Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
December 17th, 2013

Find of the Week: Toile de Jouy by Wesley Simpson

Wesley Simpson scarves are one of my favorite things to collect.  Simpson (1903-1975) was an American textile manufacturer who was responsible for bringing many artist-designed textiles to the market after World War II.  World War II had an enormous impact on both the fashion industry and art market in America.  First, it liberated American designers from simply making copies of Parisian couture.  But it also allowed a new genre of artist to emerge, most of whom were in New York.  Abstract expressionism was very popular right after the war.  People had a renewed interest in the arts and the economic means to purchase.  Artists hoped to capitalize on this, and teamed with textile producers to make fabrics and accessories.  The marketing strategy was to bring art to everyday life.
Wesley Simpson
You can only imagine my delight at finding this 1948 scarf by Simpson called Toile de Jouy,in my favorite color!  The scarf tells the history of toile, an 18th century French scenic pattern usually printed on cotton, linen, or silk in one color on a light ground.  It reads:
In 1784, Mr. Jean-Baptiste Huet, an artist employed by the Oberkampf works located near Jouy, France etched this design.  This type of copperplate print, known as Toile de Jouy illustrates the various processes used in printing textiles. 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similar scarf in their collection.  And the Vintage Traveler has the original ad from 1948.  The ad reads:
Wesley Simpson presents a group of new scarfs from his collection of designs by famous artists. Included are scarfs by Marcel Vertes and Salvador Dali.
This is a great example of how various artists, with completely different styles, made an attempt to be more commercial after the war.  (New to my site?  You should take a look at my other posts on Wesley Simpson.)  It seems especially fitting that the subject matter of this scarf is textile printing.  Each vignette depicts a different stage of creating the toile print on fabric.
Wesley Simpson detail


August 9th, 2013

Onondaga Textiles via The Design Center

I’ve recently been assigned the responsibility of developing a Pinterest account for a new business.  It took me some time to create my own Pinterest account, and I use it sparingly.  Why?  Well, I start to wander down the rabbit hole of assembling interesting themes and pictures onto a pin board.    It’s been a challenge to discipline myself to limit my time on this amazingly visual platform.  I’ve worked out a nice routine, where I come up with an concept I’d like to research.  I then log on, and pin for 10 minute increments.  During one of my pinning sessions, I decided to look into the Onondaga Silk Mills.
Much to my delight, I found these incredible high-res images of swatch cards.  The Design Center at Philadelphia University houses a large study collection of historic textiles and garments.  It seems their Tumblr account digitizes and explores their gorgeous archives.
I’ve written about the Onondaga Silk Mills before.  During graduate school, I became familiar with the textile mill.  It interested me so much because one of it’s primary factories was located in my hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania.
The mill was originally run by Herman Simon (1850-1913), a German emigre, who brought silk to Easton.   In 1874, along with his brother Robert, Herman Simon built a silk mill in Union Hill, NJ – establishing the R. & H. Simon Company.  The mill was three stories high, and contained 165 handlooms, as well as looms Robert invented himself to produce grosgrain silk.   R. & H. Simon Company became so successful that a 9 acre plant is built in Easton in 1883.
In 1933, the R&H Simon Company mill in Easton was purchased by the Onondaga Silk Company.  The Onondaga Silk Company was extremely active in creating fashionable textiles.  They were a leading couture level textile manufacturer, with locations in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The Onondaga Silk Company is  best known for their American Artists prints in the late 1940s.  The silk company collaborated with six American artists  to style unique fabrics.  This collaboration received international press, and was a pivotal exposing many Postwar artists to mass media.  The American Artists series was on display at the Midtown Galleries on 57th Street in Manhattan, and established the Postwar ideals of mixing fashion and art.
As synthetic fibers were developed after WWII, Onondaga expanded it’s production to include more than silk.  It created interesting fabrics in rayon, polyester, and other manufactured fibers.  Silk was still it’s primary interest.
Many of the swatches from The Design Center appear to be from the mid 1960s to the 1970s.  You can tell by the color pallets and patterns used in the designs.
The Onondaga Silk Company continued to make very high-end fabrics, whether or not they were silk or synthetic fibers.  The mill catered to fashionable couturiers and designers.  Ultimately, the mill had difficulty competing with the quality and price of competing mills.  The company operated throughout the 1970s with difficulty.  The mill was closed in 1981.
I imagine that The Design Center acquired these swatch cards after the mill closed.  There is little information on the cards, other than that they come from the Onondaga Mill in Easton.
I searched for more information, and was really excited to find this card!  This dates from 1965, and was made for Castillo for an evening gown.  What a special find. :)
Take a look at the rest of these beautiful swatches:


