The maker and designer of this 1950s American wallpaper are unknown, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome. Pineapples, chickens and coffee pots mingle happily with martini glasses, menus and big tuna fish. An assertive group of cherries, lemons and limes reoccur frequently, and a self-satisfied sea lion balances a cocktail on his nose. The whole scene is set against a pink background, with blue splotches and red, green and blue triangles framing the animals, fruits and cocktail accessories.
According to Lencek and Bosker in Off the Wall, suburb-dwellers in the 1950s used wallpaper as “celebrations of middle-class domesticity” and “yardsticks by which residents measure their resemblance to the prototypical…model of the ideal family…” In this wallpaper, the family has distilled activities that occur within the home into simple objects. Usually hung in functional rooms rather than rooms for entertaining guests, the design of this paper seems equally appropriate for a kitchen or bar area.
Judging by the particular objects represented on this paper, it looks like the family who would have hung it was having a pretty good time. Martinis garnished with fruit followed by a meal of chicken or fish and after-dinner coffee does not seem like a bad way to spend the evening. Especially if a sea lion who drinks cocktails appears as a guest.
See this work on view beginning December 12 in the Immersion Room, an opening exhibition that features selected wallcoverings projected onto the walls at full scale and an interactive design table where visitors can create their own.
Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.