Sèvres Self Portrait

Flat marli. Concentric bands, in gold: plain, advancing wave motif, and scattered stars; enclosing view of the Sèvres porcelain factory in colors.

This plate shows a picturesque view of the Manufacture de Sèvres, the prestigious French porcelain factory first established under Louis XV. The manufactory was more than just a workplace; many employees lived within the building or in nearby housing. The surrounding pastoral countryside had plots of land where workers could garden. The plate’s figure sitting by a wheelbarrow may very well represent a factory employee, resting after tending to his land. View paintings were often populated with small figures in order to provide scale with a monument and to create a sense of grandeur.

The superb enamel painting displays minute detail and a fine naturalism and that are balanced by a graphic border of concentric bands of scattered gold stars and advancing waves. The skilled artist responsible for the work was a Mlle Delavale, who worked at the factory for two years, beginning in 1821. Following factory convention, she copied printed sources, rather than producing original compositions.

The view of the Sèvres factory is based on an engraving after an 1817 drawing by Achille Etna Michallon. The artist was known for his landscapes; an 1822 catalogue of his works lists several views of sites within the vicinity of Paris and it is possible that the Sèvres view was exhibited at this time. Sèvres painters produced numerous topographical scenes, including one plate with an identical border decorated with a landscape view of the Chateau de Saint Cloud, once the site of its own porcelain manufactory. The self-referential nature of a Sèvres plate depicting the site of its manufacture is not unique; a painted interior view of the manufactory’s workshops was included in the company’s service des arts industriels of 1823.

The lush greenery surrounding the factory in the scene may represent the so-called “liberty trees” which were planted on the grounds during the Revolution in order to demonstrate Sèvres commitment to the republic and to downplay their connections with the monarchy. Remarkably, the factory stayed open throughout the revolution and went on to thrive during the First Empire and the Bourbon restoration. As an icon of the French luxury industry, Sèvres was closely associated with the nation’s economic success.

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

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Stumpwork and Storytelling


My first introduction to stumpwork occurred as a young girl, when my Scottish-American grandmother taught me how to embroider samplers. We gradually advanced to creating pictures in raised embroidery using padding, wire, and different types of dimensional embroidery stitches.

Completed stumpwork pieces in major museums include purses and bags, framed pictures, and panels used on small caskets, which were used to hold women’s personal belongings. The casket panel in the Museum’s collection is embroidered on a silk foundation using metallic and silk threads. Needle looping and buttonhole stitch are used to create a raised effect, and both the male and female figures are padded and appear in relief. Often, the padding material used was either horsehair or wool felt. The purpose of Stumpwork panels was to tell stories. Scenes of royalty, flora and fauna, and biblical narratives were dominant themes.

Stumpwork became very popular around the time of the English Civil War in the mid-1600s. During this time period, peddlers traveled throughout the country selling silver and gold threads, cord, ribbons, gimp, tassels, beads, and semi-precious stones. Currently, there is a revival of Stumpwork. Many internet sites offer detailed patterns and instructions on how to re-create this truly spectacular style of embroidery. The sumptuous color combinations and rich use of materials are simply stunning! Not to mention the charm of these beautiful and very original hand-embroidered pieces.

Jean Pearson has been a volunteer docent at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum since 1989.

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Chinoiserie Wallpaper

Roll of paper printed in a repeating design of flowers and foliage in the style of Pillement. Roll formed of joined sheets.

This colorful 18th century English wallpaper was designed in the style of Jean Pillement, the celebrated French illustrator of chinoiserie and some-time royal painter to Marie Antoinette. The repeating pattern of flowers and foliage show Asian motifs as interpreted through a Western lense.

In 1755 a folio entitled “A New Book of Chinese Ornaments, Invented and Engraved by Pillement,” was published in England. At the time, British fashion celebrated all things Oriental, but the difficulty of travel between Europe and the East meant that demand for Asian artworks far exceeded the availability of genuine articles. Naturally, English manufacturers took it upon themselves to end the shortage by producing their own Eastern-inspired wares. Pillement’s engravings proved invaluable, supplying craftsmen of all media with creative “Chinese” designs to be incorporated into their merchandise. Though well-traveled on the continent Pillement never actually set foot in Asia, and his impressions of Eastern art were based on various travel books penned by other Europeans who had spent time in China, India and Japan as merchants and missionaries. As a result, Pillement did not attempt to create faithful copies of Oriental art, but instead produced highly original designs that were quite a departure from their stated inspiration.