May 17th, 2013

Textile Designs by Rockwell Kent

As promised, I wanted to write more about the textile designs I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This was the original drawing that caught my eye.  The design, entitled Swaying Trees, is by American artist Rockwell Kent.


This was a big surprise for me!  Kent (1882 – 1971) studied painting under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.  I’d learned a bit about his paintings while working at an art gallery.  Henri encouraged Kent to paint landscapes of Monhegan island in Maine on his own.  This experience of painting directly in nature greatly affected Kent.  Whatever medium he chose, Kent’s work always captures the amazing power of nature.

Kent gained a reputation of a neo-Transcendentalist because of this.  Transcendentalism was a philosophy that originated in the 1830s and asserted that spiritual experiences could be observed in nature.  Time spent in nature often created a mystical or transcendental experience to those that followed this philosophy.


You can see that his textile designs capture natural themes.  The other accompanying design is called Running Deer.  Both of these were realized in 1950.  Kent made a similar design for Bloomcraft Inc called Deer Season, which you can see below:

Kent also completed a few other designs for Bloomcraft Inc, including Harvest Time:
Harvest Time by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts
And Pine Tree:
Pine Tree by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

 Unless otherwise states, images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May 15th, 2013

Textile sketches by Sonia Delaunay

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to pass some time.  Earlier this week, I took a group of students to a special event celebrating Punk: Chaos to Couture.  As I wandered around the second floor, making my way to the exhibition, several sketches caught my eye.  The main corridor that leads to the special exhibition gallery is generally lined with works on paper – prints, drawings, and so on.  I noticed a lot of patterns, and knew they were textile designs.  (I’ll be writing more about those later!)  In the middle of this large corridor was a small table encased in plexiglass with the most wonderful sketches by Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979).


These drawings are from 1925, and just darling!  I stood there a long time looking at them.  (They were a bit difficult to photograph without casting a shadow, as you can see.)  These sketches are simply entitled Sonia Delaunay: her paintings, her objects, her simultaneous fabrics, her fashions.  I think these are really prime examples of her design sensibilities, which included the art theory her and her husband Robert developed.  (New to my site?  You should take a look at my previous posts on Sonia & Robert Delaunay)

Sonia, along with her husband, painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), developed a color theory called simultaneity – the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side.


I love the geometry and color patterns in each of these sketches.  They clearly show a harmony between the fine and decorative arts movements at the time.  The green and black dress on the left is a nod to Cubism.  The middle dress looks uncannily like the interior of  an Art Deco building.  Perhaps it was inspired by a tiled floor.


The silhouette is still column-like, which is a hallmark of the 1920s.  There is no defined waist, and the garments seem to hang vertically from the shoulders and obscure the shape of the body.   However, you can see that most of the hemlines are quite long – a definite contrast to the American flapper.  A nice alternative silhouette  to all The Great Gatesby buzz that’s been going around.


All images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May 13th, 2013

Moderne by Wesley Simpson

This post can be filed under “find of the week”.  It’s a silk scarf by Wesley Simpson.  Simpson was a textile converter based in New York.  (New to my site?  You should read these posts on Wesley Simpson) This scarf is called “Moderne”, and I’m curious to figure out when it was made.



My time is a bit limited, as I’m currently very busy.  However, there are some clues to go on based just by looking at the design.  It has a curiously design motif based on Mayan sculpture.  In fact, the first clue I noticed was the human face.  It is a profile view.  The figure has large ears, and a sort breathing mask attached to his nose.


