A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes
Dorothy Liebes Studio, New York City, ca. 1957; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
American textile designer, weaver, and color authority Dorothy Liebes (1897–1972) had a profound influence across design fields, helping to shape American tastes in areas from interiors and transportation to industrial design, fashion, and film. The “Liebes Look”—which combined vivid color, lush texture, and often a glint of metallic—became inextricably linked with the American modern aesthetic.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, Liebes collaborated with some of the most prominent architects and designers of the time, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Dreyfuss, Donald Deskey, Raymond Loewy, and Samuel Marx. Fashion designers, including Pauline Trigère, Adrian, and Bonnie Cashin, also used her fabrics, yielding some of the most distinctively American fashions of the mid-20th century.
Despite widespread recognition during Liebes’s lifetime, her powerful impact on 20th-century design remains largely unacknowledged. Featuring more than 175 works—including textiles, textile samples, fashion, furniture, documents, and photographs—this exhibition reveals the scope of her achievements and adds a new thread to the story of mid-century modernism.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, edited by Susan Brown and Alexa GriffithWinton (Co-published by Cooper Hewitt and Yale University Press, 2023). Designed by Estudio Herrera, the book is illustrated with full-color accurate reproductions and features contributions by Susan Brown, John Stuart Gordon, Alexa Griffith Winton, Emily M. Orr, Monica Penick, Erica Warren, and Leigh Wishner. Learn more.
A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes was curated by Susan Brown, Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, and Alexa Griffith Winton, Manager of Content and Interpretation at Cooper Hewitt.
Carolyn Herrera-Perez curated the “Crafting Diplomacy” section of the exhibition, and the following interns and fellows assisted with the research: American Women’s History Initiative Research Assistant Charlotte von Hardenburgh; ArtTable Fellows Michelle Huynh Chu and Molly Hatesohl; Parsons School of Design and Curatorial Studies MA Fellows Greer Bateman, Erin Dowding, and Annabelle Oates.
Exhibition and graphic design by Isometric Studio.
A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes is made possible by The Coby Foundation; The Decorative Arts Trust; the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, a program of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum; and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The project received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
Generous support is provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation; the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation; Mergentime Family Archive; and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, administered by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation.
Support is also provided by Elizabeth Whelan, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and Patsy Orlofsky.
Additional support for the publication is provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation Publications Fund and Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
In conjunction with the current exhibition A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, please join a contemporary textile designer and weaver who is equally acclaimed for her experimental approach to materials: Suzanne Tick. In an illustrated conversation with Susan Brown, Cooper Hewitt’s Acting Head of Textiles and co-curator of the exhibition, the program will consider Tick's designs, how she has helped build sustainability into the contract textile industry, and how her handweaving practice intersects with her commercial designs.
Join modern textile and fashion historian Leigh Wishner for this illustrated talk on the extensive and extraordinary contributions Dorothy Liebes made to midcentury fashion design. Wishner will provide an overview of Liebes’s work and pervasive influence on fashion, how her research on Liebes contributes to the history of American fashion design, and explore some ways in which Liebes’s influence is still felt in the fashion industry today.