Weaver and textile designer Dorothy Liebes had twin obsessions: texture and color, both exemplified by this sample from the museum’s collection.
Liebes’ textiles were known for her innovative use of yarns of different materials and weights to create textured surfaces. She also employed inventive weave structures to create texture, as seen in this sample, where the woven, raised pile squares create a soft, sculptural surface to the fabric. The staggered rows of pile also constitute an integral part of the lively design. The use of looped pile was a staple in Liebes’ design repertoire. She used it a multitude of ways both in her custom handwoven upholstery and curtain fabrics as well as her designs for commercial applications such as bedspreads.
For Liebes, color was a “universal language.” She was well known for her sharp and daring, yet effective use of bold colors. Growing up in San Francisco, she was inspired by the bright colors, especially reds, she saw in Chinese and Mexican art and garments. An intense red is the focal point in the museum’s sample. The red pile squares stand out against the predominantly dark blue background. At the same time, the contrast is softened as the red pile is fully integrated into the fabric through the use of the same red in the ground weave. As Liebes said, color “speaks best in combination.”
Liebes believed “we are born with a love of color, [but] not color taste!” Thus it was up to the designer, “the purveyor and creator of ideas” to find ways to use color successfully. Good design for Liebes was an effective synthesis of color, form, pattern, and texture. The museum’s sample is a superb illustration of what this meant in practice.
Maleyne M. Syracuse is a candidate for a Masters Degree in the History of Decorative Arts at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum/Parsons New School for Design and is President of the Board of Directors of Peters Valley Craft Center.
She recently retired as a Managing Director in the Investment Bank at JP Morgan and continues to work part-time as an independent professional in corporate finance and investment management.