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Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The Carnegie Mansion, built between 1898-1902, underwent major renovation in order to become the new home of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design.

Highlights of Permanent Collection Featured in Series of New Exhibitions

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Patriot Radio 1940 Designed by Norman Bel Geddes (American, 18931958) Manufactured by Emerson Radio and Phonograph Corp. (New York, New York, USA) Cast phenolic plastic (Catalin), molded urea plastic, molded cellulose acetate, embossed acetate, metal H x W x D: 20.3 x 27.9 x 14 cm (8 in. x 11 in. x 5 1/2 in.) Gift of George R. Kravis II, 2014 10 1 Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution“Energizing the Everyday: Gifts from the George R. Kravis II Collection,” opening April 28, celebrates the exceptional gifts from the collector to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. On view through March 2017, the exhibition will display some of the most important modernist objects—from radios to furniture—alongside contextual works drawn from the museum’s collection. “‘Energizing the...

A Curious Carpet

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Panel from a firescreen, 1859–1869, Halifax, England, worsted threads adhered to linen ground, Bequest of Mrs. John Innes Kane, 1926-22-339.By the middle of the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. British manufacturers of all kinds developed innovative techniques to produce goods for an ever-growing global consumer base. Many successful companies developed artistic sidelines that utilized their established resources in experimental ways. John Crossley & Son was one of the largest carpet...

Bizarre Textiles

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Matt Flynn 002Silk designs of 1695 to 1715, commonly termed ‘bizarre,’ were characterized by sinuous lines, strong diagonal movement, and motifs in strangely juxtaposed scales, which might include architectural elements, chinoiserie, and fantastical fruits and flowers. The seventeenth century was the age of exploration, and fashionable novelty was found in the rare and strange. Botanical gardens such...

Mystical Incan Band

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Nazca Band, 100 BC–800 AD, South Coast, Peru, cotton and wool slit tapestry with some weft wrapping and use of non-horizontal wefts, Museum purchase through gift of Erskine Hewitt, 1949-118-1-aThe fine weaving of this narrow band, with eccentric wefts that follow the diagonals of the design, marks it as a special item. Among the brilliantly dyed blue, yellow and red yarns, a fuzzy, coffee-colored yarn stands out. The fiber source may be an extremely fine camelid, such as the wild guanaco, or rabbit hair,...

Dressing the Table

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Table frontal, China, 18th century, silk and metallic tapestry or kesi, Gift of Mrs. A. Philippe Von Hemert, 1958-69-1.Table frontals were used on numerous types of Chinese tables: altar tables, dining tables, and magistrate’s desks. They covered the fronts, sides and legs of tables, and often coordinated with a set of matching chair covers. Such furnishings made furniture more flexible: the decoration could be adjusted for the season, the type of festivity, and...

This Museum is Gorges

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Where does a building end and the earth that surrounds it begin? Often, this question is easy to answer. We tend to think of buildings and land supporting them as separate entities. This preliminary drawing by the Weiss/Manfredi Architects for the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York shows us that sometimes buildings and...

A Teetering Trio in a Pastel Void

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features two white, stylized female figures and one black, stylized male figure on purple ground, with horizontally printed black and white sans-serif text. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.In celebration of World Pride, June Object of the Day posts highlight LGBTQ+ designers and design in the collection. Today’s blog post was originally published on May 22nd, 2016. Alvin Lustig designed numerous book covers for New Directions Publishing over the course of his prolific career, including several for Tennessee Williams’s plays. Lustig’s modernist designs,...

Falling into Flowers

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a stylized floral design printed in muted colors of blue and green. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.Gently swirling clusters of flowers and their accompanying foliage weave across this delicately colored repeat. Soft blues and greens evoke freshly opened blossoms while the stormy gray background suggests a recent or impending shower. Curving between the main clusters are constellations of small white blooms that highlight the rest of the composition, adding a layer...

