The Rosetta Stone of Wallpaper?

1998-75-105 lo res

Pretty and pleasant, this unassuming wallpaper plays an important role in the scholarship of early American design. In 1821 Adrian Janes and Edwin Bolles opened a wallpaper business (creatively named Janes & Bolles) in the bustling industry town of Hartford Connecticut. In the American Mercury, June 1st 1824, they advertised they had an “extensive assortment of PAPER-HANGINGS and BORDERS” and as being “desirous of selling every piece they have in their store, and as many more as they can manufacture. Despite their straightforward and enthusiastic advertisements the company was dissolved in 1828, a mere seven years after it was started.

While their company’s success may have been short-lived, Janes and Bolles have never-the-less secured their names in wallpaper history. These two gentlemen of Connecticut hold the distinction of producing the earliest known American wallpaper sample book that has survived to the present day. The book currently resides in the collections of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and the afore mentioned paper with patterns of lace-like festoons on a powder-blue background is represented within its pages. The papers contained in the Janes and Bolles book have allowed scholars the rare opportunity to ascribe a finite date and locale of manufacture to wallcoverings that would have otherwise remained a mystery.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Two Squares


By the mid-nineteenth century, both Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester, England were producing huge numbers of bandannas, printed cotton handkerchiefs imitating earlier tie-died silk handkerchiefs from India. The success of that industry was the result of perfecting two chemical processes: the so-called Turkey Red process for dying cotton a brilliant, washable red, and discharge printing, a technique for bleaching a white pattern into a previously dyed ground. Discharge paste is generally applied with an engraved metal roller, and gives a clean, detailed print.

This piece, attributed to the United States, is a poorly printed example in which carved wooden blocks were used to apply a paste resist to reserve the white areas, as well as to apply the dark brown ink, as can be seen by the mis-registration running vertically through the center of the piece. The design maintains the 31-inch square size standardized by the English in 1829, as bandannas became more commonly used as pocket handkerchiefs rather than head or neck scarves. Piece goods were typically sold in uncut lengths of 7 handkerchiefs of 31 inches square.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Strewing Flowers on the Table

Tulip laid horizontally, with upper and lower portions of dish composed of full length petals.

This tulip-form small tureen or covered dish must have appeared a wonderful bit of nature, as if fallen from a bouquet, on a dining table. Porcelain started to take the place of sugar sculptures on the most elegant tables of Europe in the eighteenth century. It came at a time when nature was being observed in minute detail and porcelain was bringing color to table décor. Real flowers were not combined with food presentation but their porcelain proxies were often very naturalistic. Instead of giving off floral aromas, the floral table decorations that held food or sauce, such as this small tureen, gave off the aromas of the cuisine.

When I first started to research the rather sloppily painted blue mark on the base of this dish, I could see from the crispness of the porcelain that it was hard-paste and well executed.


Its vague similarity to the crossed blue swords of Meissen added to the feeling that it was German, since the dominant production of hard-paste porcelain of the eighteenth century came from the German states, where the necessary raw materials were easily found. Research and consultation with specialists, including Georges and Margaret Ségal of Basel, and their library of rare books, confirmed my initial cataloguing that the mark was most likely to be that of Volkstadt, in the principality of Rudolstadt, in Thuringia, in what is now central Germany. The name immediately summoned up imagined visions of the locale of The Prisoner of Zenda, a splendidly romantic book –last seen on my English grandmother’s shelves I think-about a plot to usurp the power of a prince-Rudolf of Ruritania in a fictitious middle European kingdom. In Thuringia, an area full of forests and rivers, nature abounds, and within it was the principality of Rudolstadt-the name conjuring up the fictitious scenes of the kind that would no doubt have had dinners with porcelain tulips on the table!

The tulip entered Europe via the Ottoman Empire, in the middle of the sixteenth century, but it was when the Dutch started widespread cultivation themselves, that tulipmania took hold in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and these fashionable and colorful flowers started to appear in engravings and decoration for ceramics and furniture. Usually seen in a bouquet or painted onto a ceramic object or inlaid and stained into furniture, the tulip here is used for its full bulbous form that allows space to put a sauce, soup or small portion of food and be kept warm by the rest of the petals.