There is a famous sculpture in the Mayan town known as Palenque.  Palenque flourishe during the Seventh Century, and has some of the finest architecture, sculpture, and art that the Mayans produced.  Pacal the Great was one of the most famous rulers of this town.  In his tomb, there is a sculpture that looks very much like the design on this scarf.

Bas relief sculpture from the rule of Pacal the Great from Palenque.  Image courtesy of Exo Human
Here is a closer look.  Notice how they both seem to be breathing through some sort of tube.

There are other design elements that look like Mayan sculpture.  Here are a few details:


Dots within circles appear in lots of Mayan tablets  People and faces are exaggerated and stylized, composed of simple geometric shapes.



It will be fun to do a bit more research on this when I have the time.  I’m curious to see if there was an exhibition on Mayan art in New York sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.  Hopefully in a few weeks I will have an answer.  If have any clues about this design, please leave it in a comment!


March 29th, 2013

Calder Bicentennial Tapestries

Making discoveries in your own back yard are so fun.  Today, I was at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.  I went to their gallery to see the Joan Mitchell show, which I will be writing a post about shortly!  However, I was really surprised to see these tapestries hanging up.  They are by none other than Alexander Calder  (1898-1976).


The Bicentennial Tapestries: La Poire, le fromage, et le serpent (The Pear, the Cheese, and the Serpent) by Alexander Calder, 1975.  Wool.  Handwoven the Atelier of Pinton Freres.

Calder was a famous sculptor.  You’ve probably seen some of his mobiles, which he started producing in the 1930s.  Calder was born in Philadelphia.  His father was a sculptor and his mother was a painter.  After studying engineering, Calder studied at the Art Students’ League in New York



Mobile by Alexander Calder. Image courtesy of the LA Times.
Calder was not limited to sculpture. He experimented with various media: jewelry, painting, drawing, tapestries.  Calder tried it all.  He was also very close friends with Vera Neumann, a fantastic textile and scarf designer.  (I remember a particularly fantastic post on this topic by The Vintage Traveler!)


The Bicentennial Tapestries: La Tache Bleue (The Blue Blob) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

In celebration of the bicentennial of the American Revolution, Calder designed a set of six tapestries.  His designs were then handwoven by the Pinton Freres atelier in Aubusson, France.  A limited edition of 200 were produced.


The The Bicentennial Tapestries: Le Sphere et les spirales (The Sphere and the Spirals) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

Each of the tapestries are signed and have a number.  I wasn’t able to closely examine each of the tapestries, because they were hanging quite high on the wall. Two of the tapestries were hung above benches.  So I stepped up to take a closer look (and a few photos).   Here is the signature and a mark that I can’t quite make out.  I suppose it is the number of the tapestry.



I really loved the graphic quality of the tapestries.  The swirls and stripes are so interesting.  The Palms is a great example of what I’m talking about.



The Bicentennial Tapestries: Les Palmiers (The Palms) by Alexander Calder, 1975.


Calder actually died the same year in which the tapestries were realized by the Pinton Freres atelier. These tapestries were a gift from Philip and Muriel Burman in 1999.  The local newspaper, The Morning Call wrote more about the weaving technique when the gift was announced to the public:

The panels were made in Aubusson, France, using a centuries old technique that takes the weaver a month to create a single square yard of tapestry. The Bicentennial Tapestries were woven at Pinton Freres, the same studio that converted the art of Picasso, Chagall and Miro into Aubusson tapestry.


The Bicentennial Tapestries: Trois spirales (Three Spirals) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

The sixth tapestry was in the permanent gallery downstairs, which I missed.  More reason to go back and take another look!

March 18th, 2013

Menswear: Vintage Pendleton



March is such an interesting month.  Not quite winter, not quite spring.  As soon as I pull out some of my spring outfits after a series of warm days, it seems to snow.  It’s that time of year when your entire wardrobe needs to be available – and layers are a great idea.

I was outside running in Central on Friday before meeting my friend Ashley for lunch.  It was definitely a cold day!  As I was literally running over to meet her, she called me.  She said there was a man standing outside with one of the best vintage coats she’d ever seen.  Ashley was definitely right!



