Tag Archives: Art

March of…….

I’m interested in the concepts and visualizations of march or marching on this first day of March, 2017 and trying to divorce the term from its predominantly military and political references. I’m tired of the march on and more interested in the march ofwho or what else is marching besides soldiers and activists? As I browsed through my favorite databases of museum and library collections and auction archives a few trends emerged, though it took some time to cull out all the military marches and marches on Washington, past and present. The third most popular use of the concept of marching has to do with time and/or progress: up until the middle of the twentieth century the “march of time” inevitably means progress–after that it’s not all that certain. Beyond time, the word is used to highlight certain social campaigns (the March of Dimes) or trends, often on sheet music or editorial cartoons. Then there are various whimsical marches that are more representative of artistic expression than any larger commentary. Animals are often marching, and after 2005, of course, it’s all about the March of the Penguins.

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One of several satirical prints showcasing future long-distance travel entitled The March of Intellect (“Lord how this world improves as we grow older”) published by T. McLean, London, 1828-30, and Dawn of the Century March & Two-Step, 1900, also featuring the “march” of technology, Smithsonian Institution Collections. By the middle of the twentieth century, the newsreel series The March of Time was much more realistic than idealistic. Also from the Smithsonian: I LOVE the 1928 print by artist and illustrator Robert Lawson (1892-1957) entitled The March of Progress below:  the gleaming modern buildings of the rising New York City skyline loom above sad fairy-tale characters exiting the scene (Central Park), led by a lone wolf: there’s no room for whimsy in 1920s New York!

marchofprogress-lawsonRobert Lawson, The March of Progress, 1928.

Forcing someone to march in line is an easy and effective way to constrain/tame/demean and mimic them–a visual device that is very apparent in Henri Gustave Jossot’s famous anti-clerical caricature from 1902:  the “Geese”. This image pairs very nicely with that of another French artist, René Magritte’s Le Marché des Snobs sheet-music cover from 1924, coming up in an auction of vintage posters at Swann Auction Gallery later this month. Another Swann lot, Rodolph Bresdin’s  Le Marché aux Parasols, illustrates that “marching” doesn’t necessarily have to be strident, purposeful, good or bad, just (somewhat) active.

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Henri Gustave Jossot, The Geese, from L’Assiette au Beurre, 17 May 1902; René Magritte, Marche des Snobs. Sheet music, 1924; Rodolphe Bresdin Le Marché  aux Parasols, 1866, Swann Auction Galleries.


Puritan Princess

Today I have the story of the Salem girl who probably came closest to the Gilded Age “dollar princess” stereotype and scenario, whereby American money was wedded to English aristocracy. Yet Mary Crowninshield Endicott (1864-1957) did not really come that close at all: she was in fact quite wealthy but did not need to bail out either of her English non-aristocratic English husbands. Nonetheless, there was definitely something regal, if not royal, about her: of ancestry, of marriage, and definitely of bearing. I must admit that I’ve developed quite a girl-crush on her, and she obviously had scores of admirers in her own time, among them John Everett Millais, John Singer Sargent, and even Queen Victoria. I think she might be the ultimate Anglo-American, or at least Salem Anglo-American.

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NPG Ax36327; Mary Chamberlain (nÈe Endicott) by Eveleen Myers (nÈe Tennant)

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The Millais portrait (1890-91,© Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery); photograph by Eveleen Myers (née Tennant, 1890s, © National Portrait Gallery); and Sargent portrait (1902, National Gallery of Art) of Salem-born and -bred Mary Crowninshield Endicott Chamberlain.

