Hubert Gotzes Weaving Workshop

Hubert Gotzes Weaving Workshop

The following narrative reports the history of the Hubert Gotzes weaving workshop in Krefeld, created by HdS, and the history of the family of Hubert Gotzes Jr. in Chicago, created in German by Dr. Ulrike Denter and translated in English by Cynthia Beisswenger of HdS.

The early years

Hubert Gotzes was born on 5th September 1860 in Amern.  According to the population register for the town of Krefeld Gottfried Hubert Gotzes together with his wife Gertrud Karoline, née Vollekeir, aged 42 years and their seven children moved from Amern, St. Anton, district Kempen, to Krefeld. Initially the family lived at Rossstrasse 130 but probably only temporarily because the town address book for 1901-1902 states Prinz-Ferdinand-Strasse 23 as the address of the skilled weaver Hubert Gotzes at this time and two years later Hubertusstrasse 53.  It is not known whether Hubert Gotzes was employed in the weaving workshop for ecclesiastical textiles belonging to Theodor Gotzes in the Dionysiusstrasse from 1900 to 1905 but this was definitely feasible because he was obviously well acquainted with picture weaving.

On 21st October 1905 Hubert Gotzes became self-employed and his company was entered in the Commercial Register as “Hubert Gotzes Paramentenfabrik”.  He now referred to himself as a producer of liturgical vestments, ecclesiastical fabrics and banners. The registered business address of the company was Klosterstrasse 43 and Westwall. In the town address book for 1907-1908 and a certain Wilhelm Gommersbach from Blumenstrasse 148 was named as a further owner of the company.  He was not, however, mentioned in subsequent years.

The many changes of address and the setting up of the company suggest that the family had become increasingly economically better off since their arrival in Krefeld. Hubert Gotzes was, it seems, a proficient craftsman and obviously also a good businessman who as a “foreigner” in the unbelievably competitive silk town of Krefeld could risk setting up his own company.  In addition, he was able to count on the support of his eldest sons, Jakob Theodor and Karl Matthias who were already 22 and 21 years old when the company was set up.

Luisenstrasse 15 in the years prior to the First World War

1908 Hubert Gotzes purchased the property Luisenstrasse 15, probably together with the entire workshop equipment and set up his business premises there.  The house had been built in 1867/68 by the silk producer Gottfried Diepers.

Luisenstrasse had been developed in the mid-nineteenth century.  Around 1900 the district had a typical mixture of residential and business properties.  23% of the population were employed in the textile industry.  Self-employed people, craftsmen, civil servants and employees as well as worker lived in the district. The areas to the rear of the properties served either as gardens or were developed with small workshops.

It is evident from the building Luisenstrasse 15 that it had been constructed with a view to using it commercially: the entrances for the suppliers and the customers are directly adjacent to one another.  The customer entrance leads into the business and office areas, the suppliers’ entrance into the courtyard towards the side wing with the workshops and the private rooms on the upper floors.  Behind the house there was also a courtyard and a garden. In the Luisenstrasse the company at last owned the facilities necessary for the business.  The description given by contemporary witnesses shortly prior to the Second World War of how the various rooms were used probably corresponded more or less to the situation when the production of ecclesiastical fabrics first started.

Looking at the property from the street, the reception room and the office were located at the front on the right. The side wing at the rear accommodated the so-called “workshop” for embroidery and needlework and on the upper floor the weaving room. On the upper floor on the street side there was a large showroom and to the rear of the building the private rooms. In the course of time the family also acquired the appropriate adjacent premises in the Mariannenstrasse in order to construct a shed-roofed building. The velvet brocade weaving workshop was located there.  This building was destroyed in the Second World War.

