When DIY Fashion and Couture Were the Same Thing

John Sebastian’s 1967 performance cape, jacket, and pants, which he tie-dyed himself

Imagine a time before designer logos, no one asked “who you are wearing,” and your sartorial status was ranked according to DIY embellishments and colorful, theatrical approaches to materials that telegraphed a strong social-political message.

The current show at Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, on display through August 20, is a tribute to the Sixties and Seventies when Hollywood, rock royalty, rich kids, hippies, and living-off-the-land types all marched to their distinctive fashion beats.

At Columbus Circle, two floors of fashion take you on a journey through hand-crafted masterworks of several copacetic subcultures who carried out the youth revolution over sixty years ago — acid trippers, antiwar protesters, peace-and-love advocates, commune dwellers, hashish users, Dashiki wearers, and the all-nature/all-natural advocates.

100% Birgitta’s crocheted 1969 Rainbow Ensemble with Large Pendant

In a war on conformity and Mad-Men style, the counterculture of Southern California, the San Francisco Bay, and the Village turned to wild color, hand-dyed fabric, tribal inspiration, oversize accessories, personalized embroidery, and repurposed materials to declare individuality and a better, more peaceful world.

John Sebastian’s tie-dyed cape, shirt, and pants on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame remind you that long before Gwen Stefani, rock stars once styled themselves and made their own clothes. Theatrics and performance was important, whether it was Woodstock, street theater, or East Village happenings.

Apple Cobbler’s Mickey McGowan made custom shoes and boots from brocade (no leather) and traveled with a suitcase full of client foot patterns, ready to spring into action whenever a rock drummer needed to replace his favorite footwear. In the late Sixties, the must-have item for starlets was a colorful crocheted seaside ensemble by 100% Brigitta.

Nina Huryn’s 1971 painted tooled leather jacket, typical of custom pieces she made for rockstar clients

Take a look at the installation views on MAD’s website, and then go in for a closer look on our Flickr album.

By the late Seventies, some clothing artists, such as K. Lee Manuel, were making one-of-a-kind pieces and selling them through small wearable-art-style shops. Others like Nina Huryn continued doing custom pieces for Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and other rock superstars. At least one — Christopher Crookedstitch — had a team of craftspeople staining homespun cotton, making self-fringe, and applying beads in a teepee workshop.

On the other hand, you might just do your own thing, such as the hand-embroidered, appliqued U.S. Army coat made as a protest or the highly studded and embellished Levis jacket that transformed a machine-made uniform into a work of art. MAD shows a small collection of winners from its 1973 Levis contest (when it was still named the American Craft Museum).

1970 man’s vest from a rice sack by Sandra Van Meter, who dressed her family in humble handmade clothing

Although the clothing isn’t as flashy, the exhibit showcases the caftans and simple linen clothes favored by less-is-more commune dwellers. Although the curators feature some fairly fancy embellished pieces by designer Alexandra Jacopetti Hart, they also note that she founded the home-sewing pattern company, Folkways, which offered a template for anyone to take a slightly historical style (think pioneers and buccaneer shirts) and craft it into their own personal statement.

The do-it-yourself component is only emphasized by a framed Simplicity pattern from the Seventies.

Don’t miss the spectacular tie-dyed panels by Marian Clayden, who also had a fashion label and designed all the textiles for the original production of Hair. Although it’s not a technique in fashion today, confronting work by this master will let you experience why the mystery and transcendence of her craft led so many to get out the Rit dye and try it at home.

Close up of tie-dyed hanging by Marian Clayden

Thanks to the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State, who originated the show.

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MoMA Makes Space for Women 70 Years Later

Epic 1966 Gaea painting by Lee Krasner

This show never happened…until now. Over the years, MoMA has been collecting the work of female artists, but in their prime, only a few had the chance to reach a wide audience, and certainly back in the Fifties this group would not have been assembled for an all-woman show.

MoMA corrects this oversight and gives these women the attention they deserve in Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, closing August 13.