Tranquil Waters

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a wallpaper border with a rural scene of a small pond surrounded by flowers. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.Most wallpapers designed with a water theme were intended for use in bathrooms, though given the early date of this Art nouveau border with its pond and water lilies it was possibly intended to partner with a similarly-styled wallpaper in a bedroom. Most wallpapers for the bathroom designed before 1910 appeared more hygienic due to...

Jazz Motions

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a black and white striped poster. On the center of the poster, the black stripes are covered in the green outline of a man playing the saxophone and on the white stripes, the red outline of a man playing the tuba. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. Niklaus Troxler (Swiss, b. 1947) designed this boldly colored poster in 2005 for the annual Willisau Jazz Festival, an event he co-founded in 1975.  Here, Troxler engages...

Parade of Parachutes

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
LIFE magazine deemed him as a “dressmaker in silver” in 1939, but Tommi Parzinger was an incredibly versatile designer, celebrated for his furniture, wallpaper, packaging and textiles.[1] Parzinger designed furnishings for socialites, decorators, and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and the Rockefellers and he established himself as a man about town in the glamorous circles of...

Cover Art Cubism

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
This 1948 jacket for William Carlos Williams’ book-length poem Paterson was designed by Alvin Lustig for New Directions Publishing’s New Classics series, a collection of reprints of modern literature. Lustig and Williams, a self-expressive graphic designer and a painterly writer, respectively, are a particularly complimentary pair, of the many authors whose work Lustig visually rendered....

Not Your Typical Wallflowers

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a brightly colored wallpaper printed with flock. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.Another floral design, but not “just another floral.” This wallpaper is truly a product of the late 1960s, printed in four deeply saturated colors of flock on a marbled Mylar foil ground. From a distance it takes on the appearance of clouds with their free-form, rather ambiguous shapes. But closer inspection reveals this is indeed...

Bright and Lively Flowers

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image shows a floral stripe wallpaper design printed in very bright colors. Please scroll down for a further description of this wallpaper.Here is a perky design that seemed appropriate for a summer post. Printed in shades of pink and green this floral stripe pattern is quite striking in its intensity. While this all but screams late 1960s it is a fun design that could work beautifully in a maximalist interior today. Different shades and hues of...

Peche’s Ornamental Ombré

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image of textile piece 1919.Matilda McQuiad discusses this ombré textile by prominent Austrian designer Dagobert Peche.

Sink or be Sunk

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
The 1940s after World War II (1939-1945) marked a phase of industrial design that centered on the consumer. Coined by prolific industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) as the “Decisive decade”, manufacturers began acquiring prestige by redesigning products that met the needs of a changing society.[1] Populations had grown extensively from incoming immigrants; housing for returning...

Playful Exuberance: Dagobert Peche’s Silver Vase

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Now on view in The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, this vase by Dagobert Peche is an explosion of movement and life.

Monkeying Around

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features white wallpaper with olive green scrollwork from which fern-like foliage sprouts. Monkeys, dressed in costumes of ultra-bright green, blue, red and pink, are perched on the scrollwork and involved in human activities such playing musical instruments and blowing bubbles. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.Scrolling framework twists and curls along the length of this wallpaper, Singeries, which was screen printed by Piazza Prints Inc. and is dated to 1965. Winding along these curling sections are delicate green fronds that look to be from a fern or palm tree as their leaves reach outwards. Between the framework and fronds is...

Gatsby’s Return

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
This 1947 book cover for The Great Gatsby was designed by Alvin Lustig (American 1915–1955) as part of the New Classics project. Initiated in 1939 by New Directions Publishing, the New Classics project created a series of cutting edge reprints of classic novels.  When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was first published in 1925, it garnered...

A Perky Floral Stripe

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a floral stripe wallpaper brightly colored in pinks and greens. Please scroll down to read the blog about this wallpaper.Here is a perky design that seemed appropriate for a summer post. Printed in shades of pink and green this floral stripe pattern is quite striking in its intensity. While this all but screams late 1960s it is a fun design that could work beautifully in a maximalist interior today. Different shades and hues of...

Is Architecture Actually a Form of Weaving?

