An American in Vienna

August 10, 2010

After I finished my grad studies, I worked as an intern at the Austrian Association of Women Artists for some months. This little Viennese bastion of feminist thought and art production exists – although rather hidden – since 1910, and its members still work in the same light and high loft spaces of an old Viennese Ringstrassen-building as their fellow women artists a hundred years ago. The Association’s current president – who became a friend during the time of my internship – more or less ‚inherited’ the Association from her landlord, the last president’s husband, who was a very skilled paper restorer and art collector originally from New York. It was him who introduced her to the abundant archives and the fascinating history of the place and who encouraged her to revitalise the rather neglected and forgotten Association. And so she did.

The restorer and his Viennese wife, herself an artist, lived in a beautiful loft directly adjacent to the Association’s studios. Never before have I been in a space that still seems to breathe the souls and lives of their former owners as much and as intensely as these rooms do. Although I actually never met the couple, whenever I am visiting the loft I always have the very strong feeling of still sensing their presence, not least because each piece of furniture, each lampshade, cushion, glass and plate seem to have been chosen and placed with so much love and thoughtfulness.

Since the restorer’s death some years ago, my friend inhabits the loft all by herself and is as good a keeper for its appearance as she is a far-seeing president for the Association. But, with rooms and spaces, sometimes one has to be a renovator rather than a keeper and have the courage to change things. This is why she gifted me this:


It is the loft’s wooden kitchen cupboard – the one piece of furniture I absolutely always would admiringly comment on when visiting. It consists of three separable basic modules, three drawers, four shelves and four sliding doors. I admit, nothing so very special, but I just love how modest and simple the cupboard looks, yet how functional and beautiful it is designed [timeless may be the word that comes to mind…]. Last but not least, my vivid imagination likes the idea that about forty years ago it travelled from New York across the ocean, then faithfully housed pots and pans for such a long time in such a beautiful surrounding, and now, despite its battered edges and other signs of ageing, will be a loved home for my crafting supplies:

Cupboard Cupboard

And the best thing is, the cupboard’s new function still reflects the spirit of one of its former owners – a knitter and textile lover herself:


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