Andrew was kind enough to talk fashion with us.  This beautiful vintage coat has a great silhouette – there are so many great construction details:  deeply notched lapel, the buckled leather trimmed tabs at the cuff, and matching brown leather buttons.

(Here is a great chart on lapel types for you, gentlemen!)


The wool used for the coat is also really beautiful.  You can see that it was woven with high quality yarns.  There is lots of color variation, and the slubs in the yarn give it such a great texture.  See how the surface is slightly uneven?  That is because the yarn thickness varies.  The thicker areas are called slubs, and definitely make the fabric more interesting.  Don’t you just want to run your had over the surface?  (Keep this in mind while shopping.  It’s generally a great purchase if people want to touch your clothing!)


The back has a single vent that can be buttoned.  This is a detail that I just adore.  It makes the coat very functional.  Unbuttoning the vent makes walking around and moving easier, but also lets more cold air in.  Buttoned, the silhouette is more formfitting and warm.  What a wonderful detail!



Ashley and I were just dying to know who the maker of the coat was.  Andrew said it was vintage Pendleton!  I learned a lot about Pendleton by reading The Vintage Traveler.  Pendleton is a woolen mill based in Portland, Oregon.  The company is family owned and operated, and is over 140 years old.  Thomas Kay was an English weaver that came to America in the 1860s and eventually opened his own mill in Portland.  You can read more about the company’s history here.


Andrew definitely layered his look to adjust to the drastic temperature change that day.  He had on a hat, gloves, and a great wool sweater.  Turns out, Andrew’s sweater was also Pendleton.  This is a great label to search for if you’re into the vintage and secondhand market.  You can, of course, purchase new Pendleton products.  I have the boots they produced with Doc Martens!

March 4th, 2013

What I’ve been up to . . .

I’ve been a busy bee the past few weeks. Teaching definitely keeps me on the go!  I know that my blog focuses more on my personal observations of art, fashion, and creativity.  But I thought you might like to know what I’ve been doing for my profession.  Right now, I teach a textile class and a product development class.  Grading always keeps me busy, but I really enjoy designing projects for my students.  Product development has been so much fun.  My students are designing a private label line and going through the steps to put it into production. Here’s a look at some of their work:



This is a preview of a line called Femme Victorial by my student Marija.  Aside from designing the looks, sourcing the materials, and verifying costs or fabric and production, they also have to make social media channels to promote the line.  You can follow Femme Victorial on Twitter!


This is a preview of Wonderland NYC, by my students Chance and Nancy.  Their line is so adorable, and has a great Instagram account.  You can see more of there line there.




My textile class keeps me super busy!  Just in the last month, we have covered knitting, crocheting, weaving, dyeing and printing.  Whew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  I can only imagine how my students must feel.  Learning textiles for the first time can be so overwhelming.  I never thought I’d remember all of the complicated information about weave structures.  It takes time and practice.  I’m also a firm believer in student centered learning, so I try to make lots of activities.  So, we learn how to crochet . . .


And knit . . . (by the way, I finally finished this knitting this circular scarf I started over a YEAR ago.  It was part of my demo of how to cast off.  I’m loving  how the purl stitch came out!)


We also tie-dyed in a crock pot last week.  Sorry, no photos of that.  I somehow misplaced my sample.  We discussed printing, and tomorrow we are going to talk more about patterns and repeats.  Here is a sketch I made for my friend Ashley’s birthday.  I’m going to frame it for her, but wanted to turn it into a textile first.  So I’ll be sure to scan a high-res image and show my students how to use Spoonflower, a print-on-demand textile and wallpaper site.


We also discussed block printing on textiles.  William Morris used the block printing method for his wonderful fabrics.  So tomorrow, we will be making our own block prints from potatoes.  I just bought some this afternoon for the class.  Since time is so critical, I carved out a few designs myself.



Now, all the students have to do is apply some fabric paint.  Plus, they will know how to do it themselves in the future.  So fun!  But what I’m really excited for is this small silk screening kit I found.  It’s small enough to travel well, and perfect to demonstrate the difference between printing types.  I so excited for tomorrow!



