a basis for future experimentations." This learning process which unfolded at the Bauhaus through necessity—the school inherited a fully equipped weaving studio, but there was no qualified instructor—remained the core of Albers's teaching method. She believed that ". . . a free way of approaching a material seems worth keeping in mind as far as the work of beginners is concerned. Courage is an important factor in any creative effort. It can be most active when knowledge in too early a stage does not narrow the vision."
Freedom did not mean permissiveness. Exploration, invention, and creativity were explored within the framework of learned technical skills. Asked to characterize Anni Albers as a teacher, one student from Black Mountain College summed her up in a single word “strict.” Albers's own description of her weaving courses at Black Mountain College in 1949, stated that:
The courses in textile designing and specifically in weaving are thought of as a discipline in thinking in terms of material and process of its treatment, and in an inventive response to these. The weaving workshop is considered a laboratory for experimental work in construction and design. Handlooms allow for the slow operation necessary for experimentation.
Slowness, for her, was a virtue. Experimentation was thoughtful and deliberate. Machines, while they had a role to play in mass production were inferior to hand work when it came to creative invention.
Something of Albers's teaching style can be gleaned from her seminal 1965 publication "On Weaving" dedicated to "my great teachers, the weavers of ancient Peru."
Beginnings are usually more interesting than elaborations and endings. Beginning means exploration, selection, development, a potent vitality not yet limited, not circumscribed by the tried and traditional. . . . Therefore, I find it intriguing to look at early attempts in history, not for the sake of historical interest, that is, of looking back, but for the sake of looking forward from a point way back in time in order to experience vicariously the exhilaration of accomplishment reached step by step. . . . This is learning. And I try to take my students also on this journey back into early time, to the beginnings of textiles. How did it all begin?
"Early Techniques of Thread Interlacing" On Weaving, p. 52
First-hand accounts by two students who took private classes from her in 1959 and 1960, confirm and bring to life the crux of Albers's ideas and methods of education:
. . . I decided to write to her about private lessons . . . to my surprise she responded that she occasionally took private students: we made an appointment for a Saturday, late morning, spring 1960. . . . [When we met] She said she preferred students with no background in weaving, and asked me why I wanted to study with her . . . She agreed to take me on. I was to go up from N.Y. [New York] 2 afternoons a week . . . and she did not talk about money. . . . I left in a state of euphoria . . . I made frames and a backstrap loom on which to explore her first lessons which were pre-weaving structures: looping, twining, knotting.
Dorothy Cavalier Yanik, February 2012.
We would meet nearly every week for a year or so in their living room. Sitting in a white room, on white furniture near a pair of white automobile seats, we'd talk about threads and textiles and how they behaved. The important lesson I absorbed was that when you'd 'listen' quietly, threads would suggest what could be done with them. We ranged the world from there. . . .This instruction slowly allowed possibilities of the materials to reveal themselves to me over time.
Dolores Dembus Bittleman, January 2012