Susan Brown is Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where she oversees a global collection of over 27,000 textiles produced over 2,000 years. Her exhibitions for the museum include Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance, Fashioning Felt, Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse, Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color, Contemporary Muslim Fashions, Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand, and A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes. She lectures regularly for the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

Alexa Griffith Winton is a design historian and educator. She is currently Manager, Content + Interpretation at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She has researched and published on the work of Dorothy Liebes for over ten years. Griffith’s work has been published in scholarly and popular publications, including the Journal of Design History, Dwell, Journal of the Archives of American Art, and the Journal of Modern Craft. She co-edited A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (Cooper Hewitt and Yale University Press, 2023) with Susan Brown. She has received research grants from the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, Center forCraft, Creativity and Research, Nordic Culture Point, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.

Light-skinned woman wearing pink dress and hat posing with hands in pockets in a room filled with colorful textiles.

Photograph, Dorothy Liebes on the set of the Arlene Francis Show, WNBC-TV. Dorothy Liebes Scrapbook, Art Institute of Chicago

Who WAs Dorothy Liebes and why are her contributions to design so important?

Dorothy Liebes was a textile designer and color authority who really shaped American tastes from the 1930s through the 1970s and beyond—she was such a great educator and mentor that her influence continued into the next generation. Her story is critical to understanding of the evolution of American modern design across the twentieth century. We are so excited to present the first monographic exhibition in over 50 years—and the first ever monographic book—on her work.

A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes  highlights the many design contributions of the multifaceted designer, Dorothy Liebes. What has the journey been like collaborating and uncovering her story?

A large part of our work was figuring out how best to tell the story of a designer who was so broadly influential and yet so little known. We were extraordinarily lucky that the Dorothy Liebes Papers at Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art—around 40,000 documents!—were fully digitized and published in fall 2021. We used them extensively in documenting the trajectory of her career, the members of her studio in both San Francisco and New York, and her many friendships and collaborations with noted architects and designers. We are especially excited to share her work in fashion and her accessibly priced designs, which are not well known even among design experts.

Much of Dorothy Liebes’s work is the result of fruitful collaborations and partnerships. How did her work translate through these diverse efforts?

Liebes partnered with the most important architects and interior, fashion, and industrial designers of her period, as well as with major manufacturers like DuPont. Whether creating custom hand-woven drapes for a Frank Lloyd Wright interior or power-loomed automotive upholsteries for Chrysler, the “Liebes Look”—brilliant color and sparkling metallics combined with hand-woven textures—was instantly recognizable. By collaborating with industry to interpret her handwoven fabrics for power looms, Liebes ensured that her coveted designs were widely available, regardless of household budget.

What object do you gravitate toward in the exhibition? What’s its story?

We are both obsessed with the hostess apron. An ultra-glamorous accessory that would have been worn for casual but elegant at-home entertaining, it was designed by fashion designer Clare Potter and woven by Liebes studio weaver Daren Pierce. It’s an exquisite object, but it also tells a great story about the importance of friendship and mentorship in Liebes’s career: Early on, Liebes sought Potter’s advice about getting into business, and she maintained a close and supportive relationship with Pierce long after he left her studio. She even invested in the needlepoint shop he later opened with his partner, Inman Cook.

What do you want visitors to the exhibition to most understand or investigate having visited the exhibition?

We are so inspired by Liebes’s passion for textiles and textile history, her infinite creativity, her extraordinary color palettes, and the time and mentorship she offered the very diverse group of people working in her studios. We hope others also find some measure of excitement in her story, and joy in her work. We hope to see her influencing a whole new generation of designers, from fashion, product design, interiors, materials innovation, and more.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *