Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces—The Eugene & Clare Thaw Gift”
In the fifth exhibition in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery, Cooper-Hewitt will present Eugene and Clare Thaw’s collection of staircase models—the largest known holding of these works outside of France—which will be accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection. “Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces—The Eugene & Clare Thaw Gift” is the first museum exhibition in the United States focused on staircase models. The exhibition will be on view from Oct. 13 through June 3, 2007.
“Donating this collection to Cooper-Hewitt ensures that a new and broader audience will be exposed to these staircase models and enables the first significant research and scholarship on these objects to be published in English,” stated the renowned collector and retired dealer Thaw.
The majority of the staircase models are from 19th-century France and were produced in the meritocratic system for craftsmen known as “Compagnonnage.” The staircase models represent exercises in technical virtuosity used by apprentices to demonstrate their knowledge of cantilevering, balance, forms of rotation, styles of balusters and other architectural details. In their combination of design and structural, architectural and cabinetry skills, the staircase models and accompanying drawings demonstrate the relationship between formal training, modeling and technical mastery. More than two dozen staircase models, a selection of technical elevation drawings and related illustrated instructional manuals from the National Design Library at Cooper-Hewitt will be on view.
Highlights include a few examples of models made by apprentice carpenters, such as a stairway turning at right angles. The exhibition also will include classic models made by experienced master carpenters, such as the elaborate double revolution stairway, a spiral stairway with two revolutions and a domed model with a double staircase.
“Eugene and Clare Thaw’s significant gift enriches the museum’s holdings in the product design and decorative arts department. The staircase models represent an important movement in design and craft and wonderfully illustrate the connection between the museum’s collection of architectural design works to objects of design and craftsmanship,” added Sarah Coffin, curator of 17th- and 18th-century decorative arts and head of the product design and decorative arts department, who’s organizing the exhibition with Thaw.
“Made to Scale” is the fifth in a series of small one-gallery exhibitions in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery. Guest interpreters, including artists, journalists, authors and designers, are invited to develop themed exhibitions and create installations interpreted in their own voice. Previous guest curators have included novelist, design critic and public radio host Kurt Andersen; innovative Dutch designer Hella Jongerius; and Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.
Eugene Thaw serves on the board of trustees of the Morgan Library, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is the former president of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Art Dealers Association of America. He lives in Sante Fe, N.M. with his wife Clare.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a 20-page illustrated brochure, made possible by the Getty Foundation.
About the Museum
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 the Smithsonian since 1967.
As the design authority of the United States, Cooper-Hewitt programs and exhibitions demonstrate how design shapes culture and history—past, present and future. The museum presents design along a historic continuum, balancing contemporary and historic concerns and using 21st-century perspectives to pinpoint themes of enduring interest to design across all centuries. Holdings encompass one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, tracing the history of design through more than 250,000 objects spanning 24 centuries, from the Han Dynasty (200 B.C.) to the present. The museum’s collections are organized in four curatorial departments: product design and decorative arts; drawings, prints and graphic design; textiles; and wallcoverings.
Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $12; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $9. Cooper-Hewitt members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8300 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.
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