Smithsonian Magazine

David Adjaye is known for his innovative architectural designs. He integrates a wide array of influences into his own kind of modernism in projects as diverse as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture—perhaps his most ambitious project to date—expected to be opened next year in Washington, D.C. So it may seem strange that a man celebrated for his buildings would also be curating an exhibition about fabric.

Adjaye is overseeing the newest installment of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s “Selects” series, which spotlights the little-known West African textiles in the museum’s permanent collection. The show spotlights 14 colorful cloths, caps and wraps from communities throughout Africa. It also offers the celebrated architect a chance to explore the surprising connections between textile making and building design.

“What’s interesting to me is this idea of fabric and weaving as a kind of abstraction of making places that people come together in,” he says.

Adjaye says that the overlap of these two disciplines has always fascinated him. He sees it as a way to understand architecture that was first explored by thinkers like 19th-century German architect Gottfried Semper in his influential work The Four Elements of Architecture. The book made the case that building one of the elements, enclosure, actually originated as textiles—first as interwoven grasses and branches, which gave way to woven screens and tapestries, before more solid walls served as dividers of space.

This concept of textiles as dividers of space is partly why Adjaye has displayed the fabrics upright in the exhibition instead of flat—to transform them from fabric into “architectural elements.”

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Man's cap (laket), late 19th–early 20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Man's cap (laket), late 19th–early 20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn. Adire wrapper, ca. 1960 (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Woman's head wrap, early to mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Adinkra ceremonial wrapper, mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Kente prestige cloth, early to mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Woman's wrapper, early to mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Pelete bite wrapper, Pelete Bite, 1930s (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Bogolanfini woman's wrapper, mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Adire wrapper ca. 1990 (original image)

Image by Ellen McDermott/Cooper Hewitt. Man's hat (ashetu), mid- to late 20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Kente prestige cloth, early–mid-20th century (original image)

Image by Matt Flynn/Cooper Hewitt. Wrapper, mid-20th century (original image)

This blend of architecture and textiles can be seen in his design of the edifice of the African American History Museum as well (for which Adjaye is serving as lead designer, along with the project’s lead architect, Philip Freelon). In particular, the outside of the building is bronze mesh that references the professional guilds of the freed African-American communities of the South, particularly South Carolina and Louisiana. It required an algorithm that mimicked an actual Charleston house and demanded that Adjaye and his team create a new bronze-coated alloy.

“Textiles, especially West African textiles, often demonstrate a paradoxical juxtaposition of regularity and serendipity,” says Kim Tanzer, a professor of architecture at the University of Virginia. “I see this quality in the walls of the [museum].”

She points to the “visual and structural meter” set by the floor levels and upward-slanting walls of the museum; the individual bronzed panels, which create “a secondary rhythm;” and the “syncopation” provided by the gaps between those walls. All of this creates a façade that shares elements with something that would fit comfortably into the Cooper Hewitt’s “Selects” exhibition.

The son of a Ghanaian diplomat, Adjaye spent his childhood moving through very different countries and cultures—Tanzania, Egypt, Lebanon and England—and has since visited every one of Africa’s 54 nations. He describes the incorporation of these varied backgrounds into his art as a type of weaving, synthesizing distinctive elements in a way that creates a new sort of singular whole.

“What’s interesting to me is this idea of fabric and weaving as a kind of abstraction of making places that people come together in,” says architect David Adjaye. (Ed Reeve)

For the exhibition, Adjaye was given full access to the Cooper Hewitt’s archives and its collection of 26,000 textiles found himself quickly drawn to its colorful African fabrics. The individual pieces reflect what he calls a “common memory” of each particular place and its culture—symbols from proverbs of the Asante people on a funeral wrap; or projections sprouting from a Cameroonian hat meant to symbolize the wearer’s inner thoughts. At the same time, Adjaye saw all these pieces as forming together their own kind of “mosaic of the geography and cultural lines” of the continent and its myriad people.