Now, it’s back to work for me.  I have so much left to do!

January 18th, 2013

Fortuny: An Artist That Paints Textiles

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to visit a new place every month this year.  I love traveling, and have a few distant and exotic destinations on the list.  But adventure doesn’t  always have to be reserved to foreign locales.  In fact, I always make it a point to live each day as if I was charting undiscovered territory.  

That’s one of the many reasons I love New York so much.  Every step I take in this city is filled with discovery, beauty, and adventure.  Yesterday, I ventured over to the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute to see the exhibition on Fortuny.


Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871 – 1949) was a Spanish artist and designer.  He was one of the leaders in liberating women from the corset during the 1910s.  Fortuny was a real Renaissance man and loved to learn.  He collected and read ancient manuscripts and rediscovered an ancient way of pleating fabrics.  He started to use this pleating to make gowns inspired by ancient Greek sculptures.


I’d learned a bit about this famous designer in school, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend this exhibit.  Curated by Oscar de la Renta, I knew the show would be a real treat.  I was not disappointed.  A majority of the collection was on loan from private collectors, including Vintage Luxury.  I really encourage everyone to see this before it closes on March 30th, because the pictures do not even begin to do the actual garments justice.


There was so much about Fortuny that I didn’t know.  He was a descendent of the Madrazo family, which consisted of artists, curators, and  collectors.  Art was an intregral part of life for the Madrazo clan, and it deeply influenced Fortuny’s creativity.

Fortuny himself declared, “I have always had many interests, but I have always considered painting to be my profession.

He painted beautiful portraits, experimented heavily with photography, and collected art and objects himself.  This paved the way for him to design textiles and design garments.


In 1906, Fortuny designed costumes for the Ballet for the Countess Bearn’s theater opening .  The dancers wore his Knossos dresses, which were seen publicly for the first time.  He then began producing dresses that referenced classical Greek sculptures, like the Delphos dress, in 1907.   Fortuny kept his masterful pleating a trade secret, and was able to obtain a patent for the design in 1909.  These dresses were stored by coiling them in a small box.  When the pleates disappeared from wear, the dress would get sent back to Fortuny’s atelier for re-pleating.






The influence of Greek sculpture is pretty obvious.  Yet Fortuny loved to travel and incoporated influences from various cultures into single ensembles or dresses.  Exotic, orientalist themes are present, like kimono sleeves.  His North African travels were always focused around documenting customs related to dress and photography. Fortuny also painted designs onto voided velvet scarves, which were then draped over his dresses to look like Indian saris.


Fortuny was originaly from Granada, Spain.  He moved to Venice, where he operated his business.  The Plazzo Orfei the location of the main workshops.  He also had smaller textile printing locations on the nearby island of Giudecca.  Italian influences are also scene in his garments, like the beautiful drawstring closures and embelishments trimmed with Venetian glass beads.




He also created textile patterns based on traditional Italian paintings.  These prints included were on cotton and velvets.  Many of the designs, like the melagrana design, are still available from the Fortuny company.




The operations soon expanded to paper and paints under the name Societa Anonima Fortuny.  The gorgeous logo (below) was taken from sketchbook for Jacopo Bellini a 15th century Venetian painter that also designed textiles.



The clothes really speak for themselves, but gained a lot of attention in their heyday as well.  Vogue stated in 1912 that Fortuny was  “an artist who paints fabrics” and in 1923  “a great artist, with exquisite textiles as his medium”.  I couldn’t agree more!


All images are courtesy of The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute.  The exhibit Fortuny Y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy runs until March 30th, 2013.

December 17th, 2012

Fabric Labels from The Stieg Collection

Labels provide a wealth of information about a garment.  They are the signature of a brand or designer.  They provide fiber content, instructions on how to care for the garment, the company of manufacture, and more.  These small little tags on the inside of garments also record information about the era in which they were made.  The Stieg Collection has some really interesting labels.

Aside from the beautiful “Custom Original – Utah Tailoring Mills” label in each of the garments, there are so many others.  Many of these labels tell the story of fabric.  Textile mills also used to produce their own labels, and provided them to designers and manufacturers to include in the finished garment.  Today, I wanted to take a closer look at a few from The Stieg Collection.


