05 July 2016

Art for Every Home - Associated American Artists exhibit

Hans Moller, Chain Reaction, fabric.

On a hot day in July, DH and I visited the Grey Gallery of New York University, to view Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934-2000, an exhibit with approximately 150 artifacts on display, organized by the Marianne Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University. This traveling exhibit was scheduled to arrive at the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) this autumn, but, in a blow to textile lovers everywhere, the ATHM is closing its doors due to inadequate funds.

Enlargement of AAA catalog cover opens the exhibit.

Our arrival in July was fortuitous, as the Associated American Artists enterprise began during another hot July, in 1934, when New York businessman Reeves Lewenthal met with a group of artists including Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood and Doris Lee, to begin a studio art-print publishing venture.  Although the prints were sold in department stores as well as the AAA's own galleries, the real break-through came with the ease of ordering by mail from the company's illustrated catalogs.  The venture enjoyed success for many years, but after producing 2600 print editions by 600 artists, the AAA ceased operation in the year 2000. 

During the post-war period the company expanded into decorative arts, including ceramics, glass and, the primary focus of this blog, textiles. 

Artists' designs were adapted for apparel and home furnishing textiles by two textile converters, Riverdale Fabrics and M. Lowenstein and Sons, and utilized by companies such as Catalina Sportswear and Henry Rosenfeld.

Ad for swimsuits utilizing Laura Jean Allen's Imperial Seal fabric. Source: www.ebay.com

Left: swimsuit, Lamartine Le Goullon's Sudan fabric. Right: swimsuit, Laura Jean Allens' Imperial Seal.

Ad for men's and women's swimwear in Le Goullon's Sudan, shown in 3 colorways.

Left: Dress in The Gondoliers. Right: dress in Sunspots. Background: Puppet Ballet by Jacqueline Groag.

Henry Rosenfeld's dress company produced the dress above, right, from Laura Jean Allen's Sunspots fabric.  Laura Jean Allen is a designer who deserves to be better known; among other work, she produced many covers for the New Yorker magazine.  Miss Allen is in this brief video.

Home stitchers also used the yardage to make comfortable, stylish clothing, such as the dress on the left above, featuring Albert John Pucci's The Gondoliers print.  For me, this dress was the highlight of the show, as an artifact which demonstrated how a consumer used the design.  I would have loved to have seen images of the prints and ceramics in contemporary home interiors, but this exhibit remains a compelling first-ever survey of an organization which profitably marketed affordable art to an eager audience.

Kudos to co-curators Liz Seaton and Jane Myers, and independent scholar Gail Windisch. There is  an award-winning book accompanying the exhibit, and a much anticipated online index of prints, ceramics and textile designs. Below are details of some of the fabric prints in the exhibit; these designs were created in the early 1950's.

Lamartine Le Goullon, Futuriste.

Anton Refregier, Pioneer Pathways.

Grant Wood, The Ride of Paul Revere.

Ilonka Karasz, Calico Cow (this design was also a New Yorker cover.)

Louise Phillips, Calory [sic] Chart, designed for Youngstown Kitchens.

Witold Gordon, Shell Chest.

William Ward Beecher, Button Button.

Exterior, Silver Center at New York University, housing the Grey Gallery.

I had never visited New York University before, and enjoyed the scene in lively Washington Square, seen below in a handkerchief designed by the Picasso of pocket hankies, Tammis Keefe.

Tammis Keefe, Washington Square handkerchief, linen. Source: www.tammiskeefe.com