ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  Lissy Funk

Lissy Funk (1909, April 30th until 2005, April 19th)

  Life and development of the embroiderer Lissy Funk

Lissy Duessel was born in Berlin in 1909. Her Family had moved several times during her childhood. At the end of World War I they had lost their wealth and Lissy had to find a way to make a living. In Dresden she studied 4 years dance in Mary Wigman’s experimental dance studio. But despite her talent she was not strong enough to pursue a career in dance. After some time her family settled in the Canton of Ticino in Italian speaking Switzerland. Lissy took weaving lessons near St.Gallen in 1929-30. But she prefered needle work and then started with needle and thread. A first result were her blue and white embroidered panels (122x45, 1937).

In 1933 she moved to Zürich and there she gave gymnastic lessons, she met the painter Adolf Funk and they were married in 1935.

Lissy passed away on April 19th, 2005.

  In 1938 she entered a competition conducted by the city of Zürich to create an object for a wall in the council chamber. Together with a Swiss painter she was charged to create a hanging with 172 coat of arms (500 x 700 cm, 1939-45). She also used the motif of floral and herbal plants indigenous to Switzerland and also reminiscent the mille fleurs tapestries of northern Europe in the 15th and 16th century. When it was completed it measured 35 square meters. It was installed when World War II came to an end.

In 1948 Lissy started to teach at the school for Home Economics in Zürich.
And she continued to create embroidered wall hangings: The Forest Tale (200 x 250cm, 1947) shows the early style of the artist. One year later the Angel (345 x 112cm, 1948) was embroidered. Here she portrayed the figure frontally. A sense of 3-dimensionality was achieved through the voluminous garment and powerful wings.

  The evolution of Lissy’s abstract style was slow and painful. By the mid 1960 s she began to find her visual language. Pieces from this period are the wish (168 x 250cm, 1967), and How shall I Receive You (245 x 265cm, 1966). Lissy’s study of christian art and liturgy has provided her with a continuous and clearly defined repertory of forms and colours.

Here the cross which becomes the piece’s central axis, is comprised of a golden shaft of wheat, representing the Psalms; a line of white kernels, which refers to church songs; and a line of red, signifying religious songs that have not yet been composed. The shafts of flowering wheat to the right indicate the earthly dwellings of mankind, while those to the left are the heavenly dwellings of the prophets. The horizontal member of the cross, comprised of 12 white bars, symbolizes the apostles. The circle surrounding these forms stands for faith.

This piece speaks to us with a richness, a sence of celebration and porfound contentment. By this time Lissy Funk had become a significant contemporary artist.


detail of hanging in the
cathedral of Schaffhausen

  Lissy now moved increasingly toward abstraction. Abstraction allows her many more options for more complex and involving images. Her work seems charged with energy and rhythm, it is an evocative image free from the limits that realistic appearances can impose.

Her preoccupation with light and times of the day is another theme in Lissy’s work. Il Mattino (dawn) (160 x 61cm, 1978), la Mattinata (the morning song) (180 x 153cm, 1975) show the beginning of the day. Upright forms in blue and black suggest the transformation from night to day. La Giornata (185 x 200, 1980) features a dramatic maze of intersecting black lines. One senses the many interruptions and moods one experiences in a day. Morning and Evening Light (210 x ll5cm, 1987). shows the struggle between the foreboding darkness of night and the purity and promise of the early day. Here Lissy has achieved an incandescent and ethereal quality that one would never expect from needle and thread.

These pieces become all the more remarkable when one realizes that they are entirely embroidered. They are all embroidered wall hangings. Lissy’s controll over needle and thread is extraordinary.
Sources of inspiration were her travels to Italy, to France. Throughout her career, she kept abreast of

  the European and American art scene by attending international exhibitions in Switzerland. Another source has been the art and eye of her husband Adolf Funk. their relationship and work have been enriched by constant intellectual interchange, along with great affection and concern for one another.

Important were Lissy’s participation in the International Tapestry Biennales in Lausanne, Switzerland of 1965, 1969 and 1977. Lissy’s work was also included 1986 in the exhibition of Gruppe 78, an association formed in 1978 by Swiss textile artists, all of them woman. In 1988 a Retrospective was held in the Art Institute of Chicago USA, in 1989 the same exhibition was shown in Krefeld Germany and in Zürich. 2 years ago some of her important works and a number of small-scale works were shown in Winterthur and in the Textile Museum in St. Gallen Switzerland.

Lissy began to produce small-scale works in 1976, calling them Minis and Mini-minis. For the St.Gallen exhibition she created a number of new ones. She can reach a wider audience with these more affordable works, but despite the smaller scale the creative procedure is the same as in her bigger wall hangings:
clasping hands 1994, full of life 1993, the circle 1996, many together 1996, upright 1996, Valentins day 1996.

  When confronted with her wall hangings we are struck by the intense or subtle colour palette, complex compositions and rich textures, that they are realized in thread is secondary. Her style, compositions and forms of execution are her own. She does not belong to a movement or school, she remains untouched by thsi age of instant creations and instant results. Her art cannot be measured by normal standards. She enchants us with her works by allowing us to partake of her innermost thoughts which help our innermost thoughts to unfold as well. Lissy Funks art builds on a feeling of deep spirituality, making her works very fascinating but also difficult. Her works must be approached meditatively. Through her art she opens up a world of vast dimensions.   These thoughts have been taken from the catalogue of Lissy Funk’s Retrospective in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1988

that is from the article of Christa C. Mayer Thurmann, Curator, Department of Textiles.

And from the foreword by Dr. C. Eggenberger, Chairman, Visual Arts Section of Pro Helvetia (Swiss Cultural Foundation).

  There is a video from summer 2001 about Lissy Funks tapestry in the cathedral of Schaffhausen, Switzerland. At the occasion of the 50th anniversary of this work of art Lissy Funk herself explains the origin of the hanging.

Lissy Funks development underwent at that time a major stylistic change. Using sharp lines, she created geometric compartments in which cubistic figures appear. At first glance, pieces resemble large pen-and-ink drawings filled with doodles.


early abstract embroidery, 1968

detail of embroidery, 1968


In the years after 1976 Funk began to produce small-scale, calling them Minis. They provide the artist with relief from the stresses involved in producing her larger tapestries. Because the large hangings generally can be acquired by only a few individuals, she is able to reach a wider audience with these smaller, more affordable works.

detail of embroidery, 1980


And even at ninty-two Lissy Funk remains active, her head spinning with new ideas.
Her oeuvre reveals her to be an extraordinary artist who draws, sculpts, etches, and paints with needle and thread. Her style, compositions, and forms of execution are her own. She does not belong to a movement or school. She has stood and will continue to stand alone. She remains untouched by this age of instant creations and instant results. Lissy Funk has become a giant within her chosen field.


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