Hewitt Sisters Collect
Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt were the granddaughters of industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In 1897, the sisters established a museum within Cooper Union and curated its core collection. It was conceived as “a practical working laboratory” where students and designers could go to be inspired by actual objects in the four collecting categories then known as Drawings and Prints, Decorative Arts, Wallcoverings, and Textiles. These departments and the objects the Hewitt sisters collected both in the United States and throughout Europe became the basis for Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection.
With an emphasis on participation, objects could be touched, moved, sketched, photographed, and measured and the museum was open to “anyone who wanted to use it as a place to work and learn.” In galleries that were formerly Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie’s bedrooms, the Hewitt sisters’ collecting philosophy are celebrated with objects they gave to the museum, or which were acquired under their guidance, ranging from prints, drawings, and textiles to furniture, metalwork, and birdcages.
new works on view
The exhibition has been recently updated to include an installation of decorative tiles and metalwork from the permanent collection. The museum’s decorative tile collection dates from the early thirteenth century and represents many countries of origin. Included in the installation are works from important designers and design centers, such as the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Carol Janeway, and Talavera de la Reina in Spain. Metalwork in the collection ranges from Italian Baroque gates to Japanese samurai sword mountings to Art Nouveau wrought iron grilles. Notable designers include Hector Guimard and Christopher Dresser.
Meet the Hewitts
Interested in learning more about the Hewitt sisters?
Dive into the multi-part Meet the Hewitts series to explore the upbringing, education, adventures and legacy of the Hewitt family members.
Hewitt Sisters Collect is made possible by generous support from Nancy Marks.
Additional support is provided by Margery and Edgar Masinter and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.