The Business up to 1992

It is not known exactly when the adult sons (and possibly also daughters) of Hubert Gotzes became involved in the production of ecclesiastical textiles.  Apart from Hermann born in 1888, all sons completed a commercial apprenticeship.  However, it is possible that they were involved in the entire production process occasionally.  The eldest son Jakob (born 1883) may have been employed as business administrator in the family business from the start, similar to Josef (1886-1959) who travelled around as a sales representative.  From 1910 on, the second eldest son Matthias (1884-1935) was registered in the address books as a grocer in Hülserstrasse 118, from 1913 in Mariannenstrasse 94.  Hubert junior, the youngest son (born 1893) attended the Institute St. Leon in Bruges (Belgium) in 1910 to complete a business apprenticeship when he was just 17 years old.  He returned to Krefeld in 1912.  Two years later his father sent him to Chicago in the USA.  There Hubert junior set up a trading company for the family business. Over the years this was to prove a fortunate step because the business in America became an important pillar of the company even during the unstable period prior to the Second World War. The ecclesiastical fabrics were very popular with the Americans for their excellent quality and colour fastness. The two daughters, Pauline (born 1890) and Gertrud (born 1896) are not mentioned in the documents.

Hubert Gotzes died on 28th December 1916 following a long illness. Initially Jakob and Josef Gotzes took over the management of the business as executors of his will. In the address book of 1920, Jakob, Josef, Matthias and Hubert (junior) were named as joint owners of the company.  His widow, Karoline, had not had any significant impact on the business.  She died in 1921.

The period during which the Gotzes brothers managed the company jointly does not seem to have been easy.  On the one hand the overall economic situation was not very positive and on the other it was difficult to reconcile four different opinions.  The documents of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce reveal that Hubert Gotzes junior who was managing the business in Chicago left the joint business in 1928. In the mid-1920s Josef set up an ecclesiastical fabrics workshop in the new Linner Strasse 80 and in the meantime Jakob had opened his own ecclesiastical fabrics workshop in the adjacent house (Luisenstrasse 17) and he left the joint family business on 5th December 1930.

Between 1931 and 1934 Matthias Gotzes was the sole owner of the business in Luisenstrasse 15 because in a questionnaire from the Krefeld Chamber of Industry and Commerce dating from the year 1934 he is named as the sole company manager. At this time, 14 persons were employed, twelve workers (5 females and 7 males) including two apprentices, one male and one female, as well as the owner and his wife Henriette, both of whom took care of the office work and the company management.

However, fate soon struck again. In 1935 Matthias Gotzes was killed in a car accident.  His widow took over the business and was a resolute head of the company until her death in 1969.  The business continued to retain the name of the company founder, Hubert Gotzes. Henriette steered the production through the particularly difficult times of the Second World War and through the crisis in ecclesiastical fabric business following the Vatican Council in 1962-65 when new regulations stipulated plainer liturgical vestments and many workshops producing ecclesiastical fabrics in Krefeld had to close down. Erwin Maus, Henriette Gotzes’ nephew, was a great support for the business.  From January 1962, the company was registered as a partnership in the Commercial Register as Erwin Maus became a partner. He had learned the weaving trade from scratch and subsequently worked in the office and as a sales representative.

Following the death of his aunt in 1969, he took over the management of the company.  When the last weaver died in 1989 it was no longer possible to continue production and the company was finally entered in the Commercial Register as defunct on 16th September 1992.

Production and Products

At the beginning of the twentieth century, liturgical vestments and fabrics were still produced as was usual in the manufactories of the 19th century.  The inventory comprised various manual looms with Jacquard attachments on which patterned velvet, silk and brocade fabrics as well as braids could be produced. There was also an embroidery workshop and a needlework workshop which survived until the company closed.

In Chamber of Industry and Commerce register the number of looms at the Hubert Gotzes company was listed as 20 prior to the Second World War and “8 usable” hand looms in 1946.  These 8 looms still exist today. During the bombing raids it was mainly the velvet looms in the shed-roofed annex which were destroyed.

