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Anthroposophical design in perspective

By NNA Staff

With his book, “Dornach Design”, Reinhold J. Fäth takes a voyage through Rudolf Steiner’s art impulse. It is an opulent book about furniture designed from an anthroposophical perspective during in the period from 1911 to 2011 with an abundance of pictures, most of them in colour. Anne-Kathrin Weise looked at the book for NNA.

BERLIN (NNA) - Every time I started reading in order finally to begin this review, I just kept reading and reading, discovering ever new design objects with often very surprising ideas about the Gestalt of a piece of furniture. Looking through the 271 pages and constantly discovering new artists, one comes to realise the richness and diversity of anthroposophical design and its ever-new individual paths since the foundations were laid by Rudolf Steiner 100 years ago.

In the preface, Fäth explains what anthroposophical design is all about. He is himself not only an art historian but master craftsman and furniture designer. He also introduced the new concept of “design therapy” into the world of art, namely the therapeutic effect of the design process not only passively but through the process itself. His previous books are “Rudolf Steiner Design” (2005) and “Designtherapie: Die therapeutische Dimension von Architektur und Design” (Design therapy: the therapeutic dimension of architecture and design)(2007).

Fäth classifies anthroposophical design by means of style criteria which are summarised at the beginning, and which he admits some may find controversial. On the basis of the design objects and in different chapters, Fäth explains ever new interpretations of these criteria so that by the end of the book one has gained a complete overview. Browsing through the chapters is a very enriching experience and the book, indeed, invites one to do so. Rudolf Steiner, Siegried Puetz, Albert von Baravalle, Walther Kniebe, Hermann Ranzenberger, Ernst Aisenpreis, Oswald Dubach and many others can be found there; Ejnar Eising (Norway) and Wharton Esherick (USA) are the only designers from non-German speaking countries.

Fäth brings together artists with such diverse creative impulses as Max Sigler and Hans Itel. This leads to another fascinating part of the book: the individual biographies of the artists who are represented, in many cases for the first time. The diverse and individual way in which the artists tried to work with what they understood of Rudolf Steiner's ideas about art and design is truly amazing. It shows how individual and personal the paths in anthroposophy can be.

A most interesting chapter for me, since I have a research background in Bauhaus, is the one in which Fäth compares two important design streams at the beginning of the last century, anthroposophical design and Bauhaus. There were many connections between them, especially during the early years in Weimar, but later fundamental and opposing differences developed, particularly under the guidance of Bauhaus director Hannes Mayer.

The reader will find many firsts in this book, not simply the first comprehensive overview of the theme of anthroposophical style criteria. The whole subject of design in the Camphill movement appears for the first time in a book of this kind. It is a first glimpse of an area that requires further research and investigation. There are pictures of Camphill House in Aberdeen in Scotland where Karl König, the founder of Camphill, lived, including some of Karl König's study. Curative design in Camphill flourished with Paul Bay from 1949 onwards as the active, artistic re-designing of existing rooms. Forms and colours influence our well-being significantly, especially children with special needs who are much more open to their surroundings.

The new furniture was made in Camphill-owned workshops with the help of people with special needs, and this craft activity at the same time had a therapeutic function. Karl König wanted art and the crafts to permeate each other, also to foster social life, a holistic approach to creating a healing environment. Many of Koenig’s pupils and co-workers took up these intentions. For example Georg von Arnim: the rooms of the school building in Camphill Foehrenbuehl near Lake Constance in Germany have different floor plans according to the ages of the pupils (also pictured in the book). Paul Bay, who was very influential in Camphill design, has his own chapter as well. He was the architect of Haus de Jaager in Dornach, working closely with Rudolf Steiner.

There is another first with the inclusion of Wharton Esherick, one of the most influential American woodworkers and founder of the Studio Furniture Movement. To my knowledge he has not appeared in any European book at all. Most art historians in Europe do not know of him. Wharton Esherick started as a painter in the Philadelphia area at the beginning of the last century, but worked as a carver, sculptor and furniture maker the rest of his long, almost 83-year-long life (see link below for the informative website of the Wharton Esherick Museum). Esherick built his own studio in Paoli near Philadelphia (just 15 minutes from where I live) which over the years became his home. Every piece of furniture, every bit of the kitchen (including the sink), the bathroom, the living room of course, the sofa, the bed, to name just a few things, are designed and mostly also built by him.

Very often it is the artist who is unknown, but in this book we also have names without the pieces they designed, where the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. But pictures do exist: we can see images of works by Georg Nemes, Otto Moser, Eduard Pracht and others.

Anthroposophical design lives on, so there is even a chapter about contemporary design, but one question remains open at the end: only male artists are presented, were there no female designers?

Finally, we have to thank Reinhold Fäth for his commitment, his research in digging out old pictures and taking new photos in hidden attics. The Futurum Verlag should also be praised for its boldness in publishing such an opulent work!

The volume is available only in German but even without German language skills the book is worth buying as the photos take up a considerable part of the book and the pictures speak for themselves anyway. Maybe an English or American publisher will take the courageous step as well and publish a translation.


Reinhold J. Fäth: “Dornach Design, Möbelkunst 1911-2011”, Futurum Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland.

Item: 120321-01EN Date: 21 March 2011

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