Tapestry Design

Otto Plaug (1898–2000)
Date: 1916
Medium: Glue paint on paper
Dimensions: 14 H x 21 W
Credit: Gift of Albert B. Roberts
Accession Number: 2020.12.251
In 1916, while Plaug was studying art at the Kunstgewerbeschule Hamburg in Germany, he wrote to his father in the U.S. describing his most recent project, the design for a tapestry. Dated January 16, 1916, the letter reads: "“For all this month with the exception of one week I have been working at designs for wall carpets, that is, grouping animals people & landscapes in decorative way." His design reflects the flattened and stylized forms then popular among Germany’s avant-garde artists and designers. Plaug also noted some of the difficulties of creating such a design: “It is a hard problem for every perspective has to be given up yet one must draw hills & valleys earth sky clouds; bushes trees, flowers; people & animals on it, yet I am getting at it and hope to make a good carpet design in the coming week.”
Because of World War I, certain paints, like the tempera paint that Plaug used in most of his work, became expensive and difficult to purchase in Germany. As a substitute, Plaug turned to making glue paints, which used a vegetable starch as binder, most likely wheat.
In a letter written to his father on April 4, 1916, he mentions the use of glue paint: “On Monday I start a design, size 100 cm x 80 cm, in 4 colors, & I have it half done. I think I will get it finished this week. I tell you I never got a design done so quick. In this class we paint all our work with glue paints. We have gass & glue give by the school and dry colors we have to buy ourselves. Working with glue paints I like very much, for, they are just as good as tempera and much cheaper & because they are cheaper one is not afraid to mix a good pot full, while with the dear tempera colors one would often not mix enough and then I would have to mix new color to match the old and that’s an awful job.”