Tag Archives: design

Shaping Craft + Design at Black Mountain College

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, as in the case of Black Mountain College.  One of the last places one might expect to find a progressive thinking school, and in many ways the heir of the Bauhaus, would be a small Appalachian town.  But in 1933, the college was formed using the principles of progressive education as envisioned by educator John Dewey.

It was to be a school where students were not to be saddled with the worry of grades, but instead were encouraged to find their own way through a study of the liberal arts.  Central to this study was the incorporation of art and craft, so much so that Black Mountain  is often mistakenly thought to have been an art school.

Also in 1933, Hitler and the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus, and so artist and teacher Josef Albers and his wife, weaver Anni Albers, were invited to join the faculty at Black Mountain.   Until the school closed in 1957 it was a hotbed of creativity, with the faculty and workshop teachers a who’s who of modern art and craft..

Today the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center works to preserve the legacy of the college.  Located in downtown Asheville, it is a little gem of a museum which features changing exhibitions dedicated to the work that came out of the college.  Just ended was a showing of some of the crafts produced by the college’s teachers and students.

The cover of the exhibition catalog, shown above, is a weaving by Don Page, Orange Fabric with Changing Threads.  It, and the piece below, Delicate Fabric with Stretched Threads, were made while Page was a student under Anni Albers at Black Mountain in the late 1930s.

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This weaving was made by student Lore Kadden Lindenfeld as a student at the college in the late 1940s.  Both student’s work follow Anni Alber’s insistence that form must follow function.

Above you can see a notebook of the designs from the weaving class, 1935, and a woven linen sample by Andy Oates.

This shuttle loom was an original from the black Mountain College Weaving Workshop, and has recently been restored.

Of course I was most interested in the textiles, but there were many fascinating objects from other crafts.  This hanging wire sculpture was made by artist Ruth Asawa.

Okay, I’m sorry, but I forgot to note the name and artist of this print, and I can’t figure it out from the catalog.  But I had to show it because it is so reminiscent of one of my all time favorite textile prints, A Fish Is a Fish by Ken Scott.

And finally, my new favorite chair, Lady Murasaki’s Fan Chair, by Robert Bliss.

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Print Engineering – An Example from Vera

What looks to be a huge factory printing mistake is actually the beginnings of a Vera Neumann blouse.  Find the two sleeves, the two back pieces and the front and you can see how this worked.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Vera Company decided to expand into clothing.  Using a Vera scarf as the springboard, designs were adapted into a piece of cloth from which the clothing was cut.  According to Vera’s nephew, Fred Salaff, the designs for the clothing pieces were based on a 36″ X 36″ original that Vera painted.  Her clothing designers would then take the original and manipulate it into the pieces for the garment.  I’d think that the original would have been quite similar to the front piece, which is in the lower left of the photograph.

This type of print is an engineered print.  Pucci was known for his engineered prints, as was Leonard of Paris.  The print being engineered means that each piece – the sleeves, the collar – are designed and printed to fit the pattern piece instead of being cut from an all-over design.

In addition, there were color specialists who translated the design into different color combinations.  It’s possible that this design exists in other colorways.

The fabrics were printed with large flat screens at Vera’s  Printex plant, in Ossining, New York.  They were then sent to the sewing plant, the Grafton Apparel Manufacturing Company in Grafton, West Virginia.

Here is a close-up of the neck area.  The marks show the cutters where to place the pattern pieces.  There are also registration marks on the edges of the design.  These marks were made to ensure that the different colors were aligned properly.

This cotton twill fabric came from the estate of a Vera collector in Missouri.  How she obtained it is unknown, but according to Fred Salaff, pieces like this were quite common around the Printex factory.  It could have been an end piece, or a piece with flaws, or even a sample which never made it into production.

Samples were were always produced in order to make mock ups for potential garments. They were made first for mannequins, and then were  tried on live models.

Upon close examination, the printing in the piece has a few irregularities.  It’s my guess that this is a “factory reject,” not up to the high quality expected of a Vera garment.  So somewhere along the line, either at the printing factory, or at the sewing facility, this piece was pulled from production.  How it got into the hands of the collector is just a guess, but it’s possible that employees were allowed to take these home.  It’s also possible they were sold in a factory outlet.

If anyone ever spots this print in a finished blouse, I’d love to hear about it.

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Filed under Designers, Made in the USA, Textiles, Vintage Clothing

Calder, “I Love You”, Vera

I’d love to say the the scarf pictured above is in my collection, but I’m sorry to say that it belongs to Janis, who is a scarf collector.  Before you start thinking, “Wow, that Vera ripped off Alexander Calder.”  Let me show you a close-up:

Vera and Calder were actually very close friends, and this is just one of several designs she made in homage to her friend.  I first learned of these scarves from reading what is a must-have book for Vera Neumann fans, Vera: The Life and Art of an Icon by Susan Seid.  The book tells all about the close relationship between the two artists and of their mutual respect.

My favorite story is how Calder called Vera one day to tell her he was coming over with a gift for her.  She already was a collector of his small sculpture and jewelry, so she was greatly surprised when he appeared with a 14.5 foot tall mobile.  It was installed in the yard where it was visible from one of the many large windows in her Marcel Breuer designed house.

According to  Vera: The Life and Art of an Icon, there were three Calder scarves.  You can see the original artwork for Janis’ scarf on the left and on the right is an oblong scarf in four different colorways.  After Vera made the initial design, her assistants took over and re-imagined the design in other colors.  The ones that met with Vera’s approval were put into production.

I’m still in the process of narrowing the focus of my own collection, and I’ve chosen three Vera scarves that are now for sale in my etsy store.  These are all very good designs, but just happen to be redundant in the collection.

The top two photos are copyright Janis Deverter, and the contents of the Vera book are copyright Susan Seid.  Please do not copy or repost those photos.

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Tammis Keefe, Mid Century Textile Designer

If it is true that being copied often proves one was good at her art, then Tammis Keefe was certainly good.  I’ve written about how Keefe’s designs pop up from time to time on Christmas plates and fabrics and handbags.   Unfortunately, she is usually not credited, with the exception of the current Michael Miller fabrics.  I’m really glad the Michael Miller company has done this line, as it has spread Keefe’s name past the vintage community to a larger audience.

Tammis Keefe is one of the great names of hankie and textile collecting.   She was born Margaret Thomas Keefe in 1913.  After attending art school in the mid 1930s, she worked in advertising design and as a textile print designer, designing prints for home furnishing textiles.  In the late 1940s she worked with Dorothy Wright Liebes, designing textiles for  Goodall Industries and other makers of domestic textiles.

She began designing handkerchiefs for Kimbal scarves in the late 1940s after a friend showed a gift Keefe had made for her birthday to a buyer at Lord & Taylor.  The buyer in turn showed the scarf to Kimbal, who commissioned six designs from Keefe.  Over the next years, Keefe designed hundreds of hankies for Kimbal.  Her designs are typically 1950s – full of whimsy with those great 1950s colors: pink, turquoise, gold and black.

Keefe’s designs were often inspired by her travels.  One can find Oriental, Arabian nights, and European castle themed hankies. She also did hankies featuring American cities and attractions.  Many of these hankies were like little travel guides, showing the highlights of a city that were not to be missed.   Keefe’s work also shows a love of nature and animals. Her dog and cat hankies are true 1950s classics.  Other designs to look for are her antique furniture and motifs, holidays including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and the special designs she made for the famous 21 Club in New York.  Also, hankies signed Peg Thomas are Tammis Keefe designs.

Keefe’s hankies are most prized, but look also for linens and fabrics with her signature.  Her designs for the kitchen are just as clever and fresh as her hankies.  Silk scarves with the Tammis Keefe signature are rarer, but do surface from time to time.  Even rarer are clothing items she designed for the Marlboro Shirt Company.    There are even greeting cards, published by the Irene Dash Card Company, and playing cards from Random Thoughts.