Mary was born in the Tontine block on Warren Street in Salem to William Crowninshield Endicott, a direct descendant of John Endecott, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Ellen Peabody Endicott, granddaughter of one of the richest men in the United States, Captain Joseph Peabody. She was as close to “American aristocracy” as you could get at the time; in fact when she married the prominent British politician and statesman Joseph Chamberlain in 1888, her brother remarked that he was a bit too middle class. She was raised in Salem and Danvers: living in the Georgian Cabot-Endicott-Low house on Essex Street “in town” during most of the year and at the Peabody family’s Danvers estate, Glen Magna, during the summers.While her father served as Secretary of War during Grover Cleveland’s first administration in the later 1880s, the entire family moved to Washington, D.C., where she met Chamberlain, who was twice-widowed, more than twice her age and in the midst of a spectacular political career exemplified by parliamentary leadership and intense advocacy for progressive reform of both British social welfare policy and the British Empire. Clearly they were in the midst of an intense courtship over most of 1888, but come summer their engagement was vehemently denied in the press by “Miss Endicott’s family”: apparently her political father thought Mr. Chamberlain’s opposition to Irish Home Rule would be unpopular in America, but later, once the engagement was confirmed, the reasons for the denials were attributed to Miss Endicott’s “tact”, “reserve”, and desire for a quiet wedding. She would not get her wish: that fall, with the nuptials approaching in November, there was feverish anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic and a succession of newspaper articles offering up every little detail. My favorite piece is from the Boston Weekly Globe, dated November 14, 1888: it emphasizes the bride’s pedigree, the bridegoom’s wealth (an annual income of £150,000! Lavish estates in Birmingham and London!), her trousseau (7 “very costly” Worth dresses!), their wedding gifts (including a very big check from her maternal grandparents), and the fact that President and Mrs. Cleveland will be attending the wedding, to be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, across from the White House.

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In this article, and all the others, there is as much fascination with Miss Endicott’s “lineage” as with the material details of the upcoming wedding. A characteristic observation: Miss Endicott is truly of a sufficiently high lineage for peerage [insert catty remark that her future husband is not, in fact, a peer]. She comes of Puritan stock that cannot be excelled. Her father, Hon. William E. Endicott, the present Secretary of War, is a lineal descendant of John Endicott, the first colonial governor of Massachusetts, and he has in his possession the famous sword with which Governor Endicott cut the cross from the king’s colors on March 4, 1635. Her great-grandfather, Jacob Crowninshield, was Secretary of the Navy during President Jefferson’s administration. Her mother is the daughter of George Peabody, the well-known merchant, philanthropist and poet. Through both her paternal and maternal ancestry Miss Endicott is descended from the same Puritan families from which came the illustrious hero of the Revolution, General Israel Putnam…….and on and on her ancestry goes. Another theme is Miss Endicott’s (again, “Puritan”–“Yankee” is never used; it’s too early for “Brahmin” and far too early for  “WASP”) reserve and discretion: after the wedding it is pointed out by EVERYONE that she wore a simple gray silk “traveling” dress for the ceremony rather than an elaborate gown. Still, there were all those Worth dresses: I could not any from the 1888 trousseau, but I did find the gray dress Mrs. Chamberlain wore in her Millais portrait a few years later, as well as a 1902 afternoon dress from her wardrobe, which was featured in the National Gallery of Australia’s 2004 exhibitionThe Edwardians: Secrets and Desires.

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Mrs. Endicott’s Worth gowns from 1890 and 1902, Fashion Museum, Bath and National Gallery of Australia.

After a brief honeymoon on the French Riviera, Mr.and Mrs. Chamberlain took up residence in England, both in London and at Highbury Hall, his stately home in Birmingham. Mary assumed social duties but seems also to have shared her new husband’s political ones, especially after he became Colonial Secretary in 1895. Secretary Chamberlain’s desire to reform the commercial structure of the British Empire has revived his reputation recently, as the free-trading block he envisioned seems to provide somewhat of a model for post-Brexit Britain. Mary traveled with him extensively over much of the next decade, and was often referred to as the Chamberlain’s “best and truest counsellor”. At home in England, Mary seems also to have become a favorite of the Queen. The American papers attest her royal approval to be tied, once again, to her “discretion”, of both dress and decorum: she disavowed the low-cut “decollete” gowns in favor of more modest apparel and stayed away from the Prince of Wales’s racy set. The British papers are not as forthcoming, but she did receive a rare gold (not silver) Diamond Jubilee medal from the Queen in 1897. Contrary to the 1904 Washington Times article below, however, Mary did not become the Countess of Highbury and the “first American peeress”: I’m not sure where this story came from, but it does illustrate the continuing interest in Mary Endicott Chamberlain. In the articles about Joseph Chamberlain’s death in 1914 (he had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1906), Mary, the “Puritan Aristocrat” remained the main focus of the American newspapers.