MoMA has burrowed into its collection to present the work of female painters and sculptors who largely worked in the shadows of the dominant male artists of the Fifties and Sixties, both in the United States and abroad.

Grace Hartigan’s 1957 Shinnecock Canal

The curators have segmented the artists by style, and it’s fun to discover better-known favorites alongside some women that you simply have never heard of. The first part features large ethereally stained canvases by superstar Helen Frankenthaler and swooping gestures by Lee Krasner (pretty in pink).

The gallery also showcases lesser-known Lebanese-born abstractionist Etel Adnan and Grace Hartigan, who briefly attempted to get her work into galleries by letting dealers think that “George” Hartigan did them. Grace did OK, however, becoming the only female painter that MoMA included in its Fifties European touring show New American Painting.

You can almost imagine critiques like “too feminine” and “paints like a girl” being uttered over shots at the Cedar Tavern. Joan Snyder was not ashamed to say that she drew inspiration from nature – instead of internal angst. Super-minimalist Agnes Martin did the same, drawing inspiration for her thin pencil grids from the majesty and stillness of nature.

Close up of Agnes Martin’s 1964 oil and pencil Big Tree

The “geometric” gallery is where the show expands away from New York’s home base to feature more of the Latin American contingent, like Venezuelan sculptural innovator Gego, a German refugee born Gertud Goldschmidt, and Cuban-born Carmen Herrera. Carmen, who lived in Paris and other world capitals, didn’t sell her first painting until 2004 when she was 89. To put that into perspective, black-and-white paining in MoMA’s collection was done in 1952. Well, at least the Whitney gave her a one-woman show this past year.

The curators hit a home run by also including textile artists and designers like Bauhaus artist Anni Albers and sculptural innovator Sheila Hicks. Seeing these and the process-art artists together is a treat – Eva Hesse and Polish art megastar Magdelena Abakanowicz. Both use found objects but Eva used industrial materials to create ephemeral sculptures and installations; Magdelena took lowly sisal and created a monumental textile presence.

On our Flickr album, we’ve arranged photos of the works in the show chronologically, so it was surprising to find that some of the earliest pieces of abstract art in the show were the 1951 bowl chair by Brazilian designer Bo Bardi and 1950 Stone on Stone textiles from Vera.

Two versions of Vera’s 1950 Stone on Stone pattern — prints on linen and silk by commercial manufacturers for the home market

Anyone decorating a home or buying a headscarf in the Fifties and Sixties knew of Vera, one of the first one-name household design names. The curators make a point to note that by hiring contemporary designers, commercial fabric houses were able to disseminate abstraction throughout the United States in curtains, upholstery, and daily items.

Big-time abstract painting and sculpture – whether expressionist, geometric, or minimal — might have been dominated by the guys, but the democratization of abstraction in the way of dress fabric and curtains was a realm that made female designers into brands.

To learn more about many of these innovators, listen in on MoMA’s audio tour via their website or app.

Here’s a quick spin through the show with curator Starr Figura here:

The Woman Behind the Beautiful Bags

Judith channels the era of the space race with a futuristic smoky Lucite egg with gold frame and chain, 1968

You’ve seen them on the red carpet, in the hands of First Ladies, and gleaming cases at Bergdorfs. Tiny glittery sculptures sized to fit in the palm of a hand.

The show at MAD, Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story, which closes August 6, gives a well-deserved look at the innovator behind these creations, showcases the many ways Leiber elevated the evening bag, and tells a dramatic story of how an immigrant came to the United States with technical knowledge and flair for an up-to-then unexploited corner of the accessories market.

Take a walk through the show with our Flickr album.

The exhibition in MAD’s Tiffany galleries is an ethereal, low-light showcase of some of Leiber’s most dazzling creations. Putting the primary focus on her lifetime output of handbags-as-art, her life story is conveyed discretely in an understated corner through a few photos and an illuminating timeline.

Leiber’s 21st century Mondrian-inspired bag, 2000

Growing up in Budapest, Judith went to London to take liberal arts courses and intended to study chemistry there to enter the booming European cosmetics business. But the 1939 outbreak of World War II forced her to go to Plan B – sticking close to home and working with the Hungarian luxury brand, the House of Pessl, learning the craftsmanship of fine ladies’ handbags.

As the show notes, with the advent of train travel and emphasis on ladies’ luggage, handbags became a fashionable accessory in the mid-to-late 19th century. With its spas, lavish restaurants, and pastry palaces, Budapest catered to the aristocratic trade in just about everything, including carrying cases and bags. Leiber was in a good spot to learn from the best and became the only female member of the local handbag guild.

Presented to Hillary Clinton in 1997 for her husband’s second inaugural.

When Germany took over Hungary in 1944, she and her family were relocated to a ghetto where they endured economic deprivation and witnessed persecutions that came to an end when Russia liberated the city in 1945.

Channeling her skills into creating bags for military buyers, Judith met and married a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps – Gus – who would take her back to New York, encourage her to start her own business, and eventually run her company.

Her big break in the New York Garment District was supplying a handbag to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at her husband’s 1956 inauguration. Although Judith was working for designer Nettie Rosenstein, everyone heard about the Judith Leiber-designed handbag and she made a splash.

Leiber’s first rhinestone bag 1967 – an ingenious solution to hide a discolored brass frame

Ten years later, Judith began her own handbag company. Good thing that she was able to do it all, from making a pattern, to designing the frames, and executing it all right down to the finish. When a brass frame arrived in her workshop with surface defects, she had the idea to cover the defects with rhinestones, and launched the look that would distinguish her at inaugural balls, New York society galas, and Hollywood premieres – the jewel-encrusted minaudière.

The side gallery is packed with her signature pieces, crystal-covered minaudières crafted to resemble animals, food, and Chinese-inspired dressing table items. On the other side of the exhibition is a small case with wax sculptures by Lawrence Kallenberg, who worked a lifetime with Judith to create the 3-D templates that the Italian foundry uses to fabricate the brass cases.

The exhibition is a beautiful display of her lifetime of work, featuring both the first bejeweled bag and her last design in 2004, emphasizing the inspiration she took from 20th century artists and textiles of world cultures. Among the most stunning creations are bags made from embroidered antique obis, Asian ribbons, and even American patchwork quilts.

Penguin minaudière, 1991

Suspended in air and shown off in mirrored cases, the curators create a mood that allows visitors to contemplate how Leiber’s eye, wit, and skill transformed the lowly carryall into a lifetime of unique, ingenious, dazzling art.

See the beautiful bags here.

How to Build an Empire at The Met

Close up of Qin chariot horse replicas (221 – 206 B.C.). From: Qin Shihuangdi Mausoleum Site Museum, Lintong

You can’t take it with you, or can you? The Chinese emperor with the terra cotta army thought so. See for yourself in Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C-A.D. 220), on view through July 16 at the Met.

There are only a few horses and men from that monumental undertaking on display, but the terra cotta visitors are stunners. They and the other luxury and art objects on loan from 32 museums and archeological institutions in China provide a vivid look into the culture and pride of a people who were just forming an identity as a nation in 221 B.C. Previously, the Chinese continent consisted of warring ethnic tribes.

Heavenly Han horse and military groom in bronze (25 – 220 A.D) from Mianyang City Museum.

About a century earlier, classical Greek style, art, and ideas washed over Europe and Asia due to Alexander’s empire-building success. At the time of the Qin dynasty, when the Great Wall was being built, scholars wonder whether the Chinese emperors had seen (or heard about) large-scale classical Greek sculptures and asked their artists to out-do their Mediterranean counterparts.

Why not build full armies, cities, entertainment troupes, cavalries, and watch towers and bury them in tombs of the emperors, princes, and princesses to serve them in the after life? Like the Egyptians, the Qin and Han emperors and princes wanted a lot of stuff to use in the afterlife. But unlike the Egyptian style, it was all about personality.