This panel of English paper certainly owes its aesthetics to one of Pillement’s published works. Though reminiscent of authentic hand-painted Chinese papers, the repeating design and stylized flowers speak more to traditional European imagery than Oriental. The pattern has been applied to the paper by means of woodblock-printing, which would have helped decrease cost and production time. At the time this wallpaper was made, paper was manufactured as single sheets. In order to facilitate the large, continuous design featured on this panel, smaller individual sheets were joined together to create a long roll.

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

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Between Heaven and Earth: Icons of the Revolution

A phalanx of soldiers stands at the center of the poster, waving red flags. A title beneath them reads "The 1st of May." They are flanked by peasants and workers. An angular, modern cityscape rises behind them.

With raised flags and soaring spirits, soldiers, sailors, workers, and peasants rally together in this Soviet poster by Nikolai Kogout. United, they celebrate May first, International Workers’ Day. Conceived as a labor strike for an eight-hour workday, the holiday was adopted by Soviet leaders to commemorate the struggle of proletarian workers around the world. In 1904, Lenin described it as “the day when the workers of all lands celebrate…their solidarity in the struggle against all coercion and oppression of man by man, the struggle to free the toiling millions from hunger, poverty, and humiliation.”1 In Kogout’s poster, this empowerment is palpable. Demonstrators shout and gesture with zeal, looking up, as if toward a bright future. New factories thrust skyward in sharp, vertical lines. Such modern architecture illustrates recent advances in industrial technology, which also promised to improve safety and sanitation in the workplace.

These buildings jut out at odd angles, without realistic perspective or scaling. To capture the holiday’s heady optimism, Kogout abandons the mundane realism of the everyday, veering instead into abstraction. Drawing on the geometric vocabulary of the Russian avant-garde, he presents a crisp new world, nearly within reach. Though this approach feels innovative, it actually revives a centuries-old tradition. Compare Kogout’s urban architecture to the depiction of Jerusalem in a Russian Orthodox icon (Fig. 1). Here, too, the perspective is askew. Like Kogout, this painter negotiates between real and ideal worlds. Working in flat colors and simple, geometric shapes, these different artists seek to convey universal messages. Eliding gritty details—the smoke of factories, the swelter of Jerusalem—they prompt the viewer to imagine a kind of heaven on Earth, be it spiritual or social.

Russian icon with religious figures standing in front of a temple. Behind them, the city is depicted in angular, abstracted shapes.

Figure 1: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Late 15th to early 16th c. Egg tempera on lime wood.

Although Soviet leaders denounced Orthodoxy, their similar visual rhetoric is no accident. Communism became a secular religion, with its own creeds and rituals. By repurposing the strategies of religious painters, Soviet artists hastened the transfer of public faith from God to State. Just as an older generation of Russians interacted with icons daily in their homes and churches, new Soviet citizens saw political posters like Kogout’s fully integrated into modern life, in the streets, the workplace, and the recreation center. Parades and demonstrations, like those for International Workers’ Day, closely resembled traditional Orthodox processions (Figs. 2-3). But where priests lead the faithful through the streets with icons aloft, Party leaders replaced these religious objects with posters and banners, raised for all to see.

Black and white photo of a crowd of Orthodox Russians standing outside of a church. Some raise wooden icons above their heads.

Figure 2: Orthodox Russians process before Kremlin icons in Moscow, 1918.

1. Vladimir I. Lenin, “May Day,” Marxists Internet Archive, April 1904, http://ift.tt/1zsbknz

Virginia McBride was the 2014 Peter Krueger curatorial intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She studies art history at Kenyon College.

