How does a critic design textiles? With a typewriter, of course! Bernard Rudofsky was one of design’s great polymath thinkers. The exhibitions he organized in mid-century New York provoked designers to look at the world in new ways. Trained as an architect in his native Moravia (present day Austria), he was not licensed to practice architecture in the United States. He went on to have an enormously influential career as a curator, writer, critic, exhibition designer, and even fashion designer.
Rudofsky’s screen-printed textile “Fractions” was part of a series of fabrics called the Stimulus Collection, commissioned by Schiffer Prints in 1949. Joining a group of well-known artists and designers who had never created textile patterns before, Rudofsky used his typewriter as a design tool, exploiting the regular width of standard typewriter letters to create fabrics gridded off with evenly sized, mechanically made units. Other contributors to the Stimulus series included George Nelson, Ray Eames, Paul McCobb, Edward Wormley, and Salvador Dali.
Born in Moravia in 1905, Rudofsky trained as an architect and traveled widely during his youth in the 1920s and 30s, spending time across Europe, the Middle East, and South America before settling in New York City in 1941. Rudofsky’s travels exposed him to a rich variety of indigenous design practices. Producing copious sketches and photographs of the world around him, he marveled at the native intelligence of villages, buildings, and artifacts created by builders and makers attuned to the local climate and the natural forms and rhythms of human habitation.
Rudofksy’s early travels inspired a lifetime of incisive books and exhibitions that critiqued both modernist theory and popular culture. His exhibition Are Clothes Modern? (Museum of Modern Art, 1944) ridiculed the incessant cycle of Western fashion, which for centuries had forced the human body into shapes that were both unhealthy and uncomfortable. Also at MoMA, Rudofsky organized the influential exhibition Architecture without Architects (1964), which celebrated vernacular modes of building and dwelling. One of his last exhibitions, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, was held at Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 1980.
We are proud to include in our collection this iconic work by one of design’s great minds, a man who helped museums rethink the way we look at the landscape of people and things.