Each large-scale sculpture is imbued with individual flair in their apparel, expressions, hairstyles, and weapons. If you listen to the audio guide, the curators tell us that the large-scale terra cotta armies were mass-produced using molds, but the artists were told to give each sculpture-person a dose of individuality before they were done.

Terracotta cattle (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.) from the Yangling Mausoleum.

That holds true for the animals in the show, too. The Han dynasty had a thing for beautiful, spirited horses and the center gallery in the show displays some beauties. Grooms come along, too.

Apparently the conquering Han rulers kept menageries and ranches, as seen in the show’s room full of rhinos, elephants, cattle, pigs, and animals-turned-into-art-lamps. There’s a twinkle in each of their eyes, too.

Another highlight is the jade suit made for a princess, which was supposed to form added protection in the afterlife. Another is the money tree. Who wouldn’t want one of those?

The show’s objects reflect how many tribes and influences crossed paths over the course of the Han dynasty (think Silk Road) to create the modern view of a single, all-encompassing Chinese culture – diverse textiles, gems, inventions, and ideas.

Han Dynasty belt buckle (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum

The final object, a bronze mirror from the Han dynasty, reflects it all – the first recorded inscription expressing the desire for the peoples of the “Central Kingdom” (a.k.a. China) prospering for generations to come. It’s the earliest inscription to reference many ethnic groups considering themselves as one people, one China. 

Take a look at all the objects in the collection on the Met’s site, or look at our favorites on Flickr.

Browse through the catalog to see more spectacular stuff that Han dynasty emperors just had to have:

 

Behind the Scenes of the Revolution at NYHS

Women of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Army, showing soldiers’ everyday life

To celebrate the anniversary of the United States, the New York Historical Society hosted the reenactors of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Army for a little show-and-tell about the private lives of the people who enlisted in the Revolution. Dressed in colonial garb, the men and women of the Third showed what the enlisted men were given as rations, how they cooked it, and what they carried into battle – beans, hard tack, and (maybe) tobacco to barter.

A small tent and campfire cooking pot were set up just feet away from portraits of Revolutionary heroes and the remnants of the statue of King George III that the citizens of New York had torn down by their African-American slaves moments after the Declaration of Independence was read to Washington’s troops in lower Manhattan on July 9, 1776. All that remains here is half the horse’s tail.

A Revolutionary soldier’s home and kitchen during maneuvers

At a nearby table, men and women of the Third showed how the soldiers made their own bullets and cartidges, and the range of apparatus to keep the hand-made ammunition dry — leather pouches and tin boxes. As far as supplies, muskets, and gun powder went, you were on your own during the 1776 skirmishes.

See it all close up in our Flickr album.

Upstairs from demonstrations on the everyday life of troops, you can glimpse the everyday life of the more famous patriots through July 13 in the exhibition, Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man, from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The show includes his inventory of books, crops, slaves, and letters – personal papers that he willed to his granddaughter and her husband, who lived in Massachusetts and eventually gave them to the historical society there.

Houdon’s 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson next to his handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence

The curators have displayed his architectural drawings of various iterations of Monticello, domed residences (never built) for friends, plans to improve the state capitol at Williamsburg (never built because the capitol was moved to Richmond), and an early plan for his summer residence at Poplar Forest (octagonal living room before he went all the way with a fully octagonal building with dramatic skylight).

Given the popularity of Hamilton, the gallery includes a copy of an 1801 letter to his granddaughter with an interesting postscript – a note telling her that Hamilton was doing everything in his power during the neck-and-neck presidential race between Jefferson and Burr to ensure Jefferson’s victory. We all know how that turned out from history and the plot arc of the show.

A nice touch of this small installation is the inclusion of Houdon’s famous 1789 portrait bust of 46-year-old Jefferson, which his granddaughter though made him look far too old. It’s a plaster copy of the marble original, and is positioned next to Jefferson’s own handwritten copy of the original, unedited Declaration of Independence (before the Continental Congress removed the part about slavery).