The small size indicates an individual portion, or perhaps a sauce for two or three, thus suggesting that for a large dinner party, a table would have a tulip at every second or third place if not in front of everyone. I wonder if the idea was to have a variety of colors of tulip –all in porcelain-strewn on the table.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt Offers a Spectrum of Titles to Celebrate the Opening of the Transformed Museum


Offering books for the scholar’s study, the coffee table and the children’s room alike, the publications program of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has ramped up with five new titles for fall 2014 in celebration of the Dec. 12 opening of the transformed museum. Among the items on the list are lavishly illustrated catalogs of major inaugural exhibitions, the first new book in almost 20 years devoted exclusively to Cooper Hewitt’s extraordinary collection and delightfully unconventional volumes by beloved author, artist and designer Maira Kalman.

“Publishing is an essential element of our identity,” stated Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt. “It is a thread that connects our work as a research center, an educational institution and an inspiring destination for the public. These exciting new titles herald our grand reopening and reflect the energy and breadth of the new Cooper Hewitt – a dynamic and interactive visitor experience with 60 percent more space and exhibition content.”

Bringing Cooper Hewitt Back Home
Using as its springboard one of the most significant aspects of the grand opening—the presentation of the museum’s first long-term installation of its rich and wide-ranging collection—Cooper Hewitt is publishing Making Design: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Collection, its first new collection book since 1997. Conceived by designer Irma Boom as a notable object in itself, the book will be a lasting resource for museum visitors, design students, researchers, scholars and professional designers, providing an in-depth understanding of design processes as seen through Cooper Hewitt’s great holdings. 924 pages, 1,300 color illustrations, $45.00 hardcover. ISBN 978-0-910503-74-7.

Catalogs for Design Lovers and Book Lovers
An exploration of 1.85 million years of tool use and design, from a Paleolithic chopper made from volcanic rock to a live feed of the sun transmitted by an orbiting satellite, Tools: Extending Our Reach is published by Cooper Hewitt as the companion to its major inaugural exhibition of the same title. Featuring images of some 175 objects drawn from Cooper Hewitt and nine other Smithsonian collections, as well as scholarly essays, Tools celebrates human ingenuity across cultures and throughout the ages. 276 pages, 230 color illustrations, $29.95 hardcover. ISBN 978-0-910503-77-8.

To accompany another of the inaugural exhibitions, Cooper Hewitt and Princeton Architectural Press are co-publishing Beautiful Users by Ellen Lupton: an exploration of the fundamental shift over the past half-century toward designs based on observations of human anatomy and behavior. Using examples of some 120 objects dating from the mid-20th century until now, the catalog charts the changing relationship between designers and users and considers a range of practices from user research to hacking, open source and the maker culture. 144 pages, 125 color illustrations, $21.95 paperback. ISBN 978-1616892913.

Maira Kalman X 2
Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (published by Cooper Hewitt and distributed by Skira/Rizzoli) is an unconventional alphabet book by Maira Kalman for people of all ages. Kalman’s whimsical hand-lettered text brings to life objects ranging from a 13th-century silk thinking cap to Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig-Zag chair, delighting the reader while also illuminating basic concepts in design. 48 pages, 38 illustrations, $17.95 hardcover/$9.99 e-reader. ISBN 978-0847843770.

My Favorite Things, published by HarperCollins, will serve as the exhibition catalog to Maira Kalman Selects—a guest-curated exhibition for the museum’s opening. Bringing together objects such as teapots, illustrated books, porcelain figures of ballet dancers and President Abraham Lincoln’s gold pocket watch, chosen from the holdings of Cooper Hewitt, other Smithsonian collections and the artist’s own home, the book fancifully and movingly suggests a life story, from birth through death. 160 pages, 75 color illustrations, $35.00 hardcover/$18.99 e-reader. ISBN 9780062122971.

