Releasing Girls’ Creativity at the Emmy Zweybruck-Prochaska School in 1920s Vienna

Type two words—“creativity” and “children”—into the search bar, hit the magnifying glass icon, and watch the results cascade down the screen.   The tenor of all these hits to scholarly articles in psychology, curriculum on public television for carers, websites devoted to child development,, etc. is unlocking every child’s imaginative potential is crucial to their intellectual and emotional progress.

Art instruction emphasizing creative self-expression through craft projects is believed to be among the best ways of opening up children’s minds to this process.  The idea that children should be inspired to discover within the seeds of creativity and to release their individuality through art for its own sake rather than to prepare for careers  dates back to early twentieth-century Vienna.  Franz Cizek (1765-1943), the most celebrated professor of art education of his generation, promoted a method which encouraged pupils to teach themselves, discarding the traditional formal study of technique for the exploration of a wide variety of media.

Cizek’s course  inaugurated in 1903 at the School of Applied Arts, with its strong ties to the Viennese Sezession, was not the only place in Austria where boys and girls were taught according to this philosophy.  Emmy Zweybrück-Prochaska (1890-1956) opened a school just for girls in 1915.  nfluenced by Cizek’s progressive, “permissive” methods, she brought deep interests in applied design, and the so-called naïve design language of  indigenous peoples, and women’s handwork in the textile arts.  Zweybruck parted company from Cizek in her practice in bringing out self-expressive potential through achievement of technical proficiency  and her dedication to training both amateurs and young women aspiring to careers as artists.

A sample of work by some of Zweybruck’s students has been preserved in the Cotsen collection.  Among the most delightful are the hand-drawn postcards.  The assignment seems to have been to illustrate the front of a commercially printed card and write a message to their teacher.  The illustration shown below is signed “E. C.” and the signature is “your Evelyn.”   The back is postmarked “1916.”   Lisbeth Haase is one of the most accomplished artists in the archive.  Here is her design of a girl watering a cactus for a postcard.  The black and white drawing is the right-hand half of a frame for a double-page spread in a book.  The third is a clever jumble perhaps of Lisbeth’s favorite things or an assortment of subjects Zweybruck suggested be incorporated into some kind of picture.The largest group reflects the method’s foundational principle of letting children try their hands at different media and includes linocuts, collages, papercuts, and drawings, some signed by the young creators.  One of Zweybruck’s techniques was to read aloud detailed descriptions or little stories lasting around 5 minutes and allowed the students “to find their way as best they can and will” in their responses. One day’s project must have been based on the legend of St. George and the dragon and it’s fascinating to notice the differences between these two attempts.  Unfortunately they are both anonymous designs.Perhaps this whimsical collage of an elephant by “N. J.” was a design for a toy or figurine.  N. J. used silver paper and sequins in addition to different colored papers.The horizontal borders in watercolor or cut papers are unsigned, but the linocut of the fence is credited to Zviki Abramowicz.  The unsigned designs for borders range from abstraction to the highly stylized “primitive. It’s also possible to compare two versions of the same image within the archive.  This design was executed in black and white and in full color.  The black and white version of the Virgin and Christ Child was mounted on the same sheet as a quick sketch of several faces.  This ambitious image is also unsigned.In the coming months, all the materials by Zweybruck’s students in the collection will be reorganized so they will be more accessible to researchers.  The names of all the students who signed their work will also be recorded.  Perhaps someone some day will try to identify the girls who studied with Zweybruck and establish how many went on to be artists.

Cotsen Research Projects: Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children

Note: The Friends of the Princeton University Library offer short-term Library Research Grants to promote scholarly use of the research collections, which are awarded via a competitive application process.  Researchers usually offer a short informal talk or presentation to library staff and others in the Princeton academic community near the end of their work on campus about the results of their research and how it fits into their broader research project or interests.

The text below was kindly provided by Megan Brandow-Faller, recipient of a 2012 Library Research Grant, following her July 2012 research project at Princeton in both the Cotsen Children’s Library and Marquand Art Library, following her July, 13, 2012 talk entitled: “An Artist in Every Child–A Child in Every Artist: Avant-Garde Frauenkunst and Kinderkunst in Vienna, 1897-1930.”  (The images accompanying the text are adapted from select slides in her PowerPoint presentation.)  Dr. Brandow-Faller is currently Assistant Professor of History at the City University of New York/Kingsborough. Her research focuses on women’s art institutions in early twentieth century Habsburg Central Europe.

Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children 

by Megan Brandow-Faller

The art of the child found fertile ground in Vienna 1900, cultivated by Franz Čižek’s renowned Jugendkunstkursen (Youth Art Classes), at important exhibitions of children’s art, and in the pages of Ver Sacrum and other periodicals.  Rejecting the elaborate technological miniatures popular in the nineteenth century–toys intended to ‘dazzle’ but which would ultimately leave a child cold–artists associated with the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte (the applied arts commercial workshops co-founded by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1903) designed objects conceived ‘with the eyes of a child.’ Secessionist toys, illustrated books and graphics using simple shapes and bright colors were designed to awaken children’s creative impulses in a design language that children could understand.

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

In designing these so-called ‘reform toys,’ Secessionists tapped two main sources for inspiration: the untutored drawing of children and traditional turned wooden peasant toys. The January 1906 issue of Alexander Koch’s progressive journal Kind and Kunst, for instance, devoted a richly-illustrated twenty-three page article to Wiener Werkstätte items (including finely-illustrated children’s books, games, silver rattles, and furniture suites) for children, including toy designs by Hoffmann, Moser, and Carl Otto Czeschka.

Kolo Moser’s crudely-shaped wooden figurines (illustrated in Figure 4b) reveal how Secessionists interpreted traditional toys in a highly-stylized manner verging on the grotesque.

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

Yet, it was actually the female students of Hoffmann, Moser, and Czeschka who produced some of the most important work in artistic toys and children’s book illustration. Contemporary critics found toy design and book illustration particularly appropriate fields for female craftswomen, given women’s ‘natural’ stake in childrearing (i.e. that women were believed to better understood children’s thought processes than men). Female craftswomen training at Austria’s progressive School of Applied Arts and Vienna’s Women’s Academy exploited such discursive linkages to the fullest.


Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

One popular method of graphic art and book illustration for children involved the use of painted stencils to produce clear, simple images. Stenciling had experienced a recent revival during the English and Scottish arts-and-crafts movement. In conjunction with the so-called Schablonieren Kurs (Stenciling Course) taught by Secessionist Adolf Böhm at the Women’s Academy, Böhm’s students published illustrated fairy tale and picture books and gained recognition through replication of such illustrations in the pages of Ver Sacrum, die Fläche and other periodicals. A special September 1902 issue of the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum featured the work of Böhm’s students. (Figures 1a & 1b)  His students’ toy designs were regularly featured in the pages of The Studio.

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

One such book of children’s stencils (housed in the Cotsen Collection) created by Women’s Academy classmates artist/designers Minka Podhajska and Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka around 1903 employs a fresh and original graphic language using negative white space in lieu of the black borders that Čižek encouraged his students to bound their drawings.

Packing a strong expressive punch into a minimal number of marks expressed as abstract geometrical shapes, Harlfinger-Zakucka’s stenciled image of a reform-clothing-clad mother, sporting what looks to be Wiener-Werkstätte style textiles, guiding her toddler plays on negative and positive space to reveal the interconnected forms and hence psychological closeness of mother and child (Figure 2b). Her stencil of a children’s Jause (snacktime) employs similar techniques (Figure 2a). These stenciled images reveal a striking encounter with Japanese printmaking techniques in their unusual manipulation of spatial perspective and boldly ‘cropped’ nature.


Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

Likewise carving her images out of negative white space, Podhajska’s depiction of a dancing couple (Figure 3a) reveals her fascination with folk art, an important source of influence for the turned-wooden toys she and Harlfinger-Zakucka produced. Her stencil of a witch conjuring her brew employs a wonderfully expressive sinuous curve associated with the new art movement (Figure 3b), which also relates well to the idiosyncratic use of turning-lathe methods in her turned-wooden figurines. The tangible figure of the witch and cauldron is expressed in a curvilinear fashion. Yet it is the intangible aspects of the image–the suggestion of smoke, fire and more abstractly the witches’ incantations–lending it its fiery expressiveness. While both artists tapped into folk imagery and design idioms, their work freely reinvented and modernized traditional folk design into images that were designed to awaken children’s creativity through subtle narrative elements. Images stood alone to leave the rest of the story to children’s imagination.