Hella Jongerius Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection

Release Date: 
Monday, November 15, 2004

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Hella Jongerius Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection”

Dutch designer Hella Jongerius will guest curate an exhibition of samplers and related objects in the third collection rotation in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, on view March 4 through Sept. 4, 2005.

“Hella Jongerius Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection” showcases a select group of samplers from the museum’s collection of over 1,000 samplers from Great Britain, Europe and the Americas, and related objects from all four curatorial departments and the library, including embroidery tools, embroidery design drawings, wallcoverings featuring embroidery motifs, and penmanship and needlework books.

Jongerius is intrigued by samplers, which embody the concepts of process, trial and error, order, repetition, memory, hand craftsmanship and language—ideas that the designer explores in her own works. Inspired by the sampler collection, Jongerius has designed original textiles for the exhibition, which incorporate motifs from the museum’s sampler collection and pairs the craftsmanship of embroidery with contemporary needle-punch techniques. Her personal approach will also be evident in the innovative installation, which will display many of the objects in their original museum storage containers, a reference to the museum’s process of preserving and organizing its collection.

Samplers began in Europe as a medium to record and exchange embroidery designs and techniques for later reference and inspiration. Early samplers were often carefully kept from one generation to the next as a repository of skills, knowledge and design. Following the publication of the first pattern books in the early 16th century, the purpose of the sampler shifted from a means of keeping records to an exercise in domestic skills for school-aged girls. A schoolgirl’s sampler often began with embroidering the letters of the alphabet, as shown in the ca. 1800 sampler by 11-year-old Lucy Lathrop featured in the exhibition.

Works featured in the exhibition include objects related to the creation of the samplers, such as a Chinese export lacquer sewing box, ca. 1830; a tape measure and case from late 18th-century France and an enameled English etui, fitted with sewing and writing implements, from 1770-1780. Drawings for embroidery designs, guides and instruction manuals for completing various needlework designs, a book on penmanship and other printed material related to needlework will also be on view.

Many of the aesthetic and sociological aspects of samplers resonate for Hella Jongerius as a woman designer, and relate to her own body of work. The codified, repeated vocabulary of stitches and forms found in samplers connects to Jongerius’s creation of her distinct design vocabulary, formed by her learning experiences with materials and techniques and the working process of trial and error. Jongerius’s work dates from 1993 to 2004, and can be found in the collections of museums worldwide. A member of Droog, the influential Dutch design collective, she is widely published and is recognized as one of the leading contemporary designers today.

“Hella Jongerius Selects” is the third in a series of small one-gallery exhibitions featuring selections from the museum’s permanent collection of over 250,000 objects, which are international in scope and span over 23 centuries. The ongoing exhibition series in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery will include installations organized by the museum’s curators, as well as those curated by guest interpreters in collaboration with the museum’s staff. Guest interpreters, chosen from a variety of fields including artists, journalists, authors and designers, are invited to explore the collection and develop a personal thesis supported by a selection of collection objects.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions, and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt–granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper–as part of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of Smithsonian since 1967.