Inside the Mansion
The 110-year history of Cooper Hewitt’s magnificent National Landmark home is the subject of Life of a Mansion: The Story of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Heather Ewing. Published by Cooper Hewitt, and illustrated with 200 photographs, maps, floor plans and letters, the book chronicles the Carnegie Mansion and the evolution of the museum, from its establishment by the Hewitt Sisters in 1897 to its grand opening in 2014 as the nation’s design authority. 156 pages, 175 color illustrations, $14.95 flexi-bound/$5.99 e-reader. ISBN 978-0-910503-71-6.

About Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Founded in 1897, Cooper Hewitt is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum educates, inspires and empowers people through design, presenting compelling educational programs, exhibitions and publications. International in scope and possessing one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, the museum’s rich holdings range from Egypt’s Late Period/New Kingdom (1100 B.C.) to the present day and total more than 210,000 objects.

Cooper Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. The museum is currently closed, and will reopen to the public Dec. 12, following a three-year renovation project.

For further information, please call (212) 849-8400, visit Cooper Hewitt’s website at and follow the museum on Twitter and Facebook.


from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Wallpaper Sure to Come in Hand-y

Fanciful, organic shapes, printed in orange, green and pink, on a light blue ground. The large floral motif has a hand-like appearance.

This machine printed wallpaper features a repeating pattern of orange hands and pink feathers floating down a light blue background like snowflakes – or does it feature flower buds and tiny balloons? Or, wait, maybe it’s actually a portrait of microbes having a party. The only woman who knows the true inspiration behind this funky paper is artist Nathalie du Pasquier, who designed it ca.1992 for the German design company Gebr. Rasch GmbH & Co.

Du Pasquier was a founding member of Memphis, a Milan-based group of young designers who created bright, bold products in the post-modernist style. The group’s name came about after members heard “Stuck Outside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Bob Dylan playing on the radio. Although a seemingly random choice, the name actually holds great significance. The members of Memphis felt it was important to do away with traditional design hierarchies, and their work is celebrated for combining motifs of high and low culture in one piece. The two cities of Memphis – one the 20th century birthplace of rock n’ roll, the other an ancient capital of Egyptian pharaohs –appropriately encapsulated this unique mish-mash of design. Although this paper post-dates Memphis by several years, it represents the core values of the group quite nicely. The repeating, floral-ish pattern recalls décor that is formal and traditional, but the strange fleshy objects ensure that this wallpaper is anything but.

Ms. Du Pasquier now focuses mainly on paintings, and is also currently lending her signature style to American Apparel.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Malmaison Bed Furnishings

Small piece from a set of bed hangings, with an all-over pattern of bees on a fine net ground. On the left side, a column of lilies and their foliage. A scalloped edge is formed of gracefully curving laurel branches surrounding clusters of berries.

This valance fragment is just a small piece from a set of bed furnishings commissioned by Napoleon I (1769-1821) for his wife Joséphine (1763-1814). Intended for their home in Malmaison, located outside Paris, the commission consisted of a ceiling canopy, pair of curtains, bed cover and valance. Made of fine point d’Alençon lace by the manufacturer Clérambault, the ground has the characteristic hexagonal mesh made of looped and twisted threads. The mesh surrounding the rows of bees has reinforcing threads that wrap around parts of it to provide additional strength. Raised surface threads were used to outline the design while dense buttonhole stitches fill the leaves, flowers and wings of the bees.

In commissioning these bed furnishings, Napoleon showed his support of French lace makers, whose business declined dramatically during and after the French Revolution. Unfortunately, by the time the bed set was completed, Napoleon had divorced Joséphine and was remarried already to Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847). The complete bedcover, at the RISD Museum, has patches where Joséphine’s monograms were removed; a modification made by the manufacturer to compel Napoleon to pay for the set after his remarriage. The design has an elegant pairing of motifs relevant to the couple. Lilies for Joséphine who was passionate about flowers – the South African lily, Brunsvigia josephinae, is named after her; and Napoleon’s adopted symbol of the bee, long associated with the origins of France.