John Adams’ transcription of Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration — how scholars know what the Congress cut out to get it passed

The paper next to it is an even bigger surprise – a hand-written copy of Tom’s original grievances by John Adams, who was on the Declaration committee with Jefferson and Franklin. Apparently, during the hot summer of 1776 while Jefferson was toiling away putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece, Adams wrote out his own copy with which he could lobby the various state representatives in the days leading up to the controversial ratification.

Understandably, this copy from the Adams Family Archive also makes its home at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and here in New York visitors get to see it side-by-side with the version written by the Declaration’s original author.

Curtain Up on Theater’s Best at NYPL

All the Playbills you ever collected

The excitement of Broadway and West End theater is fully on display at the New York Public Library’s show at Lincoln Center, Curtain Up: Celebrating the Last 40 Years of Theatre in New York and London, closing July 30.

It’s a theater-lover’s fantasy journey through four decades of smash hits that cross-pollinated two shores – costumes, stage sets, video clips, lights, sound, and awards. And as the curators point out, the two theatrical epicenters are mirror images of one another.

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London, the Society of London Theaters, and our own NYPL assembled this extravaganza with the help of producers, costume designers, actors, theaters, and other owners theatrical history.

The foyer is awash in Playbills, hanging from the ceiling and piled up in corners. It feels like home. It’s hard to know where to look or what to process first. Is it Michael Crawford’s Phantom mask (direct from his own collection)? Is it the overscale streetplan of Times Square or Shaftsbury Avenue? Lola’s thigh-high hot pink Kinky Boots?

A Chorus Line finale top hats by Theoni V. Aldridge from TDF’s Costume Collection.

Take a short walk-through of the show on our Flickr album.

Look closely for windows into innovative set designs (An Inspector Calls, War Horse) amid towering costumed mannequins. But the overpowering sound throughout is One. Who can concentrate on anything else once you see a corridor sprinkled with glittery top hats overhead and Broadway-sized media screen showing the multi-mirrored finale of A Chorus Line.

Besides being everyone’s favorite musical (the first to win London’s coveted Olivier award), the show ushered in the digital age of theater. When it debuted at the Public Theater, the lighting was the first musical to depend on an electronic light board, which made the transitions just as precise at the choreography.

There are backstage notes for The History Boys, box office totals from Evita, period costumes from the theater’s grande dames, and a brief video showing one of the all-time great moments of inspiration and awe onstage — the seconds-long flash accompanying the finale appearance of the magnificent angel in Angels in America.

Julie Taymor’s 1997 masks for The Lion King’s Scar, Simba, and Nala

The most dramatic encounter is an area populated with costumes and masks from The Lion King and the swan costume from Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake.

The “fliers” are aloft, too – Marry Poppins and Elphaba – with a big-finish wall of televisions showing coverage of the Olivier Awards, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary.

The result is a theatrical show together that sings, dances, and reminds everyone of what a life in the theater – either as an actor, technician, or audience member – can be.

To prepare for your next visit to the West End, here’s a short primer on the stats, lingo, and facts about theater culture on both sides of the Atlantic:

Scraps = Fashion Design

Poly “fabric” and tote by Milan’s Luisa Cevese, featuring artfully arranged clumps of recycled silk thread.

On Earth Day weekend, there’s no better place to contemplate beauty, fashion, and style than walking through the Cooper-Hewitt’s show “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse,” on display through April 23.

The curators decided to shine a spotlight on several designers who have been inspired to probe ways in which cast-offs from garment and fabric manufacturing can be turned into fashionable, beautiful items so that the ever-churning cycle of production can become more of a closed loop and rely less upon consumption of raw material.

Luisa Cevese, a Milan-based designer who worked in research for Italy’s high-end silk industry, wondered if there was a way to recycle the waste from the production process – large quantities of silk selvedge (ends) and assorted silk threads thrown off from the looms. The Smithsonian shows us a collection of her results – waterproof polyurethane bags featuring these colorful production scraps in stripes or whimsical arrangements. Take a look at the Flickr album.