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The bride and bridegroom with Mr. Chamberlain’s children at Highbury in 1889: Back row, left to right: Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937) and Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914). Front row, left to right: Miss H. Chamberlain and Mrs Mary Chamberlain (nee Endicott); “The Reception of the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain, MP, and his American Bride, at the Town Hall, Birmingham”, The Graphic, January, 1989; The dashing Colonial Secretary in 1895; Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain in 1903; the Washington Times, 1904, and Boston Globe, 1914.

In late spring of 1916, Mrs. Chamberlain became engaged to another older, widowed, English gentleman: the Reverend William Hartley Carnegie, a Canon and Sub-Dean of Westminster Cathedral. They were married in August in the Henry VII Chapel at the Cathedral, with her stepsons Austen, future Cabinet Minister and Nobel Laureate, walking her down the aisle and Neville, future Prime Minister, in attendance. The announcements in the Boston papers read: Salem Woman, Widow of Chamberlain, marries Canon of Westminster Abbey. This was the beginning of a much more private life for Mary Endicott, and after the Reverend Canon’s death in 1936, it became even more “quiet”, at least from the perspective of newspaper coverage. She would live for another twenty years, during which she did not make much news. There is extensive documentary evidence of her correspondence and close relationships with her two Chamberlain stepsons, but she survived them both. She is interred alongside her second husband in Westminster Abbey, with a simple inscription of “Mary Endicott” and a memorial bust of her first husband nearby.

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John Singer Sargent’s pencil study of Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, 1902, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.


Ghosts of Presidents Past

When a ghost appears, you know that something is not right: restless spirits always have a mission. Sometimes it is inspiration; sometime censure, but one always has to take notice. The relationship between the dead and the living depends on the historical context but in general, the former are often demanding something from the latter: prayers, respect, fortitude, compensation, correction. Medieval people were expected to compensate, in forms of religious ritual, for the premature, unexpected, and “bad” deaths of their dearly departed, while modern people are generally expected to learn from the spectres that haunt them, in one way or another: Dickens’ Christmas ghosts being prime examples. And then there are political ghosts, who have vast powers of assessment and judgement and can be utilized as a supreme moral compass: I don’t think it will be long before we see some of these spectral appearances! Looking through some digitized periodicals in preparation for my Presidents’ Day post last week, first very casually and then more intently, I came across quite a few presidential ghosts: Presidents Washington and Lincoln are clearly the most powerful (and summoned) apparitions, but they were not the only spirits roused from the dead because of compelling earthly concerns. In this first image from Punch (a periodical which utilizes ghosts to put forth its point of view fairly often) King George III asks George Washington what he thinks of his “fine republic” now (1863–in the midst of the Civil War), to which the President can only respond “humph!”.

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Punch, or the London Charivari, January 10, 1863.

This is an unusual presidential ghost sighting; usually we do not go to “Spirit-Land” (which appears to be populated with jellyfish as well as prominent people), spirits descend down to our realm. Much more common are these pair of cartoons commenting on the contentious election of 1884 between two scandal-ridden candidates: James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland: The Honor of our Country in Danger (again, Puck) and The Honor of our Country Maintained (George Yost Coffin, “respectfully adapted” from the Puck cartoon). The assembled ghostly presidents Washington, Lincoln and Garfield (recently assassinated so at the height of his power) are clearly the monitors of “honor”, before and after the election. The narrow winner of this contest, Grover Cleveland, clearly needs all the spiritual guidance he can get, as the ghosts of his predecessors appear regularly throughout his term(s).

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“Honor” cartoons relating to the presidential election of 1884, Library of Congress;  “The Lesson of the Past”, Puck, July 1887: Lincoln inspires Cleveland to assert “I will not fail”.

Theodore Roosevelt inspires lots of ghostly visitations too, including a whole entourage of past presidents in Puck’s July 1910 cover cartoon: “Just Luck”. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Jackson wonder how did we ever run the country without him? while observing an industrious Teddy by the light of the moon. A couple of years later, however, there is a more censorious visitation by Washington when Roosevelt rescinded his pledge not to run for a third term in 1912. This Washington looks positively Dickensian!

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Just LuckcoverPuck, July, 1910; “Anti-Third-Term Principle” cartoon by Clifford Berryman, 1912, U.S. National Archives.

War-time presidents, or those on the verge of war, need lots of encouragement (as do nations), so the ultimate war-time president, Abraham Lincoln, appears behind Woodrow Wilson on the eve of World War I, and several decades later the latter returns the favor for Franklin Roosevelt. In the interim, we have a rare sighting of Warren G. Harding, wishing his successor Calvin Coolidge “Good Bye and Good Luck” and encouraging him to “write his own book”. This strikes me as a bit of over-reach for this device: did we really need to summon the ghost of Warren G. Harding?

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Ghostly back-up in 1917 and 1935, New York Times and Library of Congress; J.N. “Ding” Darling cartoon from 1923, © 1999 J.N. “Ding” Darling Foundation and Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation.


Winter Dress

Another distraction; it happens to me every time I venture into a digital archive. This time I was looking for Lutheran “cartoons” from the early sixteenth century, and somehow I ended up fixated on a critical caricature of women’s winter dress from a century later: Wie sich ein All’ modo Monsieur im Winter kleiden solle (1629). I’m not sure of the exact translation—how the German gentleman should dress in the winter? (help!)—but I can tell it is a comical critique, as the three women on the right are portrayed as dressing a bit too mannishly (the one in the middle is even wearing pants under her skirt!) and badly-behaving animals are never a good sign. Even though the men look like dashing cavaliers, there is something “off” about them too; I’ve got to dig in and try to translate the accompanying text. Clearly something is rotten in the state of Germany, and it’s not just the Thirty Years’ War. Women are an easy target in early modern print culture because of their dress, in all seasons really, but winter is even easier: one of the more effective satires of flimsy Regency dress is titled Parisian Ladies in their Winter Dress for 1800, reprinted countless times over the next decade.

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winter-dress-1800 Wie sich ein All’ modo Monsieur im Winter kleiden solle (1629), and Parisian Ladies in their Winter Dress for 1800, collection of the British Museum.

The fashion plate dates from the eighteenth century and really thrives in the nineteenth; in these idealistic advertisements there is no judgemental “tone” even though some of the clothing appears almost as impractical as the garb above: light coats or little “mantlets” worn over the dresses of the day. Muffs can never be too big in the eighteenth century, or bustles in the later nineteenth.

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Fashion Plates from 1799 & 1888 in the collection of Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

The dashing, sporty but at the same time elegant “Winter Girl” emerges in the very last decade of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth: cover girls on an array of contemporary magazines and cards. Just as idealistic as fashion plates, really, but more artistic.Two sides of this coin are below: a sporty girl from around 1906 and a very elegant Puck cover from 1911, along with “a slip of girl” cigarette card from 1901, because mockery is always in season.

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Cover and cards, 1901-1911, New York Public Library Digital Collections.