Kimberly Randall is the Collections Manager of the Textile Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

One for the Road

Cylindrical, fluted metal body, horizontal ridges at top; tapering, flat-topped, cylindrical metal cup inverted over bottle mouth to serve as cap; cap unscrews and lifts off to reveal small cylindrical rubber stopper, with circular metal top and hinged toggle latch, set snugly into circular mouth of interior glass vacuum bottle.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, Scottish scientist Sir James Dewar developed glass vacuum bottle technology for his work with liquid gases. The bottle had a function applicable to daily life as well–keeping beverages fresh, meeting a basic need as more people joined the work force, taking meals to their jobs.  More people were also traveling for recreation, and by the early twentieth century and the advent of the automobile, road trips and travel to outdoor destinations became leisure-time activities within reach of a growing middle class.  Portable vacuum bottles were among the new technologies of the time. Derived from a scientific tool and adapted for consumer use and a modern lifestyle, vacuum flasks made it possible for travelers to carry their own hot or cold drinks maintained at the desired temperature, available at a moment’s notice.

In 1904, two German glass blowers formed a company to produce the first commercial vacuum flask. The name Thermos came about when they held a contest to name their product and someone submitted the term”thermos,” derived from the Greek word therme, meaning hot.  In 1907, the U.S-based American Thermos Bottle Co. secured rights to the German technology and trade name.  At least one other American company, Landers Frary and Clark, the maker of this example, started producing their own vacuum bottles, making improvements and applying for patents.  As early as the 1890s, Landers adopted the trade name “Universal” for its product lines of small household appliances and vacuum bottles and flasks.

This ca. 1917 “Universal” vacuum flask reflects simple functionality in its simple columnar form, the metal body embellished only by fluting that also serves as a functional ‘non-slip’ surface. The screw-on cap protects the bottle stopper and does double duty as a drinking cup. Ultimately, Landers Frary and Clark’s competitor, The Thermos Co., had better marketing savvy, and has survived to this day. In 1965, Landers was acquired by the General Electric Company.

Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

The Interior of Nightmares

Imaginary view of a prison interior

Prison design has been a topic of debate and a site for innovation, even in the eighteenth century. This etching is Plate 14 from a series of imaginary prison interiors designed by the Roman architect, designer, and print maker, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720- 1778). This print is both an exploration of the limits of the medium of etching and the technique of printmaking as well as a visual inquiry into architectural experience itself.

Carceri were first issued in 1745 under the title Invenzioni Capric di Carceri, with 14 plates, each plate only lightly bitten by acid. Piranesi returned to the series in 1760, reworking their tonal contrasts and compositions and publishing them as Carceri d’invenzione. The Cooper Hewitt etching is this second state. This edition was produced via a particularly complicated technique in which the plate was covered with a heavy varnish to protect the first edition etched lines with the varnishing, followed by the drawing and etching processes repeated about 10 to 12 times on each plate. Below is the earlier state of the same plate.

Fantasy view of a prison interior

Print, The Gothic Arch, from Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), ca. 1749-50; Designed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778); Printed by Giovanni Bouchard (French, ca. 1716–1795); Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of six Robison); 49.4 x 63.8; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937, Inv. No. 37.45.3(30)

Plate XIV is regarded as one of the most complex of the Carceri, and is the only one to depict a gothic arch. The etching is a masterpiece in overstatement and displays a nightmarish network of arches, vaults, bridges, ramps, balconies and catwalks. Minute figures climb the infinitely recessing stairs. The endless labyrinth of machinery of cables, catapults, pulleys, chains and levers combine to form dense patterns, and reduce the architectural interior to pure masonry.

The Carceri is linked to Piranesi’s formative training as a stage designer, as prison scenes were common in early eighteenth-century stage sets created by artists such as Filippo Juvarra. The iconography and the printing technique of the Carceri has also been linked to Tiepolo’s Capricci and Scherzi di fantasia. However, the horror vacui and the spatial complexity of the Carceri can be seen as an exploration of the architectural experience—in this cathedral of horror, Vitruvian ornament and the hotly raging debate of the superiority of Roman vs. Greek architecture is neglected with the emphasis here on the sheer magnitude and complexity of architectural structures from a spectator’s viewpoint. This paradigm of the overwhelming power of architecture and the tension between the concrete and the decaying are themes present in Piranesi’s other engraving and etching projects.

