Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product”
In fall 2007, Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present “Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product,” a collection-based exhibition of sample books and other formats that contain examples of a technique or product. The exhibition will examine the historical and contemporary use of sampling formats as salesmen’s tools, marketing devices and archival records of designs and techniques, as well as objects and documents that demonstrate the connection between the sample and its final use. On view in the ground floor gallery from Nov. 9, 2007 through April 6, 2008, the exhibition is organized by Lucy Commoner, head of conservation, with Matilda McQuaid, deputy curatorial director and head of the textiles department, and Kimberly Randall. Research assistance provided by Phyllis Dillon.
“Drawing from all four collecting departments of the museum and the library, this exhibition illustrates the wide-ranging importance of sampling formats in design history and furthers the museum’s mission to raise awareness about the cultural relevance of historic and contemporary design,” said Director Paul Warwick Thompson.
Used since the 18th century, sampling formats provide detailed insights into the manufacturing processes, technological innovations and design tastes of their respective eras. The beautifully composed sample books served multiple purposes, from quality control measures for printers and dyers in the textile industry, to archives of all the patterns produced by a manufacturer in a given year, to retail vehicles for salesmen. In commercially competitive fields during the 18th and 19th centuries, sample books were highly valuable and carefully guarded against espionage attacks by manufacturers. During the 20th century, sampling formats became a practical means of disseminating color palettes for each season.
“Multiple Choice” will feature sampling formats from a variety of fields, including textiles, fashion accessories, wallcoverings, ceramics, decorative arts and industrial design. The exhibition will showcase the rich and varied history of sampling formats and present several examples of the historical precedents of sampling formats, including the model book and the pattern book—both of which were used to keep records of motifs for later use in textiles and other decorative arts.
Featured in the exhibition are sample books of wallcoverings, including a 1959 Le Corbusier sample book; woven and printed textiles; ribbons, lace and button sample books; sample plates, with border and color choices; and drawings and prints showing design alternatives.
A highlight of the exhibition will be selected finished products that illustrate the connection between the sample and its final use, including a 14th-century textile similar to a design from an artist’s model book of the era; a 16th-century needle lace border based on a textile pattern book of the same period; and a man’s 19th-century embroidered waistcoat shown with a related salesman’s embroidered sample.
“Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product” is made possible in part by The Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the Getty Foundation. Additional support is provided by Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
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.
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, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. 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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