Expanding Collections of US Latinx and Latin American Design: A Virtual Dialogue with Christina De León and Jorge Rivas

Dec 20, 2021

Christina De León, Associate Curator of Latino Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, began her virtual dialogue by sharing the history of the Cooper Hewitt collection. The museum was founded in 1897 by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, the granddaughters of industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The Hewitt sisters intended to create a teaching museum for students at Cooper Union. Modeling their museum after Parisian institutions, the collection focused on Europe and excluded works from Latin America. 

About five years ago, Christina was hired to fill this gap in the collection. During her presentation, Christina shared important objects she has acquired during her tenure. The first was a significant 18th-century armchair made in Mexico. The chair is modeled directly after a design from Chippendale’s Director and speaks to the exchange of design throughout the Americas during the 18th century. Continuing to showcase acquisition, Christina discussed a Chinese export porcelain barber’s basin featuring the Hapsburg eagle that was made for Spanish markets and imported to Mexico. Along with these important historic objects, Christina is building a collection of contemporary objects, including a gt2p Volcanic rock chair made of volcanic rock resin that is fired in a kiln to create a chair form.

After sharing acquisitions, Christina discussed exhibitions to which she has contributed, such as Nature by Design: Cochineal. A small, parasitic insect that feeds on the prickly pear cactus, cochineal creates a red pigment when crushed and was widely sought after during the 16th through 18th centuries. However, Christina’s exhibition took an innovative approach by examining how this historic pigment inspires 21st-century designers.

After discussing her acquisitions and exhibitions, Christina was joined in conversation by her mentor Jorge Rivas, the Denver Art Museum‘s Frederick & Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art. The two discussed how museum institutions are expanding their collection practices and the work they have done to change their respective museum’s approach to the acquisition and display of art from Latin America and by Latinx artists. 

Watch the full conversation below: 

The Decorative Arts Trust hosts virtual dialogues that feature scholars sharing and discussing their exciting new research with colleagues in the field. The hour-long Zoom program includes a lecture, scholar-to-scholar conversation, and Q&A with the program participants. 

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The Trust’s calendar of events shows upcoming virtual and in-person programs. For updates about registration openings, sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. The Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and appreciates the support of members and donors who make programming like this possible. 

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

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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