Part of an iconic collection of designs known as the Americana Prints, It, with its typographic subject and nod to cubism, represents a conscious shift away from traditional French silk design. French manufacturers had long dominated the silk industry, while American silk producers got by hiring artisans to merely copy French designs. Americana Prints intended to challenge that system. As the name of the collection suggests, the designs were meant to be patriotic, but in a less traditional sense, as they referenced jazz and urban life and evoked a general sense of movement and energy.
Americana Prints was the brainchild of Kneeland “Ruzzie” Green, who also designed It and a few other text-based patterns for the collection. As an Art Director for Stehli Silks, Green saw firsthand the prevalence of uninspired, watered down French copies on the American silk market. That troublesome trend, and a trip to the 1925 Paris Exposition (in which the United States chose not to participate), seem to have inspired Green to put together a defiantly American collection.
In an article in The American Silk Journal in 1925, Green expressed his frustration and the goals of Americana Prints:
“The confessed purpose of Americana Prints is to capture all that is truly American and distinctively American and write it into designs which shall be beautiful and national. After all, we know of no other way to father authentic art. The Frenchman knows that he is not likely to turn out a good thing if he scorns the images which are in his blood and tries to sell to his countrymen a trumped up representation of another spirit and atmosphere. Similarly American artists can make no headway by copying the evidence of the French psychosis.”1
Some of the Americana Prints featured direct references to American life, like Manhattan by Clayton Knight. Others were simply inspired by a truly American sense of ingenuity, like in Edward Steichen’s patterns, which were based on photographs of everyday objects and the shadows they created. All of the Americana Prints took a very intentional divergence away from traditional aesthetics associated with silk.
Carly Lewis is currently earning an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons. She has a B.S. in Textile Design from Philadelphia University and is focusing her studies on gender issues in regard to textile design practices in the 20th century.