The company produced patterned fabrics, in particular velvet and silk cloth, braids and ribbons with woven or embroidered picture designs, altar cloths, baldachins and other church textiles including complete range of liturgical vestments required for important church services  such as copes, stoles, chasubles etc. They were produced according to the wishes and measurements of the client. In addition, Gotzes also produced banners for various organisations as well as fabric for neckties both during and after the Second World War.

The Krefeld producers of ecclesiastical textiles had a good reputation for their very high quality products and for the colour fastness of the fabrics.

This also applied to the Gotzes company. The production of patterned velvet brocades was very complicated. On average one hand weaver only produced 0.4m per day of this precious fabric from so-called non-weighted silk, i.e. from material which had not been dyed with stannates and was therefore much more durable.  Another speciality was the gold brocades, fabrics into which gold threads had been woven.  Gotzes procured these threads directly from Japan.  These stood out as there were no traces of metal discolouration even after longer periods.  The gold brocades were an export hit especially in the USA where richly patterned priests’ vestments remained popular significantly longer than in Europe.  When weaving picture designs it was important that only one weaver worked on any one length of cloth as each weaver has a slightly different stroke and the change would have been noticeable in the cloth immediately.

Pattern designers, point paper designers and card punchers worked on the development of new designs for a collection.  The pattern designer first develops a single motif.  Then he adds decorative surrounds and from this creates a repeating pattern. Then he checks the effect of the repeating pattern on a larger surface. Studio Rentmeister in Krefeld produced the pattern designs for Gotzes. These drawings were then processed by the point paper designer.  He transferred the picture broken down into small squares to the appropriate point paper.  Each square corresponded to the intersection of warp and weft threads.  The point paper design was the precise template for the finished fabric.  The card puncher produced the cardboard punched cards on the so-called “piano” based on the point paper design. The punched cards were then sewn together to form an endless strip and it ran through the Jacquard attachment fixed to the loom. The cards controlled the lifting of the individual warp threads and thus produced the pattern.  The card punching work for Gotzes was also outsourced. The motifs for embroidered pictures were, however, developed or adapted at the company. 

At the end of the 19th century the Krefeld ecclesiastical fabric workshops started to concentrate on the patterns of old historic patterns. Hubert Gotzes followed suit and used motifs such as the stag pattern, pomegranate, birds and symbols such as the cross or floral ornaments.  Not only the fabrics themselves demonstrated the large variety of motifs used but above all the richly embroidered so-called “Kölner Borten” (Cologne braids).  One speciality was the “Kölner Stäbe”, 5 to 7 cm wide strips of fabric which were woven according to the medieval “Kölner Borten”. They often display motifs which were already usual in the 16th century: rosette, a tree with many branches or the names of Mary and Joseph.  If required several motifs could be combined with one another, embroidered on as individual items or sewn on as woven pictures (applications).  The embroidered applications, so-called “needlework paintings” frequently displayed representations of Christ or saints. These were sewn onto the section of the vestments requested by the client.  Each client could therefore compile their individual vestments from illustrations in a catalogue or select what they like from a series of finished vestments. 

The orders were completed relatively quickly despite the very complicated handicraft involved.  Depending on the pattern, a weaver could weave the fabric for a priest’s vestment in two to five days on average.  Velvet brocade took more than 10 days.  The fabric was then cut out, sown together and embroidered so that the order was completed within two to three weeks.

Clientele and Marketing

Naturally the Gotzes company had a specific client base: primarily religious institutions represented by priests and bishops.  The main customer was the Catholic Church which still ordered richly decorated vestments prior to the Second World War.  However, also the Orthodox church bought textiles from Gotzes.  In addition, associations ordered banners and emblems.