Adjaye sought to avoid presenting the pieces as “so-called ethnic objects,” to approach them instead as lenses through which he could take a more abstract look at materials, technique and geography. The exhibition attempts to read the collection from this perspective—telling how the textiles’ colors reflect the mineral quality of a jungle versus a mountain, or how their patterns reflect the dynamic of one city versus another. Each wrap and cap becomes a symbol of its community, and together the pieces more broadly weave a larger textile of West Africa.

“That is absolutely analogous to my thinking of architecture right now,” says Adjaye. He sees both textile and architecture as a “cultural frame that allows society to flourish.”

Adjaye emphasizes that the influence of these textile patterns can be seen throughout his architectural works. He points to the geometric shapes of the façade of London visual arts center Rivington Place and the colorful diamonds of Washington, D.C.’s Francis A. Gregory Library. His latest museum may be the clearest example of this overlap yet.

Adjaye emphasizes that the influence of these textile patterns can be seen throughout his architectural works, such as the colorful diamonds of Washington, D.C.’s Francis A. Gregory Library. (Jeff Sauers)

Just as the Selects exhibit required Adjaye to encapsulate a diverse and complicated history into a unified whole, that has been his challenge with the African American History Museum.

He sees the project as a new type of museum that he believes “we’re going to see more of in the 21st century” —focusing on the story of a particular group, rather than collected objects, to understand a place more broadly. It’s about “understanding the complex, fantastic and difficult history of America through the lens of the African-American people,” as Adjaye puts it. He points to the National Jewish Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian as moving in that direction and expects this to be a growing trend for museums both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Set at the corner of 15th Street N.W. and Constitution Avenue, the 380,000-square-foot museum is designed to convey this weaving of culture and history. It includes a 116-foot-tall building topped by a three-tiered copper “Corona,” housing the museum’s gallery spaces. Its main entrance is a striking “Porch.” In the façade, Adjaye incorporates elements of artwork from the Yoruba people of West Africa, what he calls “a powerful artistic tradition across central and west Africa” that forms “part of a deep, psychic territory of this community.”

“In part, Adjaye’s personal design narrative embodies the 400-year-long trajectory of Africa in diaspora—rich African sources and European intellectual frameworks, informed by the research he and his team did to understand and incorporate craft traditions of the 19th-century American, especially antebellum, South,” says Tanzer. “The [museum] is a beautiful example of the strategic ‘borrowing’ that created the rich cultural environment we have all inherited from the African continent.”

"We wanted a building that is worthy of a rich cultural heritage, and we wanted it to work as a museum," says Lonnie G. Bunch, the museum's founding director and chairman of the jury that selected Adjaye's design. In addition to the specific physical dimensions and environmental considerations, Bunch had instructed the architects to reflect in their designs the optimism, spirituality and joy, as well as the "dark corners" of the African American experience.

Adjaye emphasizes that the African American History Museum is “not a museum for African-Americans, it’s a lens through which to understand the mosaic of America and what makes America.” And like a textile that fits a particular culture and location, he sees his architectural projects as growing out of a particular geography and place, rather than the other way around.

“My buildings look different in each context—if I worked in the same place twice, it would probably be the same kind of building,” he says. “If I work in a new place, new forces come into play.”

"David Adjaye Selects" is on view through February 14, 2016 in the Marks Gallery at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum at 2 East 91st Street in New York City.

Triangle Illusions

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a wallpaper with two columns of triangles, black on one side, gray on the other. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.I came across this unusual mid-century paper that I thought was designed for use as a focal wall, a very common wall treatment of the period. Initially I passed it by, thinking it was not interesting enough for an Object of the Day blog, but then I found an advertisement in an Interiors magazine that...

As Pretty as a Peacock, indeed

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features a richly hued wallpaper depicting a vividly colored peacock perched in a cedar tree, amidst purple lilac and yellow wisteria blossoms, all on a black background. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this objectThis is one of the most gorgeous and dramatic wallpapers produced during the early twentieth century. The design shows a brilliantly colored peacock perched in a cedar tree, with copious blossoms of lilac and wisteria in yellow and lavender. All of the printed colors pop against the black ground. And note the size of the...
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