A Heightened Sense of Detail

It’s rather jarring to read the lines written by Salem’s chatty diarist, the Reverend William Bentley, about his encounter with the Salem artist George Ropes Jr. in 1804: “Paid G. Ropes’ Bill for head of Curwin, Salem, Minister, the painting by him. He is a dumb boy with Corné. Had receipt. $4.00”.  Bentley had commissioned a portrait copy of the Reverend Samuel Curwen from Ropes, who was then an apprentice of the Italian emigré artist Michel Felice Cornè. George Ropes, Jr. (1788-1819), the son of a Salem sea captain (how many times have I written than?) was indeed born deaf and was by all accounts speechless for all of his relatively short life, but Bentley’s notes upon his early death are more telling: Died of consumption, deaf and dumb, a painter, active, acute, circumspect, and esteemed.”  Ropes had to become the primary breadwinner for his family upon his father’s death at sea in 1807 and so he became a practical  painter of signs and such as well as an artist. While all art is evidence for the historian, I’ve always felt that Ropes’ works are more documentary in their detail, particularly two paintings in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Launching of the Ship Fame (1802) and Crowninshield’s Wharf (1806). I’ve shown it here several times, but I can’t post on Ropes without including his masterpiece, Salem Common on Training Day (1808), which is also in the collection of the PEM. Those poplars! I can never see this painting too many times.

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George Ropes, Jr.: The Launching of the Ship Fame, Crowninshield’s Wharf, and Salem Common on Training Day, all courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

My favorite story about Ropes comes from the Pickering Genealogythe source of endless interesting anecdotes about Salem people. In another testimony to his skill and eye for detail, it is noted that on one occasion when the parlor in the house of Jarathmeel Peirce was being papered, it was found that there was not enough, and it being imported paper, more could not be obtained. He undertook to finish it by painting, which he did so accurately that it was impossible to tell where his work began or where it ended. A decorating crisis averted!  Ropes is probably best known for his marine paintings, including a lovely “portrait” of George Crowninshield’s famous luxury yacht Cleopatra’s Barge, and several paintings of the USS Constitution in battle during the War of 1812.The US Constitution Museum has a series of four paintings painted by Ropes (after Corné) depicting the famous engagement with the HMS Guerriere in August of 1812 which earned the victorious American ship the nickname of “Old Ironsides”, and at the end of next month, a Ropes painting of the victory of the Constitution over the HMS Java in December of 1812 will be auctioned off at Dan Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania. Artistic reportage, and some pretty bold titles, from this silent “signmaker”.

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George Ropes, Jr., the last of the Constitution and Guerriere paintings, USS Constitution Museum Collection; Constitution vs. Java, Morphy Auctions.


Why are there no WPA Murals in Salem?

The various initiatives of the Works Progress Administration made their mark on Salem during the Depression: substantive work on Greenlawn Cemetery and the Salem Armory was completed, Olde Salem Greens was carved out of Highland Park, and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site was created along Derby Street. Many historic structures in Salem were measured and photographed under the aegis of the Historic American Building Survey, for which I am grateful nearly every day. I’m sure there were more infrastructural improvements implemented with federal funds in Salem in the 1930s, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to lose myself in the massive archives of the New Deal!  There is a conspicuous absence of federally-funded art in Salem however: no murals in the Post Office or City Hall illustrating the city’s dynamic and dramatic history. This absence is conspicuous because Massachusetts in general, and the North Shore in particular, is home to some notable New Deal murals, commissioned by various Federal cultural agencies to embellish public spaces with uplifting, patriotic, accessible American scenes while simultaneously providing unemployement for artists. There are amazing murals in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, and in Natick, Lexington, and Arlington, and here in Essex County, in Gloucester City Hall, Abbot Hall in Marblehead, the Topsfield Public Library, and the Ipswich Post Office. Moreover, there were several Salem artists who painted murals for the WPA elsewhere–but not in the city of their birth or residence. Why?

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Umberto Romano, “Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield”, Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Office Building, formerly the US Post Office, Springfield, Massachusetts, photograph by David Stansbury, and Hollis Holbrook,” John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians”, US Post Office, Natick, photograph by Thomas Cortue, both part of the joint Smithsonian National Postal Museum and National Museum of the American Indian exhibition, “Indians at the Post Office: New Deal-Era Murals”; Aiden Lassell Ripley, “Paul Revere’s Ride”, US Post Office, Lexington; and Charles Allen Winter’s “Protection of the Fisheries”,  and “Education” , two of 6 murals in Gloucester City Hall that have been recently restored.

