A new exhibition showcases garments ranging from a 1920’s hand-batiked caftan-style dress and mass-market hand-blocked silks to Native American and other indigenous dress as well as photographs, objects and design manuals.
On view from September 27 - February 2 at the Bard Graduate Center, An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915–1928 examines the efforts of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to educate and inspire textile designers and manufacturers by offering unprecedented access to the its ethnographic collections after the disruption in creative direction from Europe caused by World War I.
Drawing upon the imperialistic notion that Euro-American culture could lay special claim to indigenous artifacts from the Americas, AMNH anthropology curators sought to innovate a distinctly “American” design idiom based on the museum’s collections of Native American, Mesoamerican, Andean, and South American objects.
“The exhibition is relevant to contemporary audiences, since in recent years, prominent fashion designers have capitalized on their exposure to museum collections and a diverse array of sources from around the globe,” said a Bard representative. “Indigenous American materials have inspired the ready-to-wear collections of Proenza Schoeler and Rodarte, as well as capsule collections for such brands as Pendleton Woolen Mills and Adidas. One can view these new designs as an indication of the lasting significance of the AMNH’s project to impact and influence designers during the first quarter of the twentieth century."
Archival images throughout the exhibition feature such designers as Harriet Meserole, Ruth Reeves, and Mariska Karasz modeling ethnographic garments from the museum’s collection about 1916 and also document garments created for the 1919 Exhibition of Industrial Art. The work of notable designers such as Ilonka Karasz and Jessie Franklin Turner, as well as the lesser known Hazel Burnham Slaughter and Max Meyer, will be represented throughout the exhibition as well.
The exhibition catalogue features an essay by curator Ann Marguerite Tartsinis, negatives from the AMNH Special Collections Archive, and two photographic essays. Through advertising, documentary photographs, and illustrations by important designers, the book positions the AMNH project in the broader narrative of early twentieth-century design culture in New York, which includes the roles played by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Newark Museum.