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A Hand-Made Feeling

Textile, 1963

Hans Krondahl is an important Swedish textile designer and fiber artist of the 1960s and 70s. Krondahl graduated from the National College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm in 1959. He opened his own studio in 1962, designing both large-scale tapestries for public environments as well as designs for industrially printed textiles. He was the head of the textiles department at the College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm (1977–78), the National College of Art and Design, in Olso (1978–79) and at the HDK College, Gothenburg University (1981–88). Krondahl taught textile arts at Gothenburg until 1995.

Kadrilj is a domestic textile designed early in Krondahl’s career and under the influence of his mentor, Astrid Sampe. Krondahl was exploring very basic methods of applying patterns; the designs for the printed pattern were created with cork and vegetable stamps; it has an organic feeling and a delicate palette. The artist writes, “Great care was taken to keep the freshness and ‘amateur’ feeling and move that along to mass-production.” This length is an artist’s proof that went into commercial production as a silkscreen print.

This textile is one of the first examples of early works by Krondahl to be added to the museum’s collection. Cooper Hewitt has several later works by Krondahl that are of a very different nature: Christopher Columbus (designed 1968); Jazz, Blues, and Shimmy (all designed 1967); Enku, Kyoto, Kabuki, and Ginza (all designed 1965). These printed textiles were designed for use in public interiors—cinemas, theaters, restaurants—and show a bold use of color and abstract geometric shapes. Astrid Sampe, Krondahl’s mentor, is also represented in the collection.

Matilda McQuaid is the Deputy Director of Curatorial and Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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Marcel Wanders’ Secret Garden

Foliate plaster dome lamp

Warm, yellow light bathes a hemisphere of delicately molded plaster flowers, spindly tendrils and leaves. Shadows deepen the foliate reliefs, a luminous dome suspended above the ground. All the elements of an ornate plasterwork ceiling are compressed into a compact sphere.

Marcel Wanders’ Skygarden hanging lamp relies upon the unquestioned unity of stylistic opposites: completely disregarding aesthetic boundaries between austere modernism and lush ornament. It transposes the ceiling from unreachably distant to intimate, reflecting the playful tone of Wanders’ oeuvre. Beginning with his 1996 design for the Knotted chair, which combines traditional textile knotting techniques with contemporary resin-based stiffening technologies, Wanders has specialized in bonding established design methods and motifs with unexpected modern elements. Following the success of the Knotted chair, Wanders continued to expand the scope of familiar objects, free-painting the glaze of traditionally molded porcelain plates in one minute, and modelling polyamide vases based on airborne nasal mucus. His work is deeply rooted in the ironic juxtaposition of materials and techniques.

Wanders’ design for Skygarden is based on an antique ceiling in his apartment that “always looked good even without my having a green thumb or taking care of it very well. It didn’t need water or sun but would live only on the warm rays of electrical light under it.” [1] When he moved, Wanders didn’t want to lose the intricate ceiling. Utilizing a miniaturized perspective that tricks the eye into perceiving immense depth, Wanders replicated the ceiling’s plaster reliefs in the dome-shaped lamp—a smaller package. In a way, he democratized the decorative ceiling, a unique architectural element traditionally reserved for the wealthiest of aristocrats.

From the outside, Skygarden appears to be an austere, smooth-surfaced domed lamp. But looking up from directly below, it’s an immersive experience. The lamp is designed to engage the imagination and prompt surprise, ingrained with a sense of fun. With Skygarden, Wanders encourages viewers to revisit their surroundings—to appreciate the hidden beauty of design nuances that don’t appear at first glance.

[1] Marcel Wanders, Marcel Wanders: Behind the Ceiling (Berlin: Gestalten, 2009), 208.

Chelsea Butkowski is a summer 2014 Peter Krueger intern in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department. She studies art history and communication at SUNY Geneseo.

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Mainstream Modernism: An Open Invitation

Invitation with black and red text in Russian on beige ground, with dividing red vertical rectangle.

Arresting typography and geometric precision distinguish these Soviet-era tickets, and illustrate the permeation of fine art into daily life in the USSR. The tickets reflect the influence of constructivism, an avant-garde movement characterized by the same angular abstraction evident in these designs. Here, bold blocks of color are poised in asymmetrical balance. As in a constructivist painting, shapes intersect and overlap in a careful composition. This attention to form and balance seems remarkable in a ticket—an object more likely to be crumpled in a pocket or tossed in the trash than exhibited in a museum.