Alaskine by Staron.  Labels from The Stieg Collection.  Image courtesy of The Baum School of Art.
  • Staron – Alaskine: This was a new discovery for me.  There are several garments with this small, narrow label.  It’s a caramel color with black, bold capital letters  Each of the garments has a beautiful, reflective surface similar to shantung.  Shantung usually refers to silk fabric and has a shiny surface with uneven horizontal slubs in the yarns.  This fabric has a more regular surface than shantung, and kept it’s shape quite well.
Staron was a silk manufacturer in Saint Etienne, France.  It was started in 1867 by Pierre Staron, and started producing ribbons and trim.  In the 1920s, Staron produced a specialty jersey for Elsa Schiaparelli called Jerserelli.  Pierre Staron’s son, Henri, used ribbon manufacturing techniques to make beautiful silk fabrics.  Staron became a favorite of major couture houses including Dior, Balmain, and Balenciaga.


Staron advertisement illustrated by Claude Bonin, 1947.  Image courtesy of HPrints

In 1956, Staron started to produce Alaskine.  It was formally trademarked in 1960.  Alaskine is a blend of (35%) silk and (65%) worsted wool.  It keeps it’s form and reflects light so elegantly.  Dior used Alaskin for it’s first trapeze dress, and the fabric became a staple for evening wear in the 1960s.

(To read more about Staron, please visit this link.)





  • Onondaga: An old favorite silk manufacturer of mine!  The Onondaga Silk Company was founded in 1918, and began expanding almost immediately.  By 1933, it had acquired smaller mills in New Bedford, Syracuse, New York, and Easton, PA.  (To read more about the mill in Easton, please read my previous post)

The Onondaga Silk Company created stunning prints that were used by many fashionable couturiers and designers.  They produced a wide range of fabrics, including velvets, plain weave silks, jacquard, and eventually produced printed rayon.  They are most noted for the American Artist Series in the 1940s.

Onondaga Silk Company advertisement, 1948.  Image courtesy of HPrints.


Ultimately, the mill had difficulty competing with the quality and price of synthetic fabrics, like rayon.  It operated throughout the 1970s with difficulty.  The mill was closed in 1981.

As you can see from the image above, Onondaga produced beautiful, complexly woven fabrics.  (To read more about the American Artist Series, please visit this link)


  • Lesur:  The Pittsburgh Post Gazette declared Jacques Lesure the “world’s number 1 arbiter of woolen textile fashions” in 1953.  It was difficult for me to find much about the history of the mill, but Lesur produced sumptuous woolens.  In the same article, he was praised for “city tweeds” which were described as follows:
“We call them tweed because of their nubby texture, but the fascinating abstract patterns, the intricate cross weaves, and the subtle color mixtures are typically French.”
The image above is a great illustration of the quote.  You can see the texture in the fabric, and interesting color combinations.  Lesur made wool chiffon and other innovations with such a coarse fiber.  He later Introduced Orlon Sayelle, a combination of acrylic and wool that produced a lightweight fabric.
Lesur advertisement, 1949.  Image courtesy of HPrints
The labels for Lesur textiles are pretty swanky, too.  They have a small rendering of the firm and a serial number.
(To read more on Lesur, please visit this link and this link, too)


  • Pomezia Textiles was incorporated in the US in 1952 and dissolved in 1997.  The US branch operated out of New York City, and imported the woven cotton from Italy.  Again, this was a bit tricky to locate, but an article from a 1961 edition of the New York Herald Statesman describes the masterful weaving by the company:

“And the greatest joy of these costumes is in their absolutely wonderful summer fabrics: fabulous woven figured cottons, some in calico-like mosaic patterns; textures Pomezia cotton in shadow checks and overchecks that could pass for tweed.  Italian Pomezia in sharkskin weave, lushest in a black raspberry hue called rosee; even cotton jersey.”

The article is actually describing the designs of Sara Ripault for Herbert Sondheim.   A few of her designs are featured, but so much attention is paid to the fabric.  Her garments are praised as cosmopolitan in bright colored “tweed” that is actually cotton by Pomezia.