Customer service was provided in two ways: The Gotzes company had a reception room or showroom where the various textile patterns and finished vestments could be displayed. This served in particular the customers from the surrounding area.  Some regular customers frequently visited the showroom. A significant proportion of orders were, however, acquired by travelling salesmen.  In the early days of the company history this was carried out by bicycle or by train, later by company car.  Sometimes it was the company owners who travelled as in the case of Matthias Gotzes.  Furnished with a large case of samples he travelled on average 8 to 14 days per month throughout the region.  Afterwards the samples had to be cleaned and ironed which required time and effort. An idea of Erwin Maus brought about an innovative breakthrough in customer service following the Second World War.  He constructed a sales vehicle by attaching a camping trailer to a Mercedes vehicle with driver’s cab.  The trailer was fitted with cupboards to hang the vestments and also mirrors so that the vestments could be tried on straightaway.  After the Second World War two other sales representatives were employed by Gotzes apart from Erwin Maus and therefore they could cover the entire Federal Republic.  Sales were also made in neighbouring countries, for example the Benelux countries.  Up to the Second World War the American business with the trading company in Chicago was an important pillar.  These contacts ended after the war.

Employees and Working Conditions

Nothing is known to date about the number of employees in the first decades following the establishing of the company. The first precise figures are found in documents from the Krefeld Chamber of Industry and Commerce dating from 1934.  A company survey states 12 persons.  In addition, there was the company owner Matthias Gotzes and his wife Henriette who worked in the production. A total of 19 employees was stated for 1938, 3 male workers – probably the weavers – and 6 female workers – embroiderers and needlewomen.  In addition, there were the apprentices, the employees who worked in the office and the sales representatives.  Immediately after the war in September 1945, Gotzes employed only 7 people but by 1951 the total had reached 16 employees and workers and by 1957 as many as 23. The Second Vatican Council which decreed that the clergy wear plainer vestments caused sales to drop drastically and probably led to the workforce being reduced.

Interviews with the former weavers Wendelinus Breuer and Paul Amend give a closer insight into everyday life at the company.  Amend learned the weaver’s craft from scratch at the company. In the first year of his apprenticeship, 1952, his main tasks were to reel the weft yarn for the then 5 weavers in the workshop, to keep the workshop clean, to fetch coffee and to run errands for Mrs. Gotzes.  It wasn’t until the second year that he was able to sit at the loom and over time was given more and more complicated weaving tasks. In 1955 the journeyman’s wages amounted to 90 Pfennig per hour.  The weavers had to perform almost all tasks necessary in the weaving workshop themselves.  Prior to the Second World War female Schererinnen and piecers came from outside into the workshop to complete and install the warp beam. Later the manual weavers had to do everything themselves.

In the 1950s the working day began at 7 o’clock in the morning. At 9 o’clock there was a coffee break lasting at most a quarter of an hour. Henriette Gotzes, the strict “ruler” in the production department, could hear exactly which looms were being used at any time and went to inquire what was wrong if there was a standstill.  The working week was on average 48 hours.  On Saturdays the apprentices had to thoroughly clean the workshop and occasionally work in the garden of the company owner.

If large orders had to be made ready for dispatch, it often happened that the female apprentices stayed overnight at the company following the extra-long shift. Nowadays unthinkable but at the time quite normal were also the sanitary facilities.  The only toilet in the building was located under the stairs leading to the upper floor.  It was not until later that an additional WC was installed on the upper floor.

Overall the two weavers remember that the working atmosphere was good. Normally there was either a company outing or a company party once a year held locally or somewhere in the region (for example even as far away as Unkel am Rhein).  The fiftieth anniversary of the company in 1955 was celebrated in Krefeld with a good meal, nine-pin bowling and dancing.

From the 1970s it became increasingly difficult to find trainees for the company.  Compared to other branches of industry wages were only moderate and it was difficult to find workers highly skilled in embroidery and manual weaving. The last weaver left in 1989 and that meant the end of production. Even if it had been possible to find a manual weaver capable of producing such fabrics it would not have been possible to pay an appropriate wage.

History of the Family of Hubert Gotzes jr.

Hubert Gotzes jr. was born in 1893 in the St. Anton district of Amern, and moved to Krefeld with his parents and siblings in the year 1900. In 1910 Hubert went to Bruges in Belgium to attend the Institute St. Leon as a commercial apprentice and returned to Krefeld in 1912.

