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Lis Ahlmann

Lis Ahlmann (1894 - 1979), Danish Weaver Extraordinaire Prodigiously talented, driven and inspired.

Close to the end of her life she remarked “I wish I could wake up tomorrow and be dead.” Not that she wished to shuffle off, just that she had no time to be ill, after a long and busy life there was still more to be done.

Her way to the loom was not linear by any stretch. Colour and painting were what interested her early on. Dreams of becoming a painter saw her take lessons from one such, for income she had painted ceramics for venerable Kähler for some years, but nothing really clicked.

Still restless she packed her bags and took off for Paris to pursue her interest in painting. She soon had to realise that her talent would fall short of what was needed to meet her own expectations, let alone anyone else’s.

What she did experience in Paris, however, may have meant a great deal for her eventual success as a weaver. She came across communities of women who were financially independent, who had the courage to pursue personal freedom and artistic expression, and she determined to let nobody get in her way. No husband or domestic duties for her.

Back home in Copenhagen things started to fall into place. She became apprenticed to Gerda Henning whose work ethic and courage saw her take on all challenges thrown at her. Kaare Klint who ran the Design School at the Academy came across Ahlmann here and in her he found yet another willing subject for his endless demands for quality, clarity and logic.

A fully fledged weaver she set up her own workshop by the mid thirties. Took on apprentices, took on commissions and was a busy as a bee. Had strong opinions on what you could ask of your apprentices, other than they bring talent and interest in the artistic world of art, music and film. Insisted they only work 6 hours a day, or they would be too tired and their work would ultimately suffer. Sent them off to courses so they could learn to paint water colours because she could think of no better way to capture inspiration as it presented itself in a fleeting moment.

Experiments with colour, with yarns, with patterns. Brighter, better, simpler but only after royal battle to find the essence of those three in every piece of cloth that left her loom.

She made connections of enormous import for herself but also very much for the direction Danish Mid-Century Design was to take, and indeed for the designers she worked with.

It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of her influence on fellow weavers, whether they favoured the loom or were keener on an industrial approach. Ahlmann negotiated both worlds very well, but only on her own terms and you crossed her at your peril.

Børge Mogensen became a close friend, she became a favoured aunt to his children, developed a less cordial relationship with his wife, but as time passed things worked out for them as well.

Work off the loom is bad business, slow and poorly paid.

However much a her work carefully worked out at home with colour samples, sizes and gauges was intended for production at C Olesen, industrial scale weavers who recognised that change was in the wind and saw how useful her talent could be for them.

The licences were generous and paid on time. They gave her freedom to pursue exotic and foreign ways. In the words of a friend she and her gang ´pilfered stripes´ from fellow weavers in Japan, The Middle East and the Amazon Indians and translated them to a language that her audience recognised and appreciated, ancient but made contemporary through her understanding of colour and economy with flourish.

By the time she is 70, Børge wants to give her a party. She is not interested and doesn’t show up. A lunch attended by her apprentices past and present is a much more acceptable idea and anyway she is very busy and can barely stop.

In the end she nearly gets her wish… after a busy morning at the loom in her workshop it’s time for lunch. She does not return for the afternoon session. She is gone.

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