The designers who made these tickets weren’t expecting them to last. In fact, the choice of such a transitory, mundane medium was deliberate; Constructivists were intent on reintegrating art and life. Whereas previous generations of artists studied in exclusive academies and showed their work in elite museums, members of the Russian avant-garde wanted to engage the public with their art. Like the candy wrappers, cigarette packs, and price tags they also created, tickets delivered constructivist design right into the hands of the proletariat.

“Dear Comrades!” the ticket below addresses its holders. The tone is friendly and accessible. Just as a gala invitation might be embossed on heavy cardstock to denote exclusivity, these inexpensively printed tickets announce that all are welcome. Like most of the others in this grouping, this is an “invitational ticket” to a symposium on the Bolshevik Press. Sponsored by different divisions of the state publishing house, these events showcased the very printing and design techniques exemplified by the ticket itself.

Constructivists worked closely with the state, using their work to endorse Party initiatives. Like the artists, the Soviet government sought to bring the graphic arts to a largely uneducated population of workers and peasants, to foster shared cultural and political ideologies. Exposure to new strategies of publishing and graphic design was one way of accomplishing this.

Invitation with black and red text in Russian on beige ground, with red rectangle in left margin.

Print, Invitation, Moscow Stalin Automobile Plant, Russian, 1930; Letterpress, typography on paper; 9.2 x 6.5 cm (3 5/8 x 2 9/16 in.); Museum purchase through gift of Lucy Work Hewitt; 1992-167-10

This ticket lists an agenda for one such event, featuring a statement of publishing objectives, speeches by different proletarian poets and writers, and an evening concert. Incorporating art, education, and entertainment, the events were designed to create well-rounded Soviet citizens.

Despite this shared objective, Constructivist artists had an increasingly strained relationship with the state. By the time these tickets were printed, around 1930, Party officials had grown skeptical of Constructivism’s political efficacy. They were concerned that the style was too abstract and ambiguous to convey a clear civic message, and risked alienating the masses. By 1931, graphic design was being subjected to intensified censorship. Constructivism was banned outright three years later, when Stalin declared Socialist Realism the official state style. A list printed on the ticket seen above outlines the elements of successful graphic design: Balance, Rationality, Simplicity, Catchiness, and Profitability. Though printed in a Constructivist composition, this rubric heralds the formulaic style of Socialist Realism to come.

Virginia McBride is a Peter Krueger curatorial intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She studies art history at Kenyon College.

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The Progress of Refinement


Ellen Maria Odiorne (1812-1845) stitched this sampler, with its meandering border of grape vines, at the age of ten. Born in Malden, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of poet-turned-wealthy-industrialist Thomas Odiorne (1769-1851). His 1792 poem, “The Progress of Refinement,” which explores man’s relationship with nature, is considered a precursor to the Romantic Movement. After apparently giving up his literary pursuits, he worked for a time in Boston as a dry-goods merchant and then as a banker. Thomas Odiorne eventually moved to Malden, where the house he built for his family still stands on 15 Cedar Street. He and his brothers established Malden Nail Factory, one of the first manufactories to patent and produce machine-made cut-nails.

Thomas Odiorne’s first wife was Mary Bartlett (1780-1807), with whom he had three children: Mary Ann (1801-1835), Thomas Gilman (b. 1804), and Henry Bartlett (1805-1860). After her death, he married Mary Hussey (1788-1875) in 1810. Ellen Maria was their second child. Their other children were Susan (1811-1846), George (1814-1892), Charles Frederic (1816-1877), Alfred (1819-1885), Francis (1821-1878), William Folger (1824-1904), and Frederic Hussey (1830-1893).

In 1843, Ellen Maria became the third wife of Nantucket blacksmith David Mitchell (1799-1875). Sadly, their marriage was short-lived. Ellen Maria died in 1845, at the age of 32, less than two months after giving birth. The child, Ellen Odiorne, did not long survive her mother. She died at the age of five months. David Mitchell married a fourth and final time several years later.