I have to agree, these cottons are nubby and wonderful.  It’s difficult to believe they are cotton – but they are.  Does anyone out there know more about Pomezia Cottons?  If so, please comment below!

To read more about Pomezia cotton, please visit this link.

All images of labels are courtesy of The Baum School of Art.


November 18th, 2012

Significant Others: Sonia & Robert Delaunay

During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I started reading Significant Others: Creativity & Intimate Partnership. This book is a series of essays that explores the relationships of great artists.  It is an attempt to understand how gender, creativity, and partnership influence art.  Writing and painting take place in a sort of isolation, the privacy of a studio or home.  But what happens when to great writers or artists form a relationship?  How does this collaboration that happens behind closed doors affect the creative process? Can they both be geniuses?  Or is on person just an enabler of genius?


Sonia and Robert Delaunay.  Image courtesy of Penny Fabricart


I immediately started with chapter two, Living Simultaneously: Sonia and Robert Delaunay.  This couple interested me several years ago.  When I taught in LA, I introduced the concept of synesthesia to my students to stimulate their creativity.  I can’t couldn’t help but wonder if artist and fashion designer Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) had synesthesia.  Sonia, along with her husband, painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), developed a color theory called simultaneity – the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side.  She also referred to her garments from the 1920s as robe poemes, or dress poems.


1 sonia delaunay, skirt, tissu simultane #186
Sonia Delaunay.  Skirt, Tissu simultané no. 186, France, ca. 1926; block printed wool jersey.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.


The essay by Whitney Chadwick really puts the time period and the relationship between these two creative forces into perspective.  The 1910s were years dominated by the search for modernity in all its forms.  This was as a decade when “the new” was pursued in all areas: the fashionable ideal began to relax, art became more abstract, and urban life allowed ideas and theories to circulate easily.  Paris was one of the great urban capitals of this decade, and the city where Sonia and Robert met in 1908.
Rhythm by Robert Delaunay, 1912.  Image courtesy of wikipaintings.


Both were painters and influenced each other greatly.  Each exhibited their work in galleries, and actively participated in the art scene during the time.  Robert was also interested in the academic aspects of art, and later developed theories to explain his work.  However, in 1909 Sonia switched mediums and began creating quilts, embroideries, and clothing.


3 sonia delaunay, design c53
Sonia Delaunay.  Design C53, France, 1924; gouache and pencil.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.


What I find so interesting is that, despite completely different media and approaches, the Delaunays created similar works.  It seems to me that their relationship was mutually productive and enriching.  Sonia would create the “fabric” of their home environment: clothing, curtains, lampshades, quilts and Robert would paint and theorize about their methods of creation.  They each contributed to inspiring the other.  This is mostly because while they had similar goals, they had different perspectives.  Chadwick explains:

“However indebted Robert may have been to Sonia’s more spontaneous and uninhibited expression of color – of she to his years of studying and analyzing form – they both understood their sources quite differently.” 



Simultaneous Windows on the City, 1912, by Robert Delaunay,


Robert’s approach to creating and painting was very scientific.  He constantly sought out theories and justifications for his use of color and form.  Sonia was able to translate sensations into creative form very easily because of her training, but never sought to formally explain her art.


7 sonia delaunay, design 951bis
Sonia Delaunay.  Design 951bis, fabric samples, France, 1929; printed silk.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.


The reading sent me on a spiral of looking up each of their works.  Their use of color and form is similar, yet distinct.  I find it so interesting to see how their work obviously parallels.  They both shared the aesthetic vision of simultaneity.  Where they differed was their ideal audience.  Robert wanted to remain an academic painter in the salon, while Sonia believed art should be accessible to everyone and took it to the street.