I’ve been wondering about this for a while, but this weekend I was engaging in my semi-regular weekend fantasy-shopping-on-1stdibs session and I came across a study painting by Dunbar Beck for a mural entitled The Return of Timothy Pickering which eventually embellished the interior of the Danvers Post Office, where it remains to this day. And I thought to myself: why the hell was the mural commissioned for DANVERSWhy didn’t it come to Salem? Timothy Pickering is one of the most famous native sons of Salem, his house is here, and his mural should be here too. Danvers is the former Salem Village, and was long part of Salem, but still this mural clearly portrays Salem Town and harbor.

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Dunbar Beck, Study Painting for the Danvers Post Office mural “The Return of Timothy Pickering”, currently available from Renaissance Man Antiques on 1stdibs.

So, why no murals of Salem’s earliest settlements, famous vessels, lively port, sea captains’ mansions, or Witch Trials on the walls of public building downtown?  Well there would have had to be some visual reference to 1692, and that was hardly an uplifting American episode that could be used to raise spirits during the Depression. That’s the curse of 1692, which manifests itself time and time again. Or maybe there was no place for one in Salem’s relatively new Post Office or venerable City Hall. But I for one would like to see a simplistic scene of North America’s first elephant stepping on Salem soil somewhere around town.


Perennial Patterns

There were several Christmas gifts that I gave to people that I wanted for myself–all books. It was very frustrating to me that two of these particular books were shrink-wrapped, so I couldn’t even leaf through them before I wrapped them up! One was even in its own impenetrable (without leaving a trace of attempts at opening) box. On Christmas Day, as soon as I saw my brother-in-law open up a beautiful book by Peter Koepke entitled Patterns. Inside the Design Library I knew I had to have one for myself–and now I do.

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This stunning book is an exploration of a small fraction of the vast collection of The Design Library, a collection which includes seven million samples and fragments of pattern design embellishing fabrics, embroideries, yarns and wallpaper, all stored (appropriately) in a converted fabric mill in Wappingers Falls, New York. The book features a representative sampling of patterns and a very interesting concluding section on how design professionals, including designers at such diverse companies as Calvin Klein, Colefax and Fowler,and Pottery Barn, have used the library for inspiration. This is probably just a coffee-table book for my brother-in-law, who has long worked with textiles, but for me, it’s almost like a beautiful textbook, as each pattern is classified according to four main families of design–Floral, Geometric, Ethnic, and Conversational–and myriad subcategories under these categories. I quickly learned that I’m not crazy about abstract, chaos, exotica, jazzy, jungle, kaleidoscope, or modernist patterns (much less “x-rated” or “yummy”), but I LOVE distressed, gothic, and quotidian ones, and REALLY love feathers and insects. This was not a surprise to me, but I love finding classifications for my preferences.

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From Patterns: Inside the Design Library: French hand-painted feather paper, mid- to late-20th century; French hand-painted insect paper, early 20th century; French distressed woodblock-printed wallpaper, 1770 & “gothic” printed fabric, also from France, late 19th century (these look like the characters in a 17th-century witch trial!).

I also like the patterns labelled “Oberkampf”, after the eighteenth-century textile manufacturing company Oberkampt & Cie, which produced fabrics with a revolutionary “rolling block press”. They seem timeless, somehow, as did several of the samples in the book–patterns that looked old, but were in fact quite modern, and that looked modern, but were in fact rather old. Those old sayings that “nothing is every really new” and “everything comes back again” are not always true, but they often are, a point that was really driven home in the last section of the book, “The Creatives”, in which designers reworked Design Library-sourced patterns for products as diverse as Lulemon leggings, Clinique packaging, and the chartreuse velvet coat which Mrs. Obama wore to accompany the President to Norway to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

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Eighteenth-century Oberkampf designs from Patterns; the development of  Mrs. Obama’s coat by Francisco Costa, then creative director for Calvin Klein, based on velvets he found in the Design Library. 


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