I think that at some time or another I’ve shown photos of the skirts in today’s post. But after showing these on Instagram I realized I needed to write a little about artist Saul Steinberg and this line of skirts. You may know Steinberg from the many covers he made for The New Yorker. Lesser known were the textiles he designed in the 1950s.
Starting in 1946 Steinberg designed a line of home decorator fabrics and matching wallpapers for Piazza Prints. It was supposed to be an exclusive contract, with Steinberg designing only for Piazza, but somehow he entered into agreements with at least two other firms. One was another maker of home decorating fabrics, but the other was a producer of dress goods. Probably because he was in violation of his contract with Piazza, Steinberg’s name does not appear on the garment weight goods.
All of this information was researched for the book and exhibition Artists’ Textiles: 1940 – 1975. The information about the two “illegal” lines was uncovered in the correspondence between Steinberg and Piazza representatives. Piazza did not care about the dress goods fabrics, as they were not their competition. They were upset at the other lines, as it was a competing company located just blocks from them in the garment district.
The dress goods are all, as far as I know, labeled Regulated Cotton “Never Misbehaves”. Also included is the name of the print. This modern day cowboy goes to Vegas scene is titled “Tin Horn Holiday”. I know nothing at all about that company but some of the fabrics have been found in 1950s JC Penney catalogs. Like many of the fabrics in the past, yardage was available to both home sewers and to manufacturers of clothing.
The Steinberg prints are pretty easy to recognize, as most of them have some features in common. One end of the selvage, which is the bottom of the print, has a border that is not part of the narrative. Above you can see random lines along with scribbles that sort of look like words, but don’t actually say anything. Above that is the story, in this case of a cowboy and bandit, two cat-eyed ladies in a big ole car, palm tree street lights, and a resort casino sign.
Parts of the motif are carried upward into the background. Here you see lots of little cars, probably traveling in for a holiday. As was common, this print came in at least five different colorways.
This print is, I think, called Casbah. Steinberg had spent time in North Africa, and he made a similar drawing during his visit. This print follows the pattern of hem border, the main story, and then the palm tree motif repeated near the top.
This print also came in white, with red, gold, and blue accents.
This print had the selvage removed during its construction, so I can only guess at a name. How about Cuckoo? And I love that goat so much.
In making this skirt, the sewer used the bottom border to make the waistband. A complete version has sea turtles at the hem. I’ve seen this print with a black background with bright colors, and someday this skirt will be replaced with that version.
Instagram user gday321 posted a photo of himself wearing a cabana set – swim trunks and matching shirt – made from this print in white with bright colors. He found his set pictured in a 1958 Sears catalog. I’ve seen this print referred to as Calypso, though I do not know if that is the actual name.
This last print has been identified as a Saul Steinberg design, and it does look like his work. It is a bit different in that the background is not filled in with a smaller motif.
All the Steinberg prints seem to have travel based themes, or at least travel destinations for American tourists. There are several more besides the ones in my collection. An English fox hunting scene has the fox sitting on a “No Hunting” sign while surrounded by hunters on horseback and their hounds. A Florida themed skirt called “Cypress Gardens” has water skiers and speed boats. There are two prints that feature trains, “Paddington Station” and one known as simply “Train.” One of the most elaborate designs is a scene in an opera house. There is one that features a roller coaster in an amusement park. There is one that looks like Innsbruck, with a procession of antique fire engines, and another that looks like Switzerland with people in folk costume and a Saint Bernard dog with his little cask of rum. There could be others, as some of these are rarely seen.
I’m thinking Steinberg must have made more than a little pocket change from these fabrics, as some of them were obviously very popular, especially Tin Horn Holiday. Hopefully more research will be made and more details will come to light about these fantastic fabrics.
Artists’ Textiles 1940 – 1976, by Geiff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Phelp is a great book. Read it.