There are hundreds of Keefe designs from which to choose, as she was quite prolific, especially considering that she died in 1960 and had a relatively short career.

Update:  A very nice ebay seller, putting*ontheritz emailed some photos of Tammis Keefe hankies that came from the collection of an 85 year old woman.  Some of these I’ve never seen before.


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Historical Color Guide

I really am a sucker for old books, especially something odd or quirky, and even more especially if it has to do with fashion or design.  This recently found gem, Historical Color Guide, published in 1938 by Elizabeth Burris-Meyer, fits the bill perfectly.  Burris-Meyer was the Dean of the School for Fashion Careers, which I assume was the Tobé-Coburn School for Fashion Careers.   The book was meant to be a guide to color schemes for decorators and designers of all types.  For each of the 30 different color schemes, she gives a bit of historical reasoning.

The Egyptian colors were all mineral in origin – red from haemalite, blue from copper, green from powdered malachite – and so on.  Note the un-scientific names given to each color!

According to Burris-Meyer, it was Josephine’s cultivated taste that inspired the colors of this era.

Soon after I found this book, I chanced upon a set of Prang Examples of Historic Ornament cards, published by Louis Prang.  Prang was established as a printer of Christmas cards, and soon branched out into other types of chromolithography.  The cards date to 1879, according to the records at Winterthur, which has some sets of these.  Louis Prang was interested in education and continued to publish items such as these cards for use in schools and in adult education.

I thought these two pages were interesting together.  I have a page on Persian Miniatures from Historical Color Guide beside a Historic Ornament card titled Arabian.  Note the similar colors.

I’ll not show every card, as some of them are very similar.  And you will need to click on each card to see an enlarged view.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities

Modern Master Original by Fuller Fabrics

It’s always fun when someone comments on a post which leads to us seeing a new chapter of a fashion story.  In this case, Vicci posted on one of the posts I’ve made about the 1955  Modern Master Original series by Fuller Fabrics.

About 20 years ago Vicci’s grandmother gave her a length of fabric, which she has kept through moving about over the years.  She finally got around to looking up the information on the selvage, which let her to The Vintage Traveler.  What she has is 8 yards of  “Pierrot and Harlequin” by Picasso, from the  Modern Master Original series by D.B Fuller & Co.   Super design, and what about those colors?!

After the first garments were designed and made by Claire McCardell, the fabrics were made available to other manufacturers and as yardage to home sewers.   Keep your eyes open for these, and remember to always check the selvages of garments too.  It’s the only way these prints are identified.

After emailing back and forth, I just found out that Vicci just moved from Asheville.  Small world!

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Tammis Keefe Tribute Fabric from Michael Miller

After looking locally and striking out, I decided to order some of the new Tammis Keefe Tribute fabric.   I usually do not order modern fabrics without first having seen and felt them, but I really wanted to try these, and I really, really wanted some of the Unruly Reindeer print.    As it turns out, the fabric is better than I’d anticipated.  So many modern novelty fabrics are a bit on the rough and stiff side, being used mainly for quilting and crafts, but these have a nice smooth hand and would be suitable for garments.

The owl print, called “Hoot”, will make a cute summer top.  I’d also like the birdcage print, called “Cage Free” as a blouse or a gathered shirt.   And if you love seeing such things, the original tea towel that inspired the Cage Free print is for sale in the etsy store of Callmejasper. There is also a dog print, and two cat prints, and Michael Miller just released several new prints, so I’m hoping that means there will be even more.

After all the unattributed copying of Tammis Keefe’s designs, it is so very nice seeing her work with her name attached to it.  The icing on the cake is that Michael Miller will be donating all royalties from the Tammis Keefe line to fund cancer research.  Ms. Keefe died in 1960 from cancer, and so what a fitting tribute!

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Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Sewing