Circular Forms (Formes circulaires), 1930. Oil on canvas, 50 3/4 x 76 3/4 inches (128.9 x 194.9 cm). Image courtesy of  the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection  49.1184
8 sonia delaunay, design 1317
Sonia Delaunay.  Design 1317, working drawing, France, 1934; colorprint, pencil, and ink on paper.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.
Rhythme: Robert Delaunay, 1938. Image by SandrineT, 28 April 2009 August 2010 (Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris) Image courtesy of Tom Clark.
9 sonia delaunay, scarf
Sonia Delaunay.  Scarf, produced by Liberty’s of London, France, ca. 1967; printed silk voile.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.
I think the difference in perspective and desired audience allowed the Delaunays relationship to remain positive.  Instead of directly competing with each other, they inspired one another.  They created a stimulating and creative environment.  They were both able to express themselves though diverse media, and somehow blend them together.  A great example of this domestic and creative harmony is the image below.  It’s a portrait of Tristan Tzara, painted by Robert, wearing one of Sonia’s scarves.


Portrait of Tristan Tzara by Robert Delaunay, 1923.  Image courtesy of  Wearable Art.


October 16th, 2012

The Importance of Museums, Libraries, & Friends

Today’s post is filled with gratitude for three of my favorite things: friends, libraries, and museums.  I never tire of good company and things that stimulate the mind.  Thankfully, I never seem to be lacking any of these!  I’ve been writing a lot about collaboration between creative people in the 1940s recently: Marcel Vertès, Wesley Simpson, and John Little.  My dear friend Lizzie Bramlett collaborated with me for this post.  She read the aforementioned posts and sent me these images from the January 1946 edition of American Fabrics:


January 1946 edition of American Fabrics.  Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.

American Fabrics was a trade magazine.  It focused on the all of the interesting aspects of the American textile industry: artist collaborations, fashion designers, manufacturers, industrial uses of fabric, automobile interiors, and furniture.  It was an oversized periodical, sort of like W Magazine of today, and featured lavish artwork and real textile swatches.  I was first introduced to this magazine at the FIT library.  Seeing artwork paired with real textiles filled me with joy and excitement.  I literally couldn’t stop looking at the magazines.  I spent hours and hours paging through volumes of these precious magazines.  It was endlessly entertaining, and all for free!  (Libraries are really good sources for free entertainment.  You can rent movies, cds, and books with your card.  All you have to do is fill out a form and return the items on time.)


January 1946 edition of American Fabrics.  Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.

The article that Lizzie sent me is about the same Marcel Vertès print in my pervious post that is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.  Here is what the article says:

“I was bowled over when I saw what American fabric and dress designers did with museum objects as inspiration” . . . from an article by Cora Carlyle in Women’s Reporter

“One of the most exciting fashion events of 1945 was undoubtedly the descent of 22 famous designers on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in search of design inspiration.  When the finished fashions were show to the public, it was obvious that the designers had unearthed a pot of gold.  Combing the rooms and archives of the Museum, they had come away with sketch pads crowded to the edges with precious ideas.

Thus they glamorized fabric and fashion in the finest sense of the word, and on the highest level.  The demonstration contributed materially to the fashion industry . . . to the public . . . to the Museum.  It delineated the living qualities of Museum art in practical form.  It educated the public to an appreciation of art as it can be applied to everyday living.

So let’s go to the museums more often . . . let’s encourage our designers to closer rapport between art and industry . . . let’s have art IN industry . .  . to the mutual benefit of both.  Over $780,000,000 worth of design ideas are waiting to be tapped.  Let’s profit by the world’s great art in museums.

(I couldn’t agree more!!!!!!!!!!)


January 1946 edition of American Fabrics.  Image courtesy of Lizzie Bramlett.

Vertès was inspired by the Flemish Angel painting above, which he turned into a textile print  for Wesley Simpson, used by Hattie Carnegie for a dress.


Marcel Vertès textile design for for Wesley Simpson, 1944.  Used for dress design by Hattie Carnegie.  Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 All of these amazing things are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This museum lists a suggested donation, but you can contribute as little or as much as you want.  I always give something – as much as I can afford – because I want it’s doors to stay open as long as possible.
Like the American Fabrics article suggests, we can profit from the resources around us.  Libraries, museums, the internet, good friends, mentors – they are all sources of inspiration.  The key is to recognize these resources, apply them to everyday life – and show your support!

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