Jennifer N. Johnson holds a degree from the Parsons/Cooper Hewitt Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. While pursuing her studies, she completed a two-year fellowship researching the Cooper Hewitt’s American sampler collection. She is currently a Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the American Decorative Arts department at Yale University Art Gallery.

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A New Twist on Toiles


Harlem Toile de Jouy was inspired by the traditional format of toiles de Jouy, copper plate printed fabrics popular in the 18th century. They frequently showed pastoral scenes and personifications of the Continents with a somewhat staggered placement across the width of the fabric. Working with this design format Bridges has replaced the classical landscape scenes and personifications found on historic toiles with contemporary views that explore some of the stereotypes embedded in the African American experience. These scenes include young men playing basketball, a couple dancing to a boom box, and people eating fried chicken and watermelon. Toiles did not appear as designs on wallpapers until early in the twentieth century during the Colonial Revival period. There are a number of these early toile papers in the collection.

Bridges’ Harlem Toile adds a nice contemporary version to the more historic toile wallpapers in the collection produced 100 years ago. It also enhances a group of novelty papers popular from the mid-nineteenth century, which can be fun, attractive, and not always meant to be taken literally.
Harlem Toile de Jouy was created by African-American designer Sheila Bridges for Studio Printworks. Bridges, who opened her own interior design business in 1994, received much acclaim for designing the Harlem office of former president Bill Clinton. She was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” in 2001 by CNN and Time magazine. Bridges began hosting her own television show, Sheila Bridges Designer Living, for the Fine Living Network, in 2003. In 2006, she made Essence magazine’s list of the world’s 25 most inspiring women. In addition to interior design, Bridges has expanded into home furnishings design, creating pieces such as Harlem Toile.

Gregory Herringshaw is the head of the Wallcoverings Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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A Heaping Plate of Design

Circular molded plate with curved upturned edge; white ground printed with black irregular lines and twelve reserve vignettes with furniture, kitchen tools, plants, etc.

After World War II, design boomed in Europe. Colors were brighter, lines more dynamic and materials more industrial—affordable modernism emerged to feed thriving consumers in the 1950s. The now iconic Homemaker tableware line started as a challenge for young English designer Enid Seeney. She was tasked with creating an “all-over” pattern for fashionable rimless plates. She transformed the simple plate form into a self-referential tribute to design itself. In the collection of a museum devoted solely to design, this plate is truly “meta.”

Drawn in jagged flux with pen and ink, the plate depicts the contents of a design savvy 1950s home shaken out and flying across a sea of twisting lines. Plants, furniture, kitchen tools, cutlery and even another plate are suspended in Seeney’s field of black and white. These objects are not inventions of her imagination, however. They are based on the real objects that made up design culture in the 1950s. Present are Robin Day’s Reclining chair and Sigvard Bernadotte’s Two-Seater sofa. Objects similar to Gordon Russell’s Double Helix sideboard and Isamu Noguchi’s Boomerang coffee table are also discernable.

When Seeney first unveiled her design in 1956, it was viewed as too progressive for mass production and largely overlooked. Seeney refused to leave what she viewed as her best work behind. She and her co-workers expanded the line—then simply titled Furniture—to include cups and saucers, a teapot and a soup tureen. The set caught the eye of a buyer from Woolworth department stores who decided to take a chance on the untraditional tableware. Only four months later, unaware of the purchase, Seeney left Staffordshire and the design industry entirely to embrace married life.

She had no idea that her design had been mass-produced until she stumbled upon it at a Woolworth’s store. It bore the name of her new occupation: the Homemaker line. While she wasn’t credited for the design until it was acquired by museums, Seeney followed its exceptional 13-year production life and steady rise in popularity as affordable tableware with modern flair. Reinterpretations of the line appear regularly, but Homemaker is one of a kind. With it, Seeney managed to capture an era by combining the ephemeral with the concrete: by creating identity through objects.

Chelsea Butkowski is a summer 2014 Peter Krueger intern in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department. She studies art history and communication at SUNY Geneseo.

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