While Sheila Bridge’s Harlem Toile De Juoy was obviously modeled after a toile textile, hence the name, it also shares obvious characteristics with early wallpapers. The staggered placement of elements, the landscape views, and the scenes from daily life were common elements on wallpapers from the late 18th century onwards. Wallpaper landscapes were introduced by artists in China on hand-painted scenic papers made for export to the West during the 18th century. Landscape plateaus, as seen in toiles, began appearing on wallpapers of the late 18th century and were continually used up through the 1950s. These landscape views are clearly defying gravity but they don’t appear out of sorts as the viewer tends to be captivated by the imagery and doesn’t question the logic.

One feature appearing on toiles that is not found on the landscape wallpapers, and was not used by Sheila in Harlem Toile, is an all-over background or secondary pattern, which makes the design more cohesive. Wallpaper designers used different techniques to unify their designs, which usually involved merging or morphing elements from one landscape view into the adjacent view, where the roots or grass at the bottom of one scene might become the tree foliage in another or water elements could morph into clouds.

Sheila’s Harlem Toile is an interesting adaptation and was created out of her love for toiles and her inability to find the perfect toile for her own home. Toile designs frequently portray pastoral or historic scenes, but she has used the toile format to tell a different story: a satire about African American life as often seen through the distorted lens of the media. While her characters are performing everyday activities such as shooting hoops, dancing to a boom box, or playing Double Dutch, the figures are all dressed in 18th-century attire, which creates a fun and contemporary interpretation of a centuries-old style.

3 thoughts on “Harlem Views

Be nice if this image was larger so you could see details, why not link to high-res in collection

I agree, I want to see the details too.

Thank you for your feedback. If you scroll over “Collection Record” number in the sidebar on the righthand side, there is a link to the sidewall’s collection entry and more images. https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18711505/with-image-26936/

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