At the beginning of 1914 Hubert Gotzes jr. Travelled to Chicago at the behest of his father to the branch of the Krefeld family business. He left Germany from Bremer Hafen on board the ship “Crown Princess Cecilia” and arrived at Ellis Island in New York in February 1914.

Initially Hubert Gotzes jr. successfully applied himself to the America business but had to abandon his activities for a time during the course of the First World War when it was no longer possible to import products from Germany. He therefore travelled further west in the USA to the Colorado mountain area where he earned a living temporarily as the manager of a gold mine in the small town called Cripple Creek.

Following the death of his father in 1916, Hubert jr. became joint owner of the Krefeld-based family business along with his brothers Jakob, Matthias and Josef. According to the register of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Krefeld he resigned from the jointly owned company in October 1928 because he had settled permanently in the USA.

In 1925 Hubert Gotzes jr. had married the accomplished singer Werra von Puttkamer in Chicago. Werra descended from a prominent German family and was well-known as a singer under her stage name Werra Van. The press reported in great detail on the wedding.  Even the Vatican sent congratulations as the couple were close friends of Archbishop Beckman who was a frequent guest in their home. Their son Hubert Richard was born in 1926. 

After giving up the production of paraments in the 1940s, Hubert Gotzes jr. worked as a manager for the night-time operations of the large printing firm R.R. Donnelley in Chicago, which even today operates at international level as the second largest printing company in the world. He also brought his son Hubert Richard into the printing company once he had completed his studies.  Hubert Richard worked his way up to the top of the company and in 1957 married Jane Lawson.  The couple had two daughters, Teresa and Jane.

Today Jane Gotzes lives with her husband Jim Golz, son Parker and daughter Abby in Charlotte, North Carolina. In July 2013 Jane accompanied by her family visited the former place of activity of her great-grandfather Hubert Gotzes in Krefeld and left a case full of silk and velvet there.

History of the Company Hubert Gotzes Inc. in Chicago

In October 1905 Hubert Gotzes set up a company for the production of paraments in Krefeld and moved into the commercial premises Luisenstraße 15 together with the company in 1908. Soon the company was producing not only for the German market but also for export in particular to the USA. There Hubert Gotzes ran a branch in Chicago and New York as old letterheads indicate.

In 1914 Hubert Gotzes sent his youngest son Hubert to Chicago in the state of Illinois, to supervise the business being run by two sales representatives. In addition, Hubert jr. travelled around America acquiring orders and gradually building up the business. The company soon gained a reputation supplying for high quality goods and the American branch developed into an important mainstay of the company Hubert Gotzes in Krefeld.

As a rule the precious velvets, brocades and silk fabrics woven in Krefeld were made into liturgical vestments locally according to the specifications of the American customers. Up until 1939 Hubert jr. also received regular supplies of fabrics from his brother Josef who had set up his own weaving workshop for ecclesiastical textiles in Krefeld.

The company “Hubert Gotzes Inc., Ecclesiastical Art Productions” sold all types of church fittings in addition to paraments and in doing so cooperated with well-known German companies. For example, an order for the design of church windows was placed with the glass painting company Glasmalerei Dr. Heinrich Oidtmann in founded Linnich in 1857. Metal items such as for example chalices, monstrances were produced in the most famous German goldsmiths’ workshops.

The Krefeld-based forwarding company Taaks was responsible for handling the ocean transport by ship. Complicated multilayer packaging made of tissue paper, oiled cardboard and interlining canvas served as protection for the valuable ecclesiastical fabrics.

At the beginning of the world recession in 1929, business in Chicago increasingly declined. In the end the company Hubert Gotzes Inc. moved from its original location in the highly reputed North Clark Street to Roscoe to significantly more modest premises at the edge of town. Hubert Gotzes jr. finally closed the production of ecclesiastical textiles in the 1940s.