The cityscape is a natural subject for textile design—grid-based, repetitive and boldly geometric– well, at least Manhattan after the skyscraper boom of the 1920s and 30s. The Museum has numerous designs with the city as inspiration, including designs by Philip Johnson, Alexander Girard, Lydia Bush Brown, and Arthur Sanderson & Sons. (If you have a piece of Manhattan by Ruth Reeves you’d like to donate, we’d love to hear from you!)
Clayton Knight’s version was part of Stehli Silk’s Americana Prints collection, produced between 1925 and 1927. Art director Kneeland “Ruzzie” Green commissioned artists and illustrators, cartoonists and celebrities, including photographer Edward Steichen and tennis pro Helen Wallis, to create designs that captured something both distinctly American and utterly of the moment: “The skyscraper, jazz, and other modern notes of energetic America will be reflected in the designs,” (“Artists Localize Our Silk Designs,” New York Times, November 1, 1925). The article also declared Knight’s Manhattan to be the most successful design of the series, noting that “it is so modern that it suggests a view of all our skyscrapers piled up together, seen from an elevated train rounding a sharp curve.”
While most of the cityscape designs employ elongated rectangles or grids of squares reminiscent of lighted office windows at night, this example makes strong use of diagonals, as though floodlights were glancing off the facades of the buildings. The effect may show the influence of Knight’s “day job” as an illustrator of books on aviation, as well as adventure novels for boys. Active as a pilot in both World Wars, the excitement of air travel infused his work.