The Carceri has also been interpreted as a prime example of Edmund Burke’s ideal of the sublime. Burke identified vastness, grandeur and obscurity as characteristics of his formulation of the sublime. The Carceri circulated literally and metaphorically across various social fields and was incorporated into visual, social and political polemics of the period and has been an influential work throughout the centuries. Artists such as Jean-Charles Delafosse, Joseph Mallord William Turner, and Louis-Jean-Desprez produced drawings after the Carceri and writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe, William Beckford, and Victor Hugo drew inspirations from Piranesi’s immense compositions. More recently, the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and Peter Weiss both cite Piranesi’s Carceri series as inspiration for their projects.

Cabelle Ahn is a graduate intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently studying eighteenth century decorative arts at the Bard Graduate Center.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

Taking Wallpaper Back to its Roots

Two columns of scaled dots in pale yellow printed against a background which shades from light to dark orange. The largest dot is printed against the darkest orange. This is the cantaloupe colorway.

Infinity is a pattern of dots that scale from small to large back to small, printed in two columns across the width. When seen from a distance the design is slightly reminiscent of crocodile hide. I find a great energy in this crescendo of dots over the ground painted with a mottled finish, and the brilliant orange color definitely provides a wake-up call. This paper illustrates the trend toward bolder colors and stronger patterns being used in interiors.

With this collection of painted papers, Alpha Workshops is taking wallpaper production back to its roots. The studio trains their artists in the techniques of the master craftsmen, working with their hands to block print and hand paint wallpapers. This design is an example of a contemporary wallpaper employing these early hand printing techniques. Early wallpapers were printed with hand-carved woodblocks over painted or brushed grounds. Though they are not carving their blocks out of wood, Alpha Workshops uses an updated version of this technique to produce this very contemporary design. As the papers are made in-house the studio maintains full control over the designs, colors and production.

The Alpha Workshops, Inc. is dedicated to creating beauty and changing lives, The Alpha Workshops is the nation’s only non-profit organization providing creative HIV-positive individuals with industry-specific training and employment in the decorative arts. The organization was founded in 1995 in the Chelsea area of Manhattan and is modeled on the famed Omega Workshops, the Wiener Werkstätte, the Bauhaus, and the American Arts and Crafts movement.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

The Neoclassical North

Three tiers of fountains of glass descend from the top, set off by swags of glass drops, the blown glass stems delicately engraved; gilt lower ring with six candle arms and an upper ring connected by the glass-surrounded stem and by three chains, all of metal, the lower ring supporting a blue glass disc at the base of the stem.

This three tiered chandelier in the form of a cascading fountain is garlanded with swags of cut glass drops. Three delicately blown baluster-shaped pieces of cobalt glass are linked by chains of gilt metal. The reserved neoclassical form and use of blue glass strongly indicate that the chandelier was made during the last quarter of the eighteenth century in the Baltic region, most likely in Sweden.

Gustav III (1746 –1792) was King of Sweden from 1771 until his death and his name is synonymous with the Swedish neoclassical style. The Gustavian aesthetic was modeled after the formal classicism of the Louis XVI style. The Swedish king admired the French fashion during his visits to the Palace of Versailles and enlisted French craftspeople to introduce the new style to the Swedish royal palace.

Neoclassicism spread from the court to the urban bourgeoisie, who developed a lighter and simpler interpretation for their town houses and country estates. Where the French court might have used carved rock crystal to decorate chandeliers, the Swedish employed smaller beads of clear glass. Glass was still a luxury product in the eighteenth century. Swedish aristocrats founded factories and hired skilled laborers from Germany or as far away as Venice. By 1700 there were upwards of twenty glassworks established in Sweden, most being situated near the capital of Stockholm. Some factories even owned woodlands to ensure a steady supply of timber for fuel. The state established protectionist policies, placing tariffs on foreign glass and other goods in order to support domestic companies.

At this time, the use of domestic glass by the general public began to increase, particularly in the use of personal glassware for tables and architectural glass. Rising levels in the standards of life and material goods prompted the development of a distinctly Swedish national style of design. Fashionable homes boasted interiors  complete with pale colored rooms and sparkling glass chandeliers  designed to maximize light during long winters.

Rebekah Pollock is a decorative arts historian specializing in European ceramics and eighteenth-century print culture.

from Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum