Entitled “Salome,” this unusual wallcovering was manufactured c.1967 by Bob Mitchell Designs and the pattern was created by the man himself. The design was much appreciated when it was originally produced, and was featured in a collection of the best of California Design curated by the Pasadena Art Museum in 1968. The pop-art inspired floral pattern is machine printed in brown, black, white and taupe. The dark brown color is flocked which adds a pleasant velvety texture to the blobby flowers scattered about the panel. What makes this wallcovering so innovative is that all this flocked floral action is printed on cork. It may sound like a strange choice of material, but cork is light, provides insulation and can even help soundproof a room. The golden-brown bark is left unadorned for substantial portions of the panel, creating additional texture and a great earthy vibe that would have been absolutely perfect in the homes of sophisticated California hippies.
The title, “Salome” is difficult to reconcile with the pattern. Art historians and Old Testament scholars will recall that it was Salome who so enchanted King Herod with a birthday dance that he offered to give her anything she asked. Salome’s mother, nursing an old grudge, convinced her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a plate! The reluctant Herod had no choice but to honor her request, and Salome went down in history as a symbol of the dangers of female seduction. Bob Mitchell’s Salome design feels fun, warm and bubbly. It’s more likely to be personified as an innocent flower child than a malicious temptress. Maybe he named it after a different Salome?
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.