This publication was written by Lockwood de Forest during the years of his retirement from decorating after moving permanently to Santa Barbara, California.  As he says in the preface, de Forest wrote the book for design teachers so they could teach the principles of Indian design to students, helping them generate pattern through using certain design principles that he learned during his travels through the Middle East and India. Indian patterns were illustrated by images of stencils and print outs from stencils, which students were expected to study by copying. The format of the book in a loose-leaf binder allowed students to remove pages for detailed study or add new pages of their own designs.

De Forest expressed his belief in the validity of stencils in design, and for teaching design to students, in an unpublished manuscript “Definition of Terms,” in the Archives of American Art, “The art of stencil cutting is one of our finest arts, one of the very best methods of training to give handicraft skill, which is what we all need so much.” [i]A number of the stencil prints in the book recall the patterns on the walls and woodwork in Cooper Hewitt’s Teak Room, just as the photographs of Indian carved wood geometric and organic designs in the book are similar to the pattern of the Jali Panel from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, also in the exhibition.

Plate X Indian stencil for cutting thin brass or foil

Plate X Indian stencil for cutting thin brass or foil

Illustration of Design, Stencil Print

Plate XIV Indian stencil for cutting thin brass or foil and a print showing how it may compose an all-over design

Indianapolis Sandstone jali-3side1

Jali Panel, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Gift of Frederick M. Ayres, William C. Bobbs, Mrs. Linnaeus C. Boyd, Mrs. William H. Coburn, Fred C. Dickson, James I. Dissette, Mrs. Samuel Dowden, Charles W. Fairbanks, Arthur B. Grover, J. Irving Holcomb, Mrs. Jacquelin S. Holliday, Louis C. Huesmann, Mrs. Henry Kahn, Mrs. Ernest Knefler, Hugh McKennan Landon, Ralph A. Lemcke, Mrs. Louis H. Levey, Carl H. Lieber, Dr. Carleton B. McCulloch, Edward L. McKee, Volney T. Malott, Walter L. Milliken, Meredith Nicholson, Gustave Schnull, Delavan Smith, George G. Snowden, Mrs. Frank D. Stalnaker, Mrs. Clarence Stanley, Miss Lucy M. Taggart, Henry M. Talbott, Booth Tarkington, Ernst M. Wiles, Evans Woollen, 15.194

[i] Quoted in Robert Mayer, Lockwood de Forest, Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India, Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2008, p. 173.

This book will be featured in the exhibition Passion for the Exotic, Lockwood de Forest, Frederic Church, beginning December 12, 2014.

Gail S. Davidson is the Curator of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and co-curator of the Passion for the Exotic exhibition.


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