Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Awarded Prize for Excellence and Innovation for Dorothy Liebes Exhibition

Oct 6, 2022

The Decorative Arts Trust is thrilled to announce that the 2022 Prize for Excellence and Innovation will be awarded to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum for its upcoming exhibition, A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes.

On view from July 7, 2023, through February 4, 2024, A Dark, A Light, A Bright will be the first monographic exhibition of Dorothy Liebes’s work in over 50 years. The exhibition is being organized by Cooper Hewitt’s Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles, Susan Brown, and Alexa Griffith Winton, Manager of Content and Curriculum, in collaboration with the Archives of American Art.

The exhibition will reinstate Liebes’s extraordinary work within the history of modern American design and re-establish her position among the most influential American designers of the 20th century. Liebes transformed the American interior with her distinctive hand-woven textiles. Over a career that spanned four decades, she was at the forefront of design thinking, offering innovative solutions to the challenges presented by modern living. Liebes ran an eponymous studio in San Francisco, CA, her business initially focusing on handwoven work for architectural clients including Frank Lloyd Wright. She is often credited as a vital part of the California Modernist movement, and in the 1940s and 1950s she was one of the most well-known textile designers in the United States. In contrast to the neutral palette of many of her modernist contemporaries, Liebes is well known for her unexpected use of materials, vibrant color, and pattern. Liebes was a sharp businesswoman who believed that mass-produced textiles could reach wider audiences. While still retaining a handwoven appearance, Liebes worked to design power-loomed fabric in a myriad of different styles and materials. In 1957, Liebes left California and moved her studio to New York City, where she continued to work until her death in 1972.

Cooper Hewitt holds an impressive collection of Liebes textiles, and this exhibition will combine these with archival documents from the Dorothy Liebes Papers at Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, in addition to its own Henry Dreyfuss and Donald Deskey archives. Artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Arts and Design, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will help to recontextualize Liebes’s textiles. 

Cooper Hewitt was founded in 1897 by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt (the granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper), became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1967, and now occupies the landmark Carnegie Mansion on New York City’s Museum Mile. As the design museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design through its collections, exhibitions, and educational and public programs. Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection numbers 215,000 objects spanning 30 centuries, and the Design Library holds more than 80,000 volumes.

The Decorative Arts Trust Prize for Excellence and Innovation, founded in 2020, funds outstanding projects that advance the public’s appreciation of decorative art, fine art, architecture, or landscape. The Prize is awarded to a non-profit organization in the United States or abroad for a scholarly endeavor, such as museum exhibitions, print and digital publications, and online databases. Past recipients include Craft in America and the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive.

The Trust looks forward to following Cooper Hewitt’s progress on this exciting exhibition and to sharing updates with our members.

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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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