Christina Kim’s choga and slip made from recycled hand spun, hand woven cotton saris.

Luisa was encouraged and inspired by the attitude toward recycling in India, where no one can afford to waste the precious fabric used in saris. When someone’s done with an old, worn-out sari, they are cleaned, repaired, and refashioned for buyers on the secondary market. Hems might be shortened, or other alterations made. Luisa gave the same treatment to these bits of exotic silk – embedding scraps into polyurethane for re-use in other items.

Christina Kim, based in Los Angeles, has long worked with local artisans in India and Mexico to repurpose scraps into full garments and scarves so that there is zero waste. Her approach represents a commitment to sustainable fashion that is not out of sync with other, more large-scale manufacturers. Check out some of the processes used on the exhibition site.

Watch this video of a recent conversation between Eileen Fischer and Patagonia’s Nellie Cohen at the Cooper Hewitt about how their clothing companies are reusing textiles and innovating a “closed production cycle”.

Adrian Goes Beyond Hollywood at FIT

1949 Vogue magazine spread with Adrian’s dress of Bianchini-Férier silk taffeta

The FIT graduate students have hit the mark again in their show Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond, running through April 1 at the upstairs museum gallery.

Although there are film clips aplenty showcasing the Hollywood designer’s work, this exhibition explores the connection that Adrian made between his work on the silver screen, his collaboration with American and French fabric designers, and addressing the ready-to-wear market.

After achieving worldwide recognition for his glamorous Hollywood costumes and the iconic Americana gingham dress in The Wizard of Oz, Adrian thought he might go slightly more mass market. Why not capitalize on the ability to channel an American sensibility and Thirties glamour and make it more widely accessible?

Organic piecing in an artistic 1945 ready-to-wear evening ensemble

A lover of art and fan of surrealism, Adrian opened his first salon in Beverly Hills in 1942 and collaborated with American fabric manufacturers to give the added zing to his collections.

Right from the start, Adrian offered customers amazing cuts on sharp suits, intricate construction (go, mitered seams!), fool-the-eye appliques, and exquisite draping of innovative, bold prints.

The curators cleverly present swaths of uncut fabric next to print ads featuring Adrian’s creations using the same bold designs – leopard print, surrealist-inspired fantasy, and even festive chickens from the farm. It’s all flair from start to finish, and a nice focus on a time when fabrics were made in America, Seventh Avenue (and Hollywood) ruled, and consumers craved quality.

Although Adrian continued designing for Hollywood right through his ready-to-wear years, the show ends with Technicolor clips from films that include dramatic fashion shows featuring fantasy clothes for beach, sun, and salons.

1952 fashion-show costume from Lovely to Look At

As always, the FIT student crew has created a beautiful web exhibition for the show, but you can also look closely at the details on some of our favorite Adrian flourishes and fabrics in our Flickr album.

Great work, FIT graduates!

Magical Masterworks End Tour at Met

Boy’s 1870-1900 hide shirt decorated in glass beads in geometric pattern by female Crow artist

Exquisite detail and spiritual power are evident in every item showcased in the Metropolitan’s show, Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, closing March 31.

The Dikers have spent a lifetime collecting objects of incredible detail, spirit, and beauty and sharing truly dazzling works with the public, most recently in the Indigenous Beauty show which ends its national tour here in New York.

Every time we have visited the small showcase inside the Met’s African and Mesoamerican galleries, visitors have been pouring over every detail of the weave, beadwork, paint, inlay, and woodcarving on the masks, clay jars, baskets, shirts, coats, hats, headdresses, war shields, and hide canvases on display.

Magical colors, geometric patterns, attached talismans, and even mysterious paint splotches pack powerful messages as animals, spirit-creatures, and half-human beings emerge in two and three dimensions.

1840s man’s European-style hide coat created by a female Naskapi artist in Labrador

The majority of artwork and clothing dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but pieces are earlier, such as a nearly perfect Anasazi clay pot from 1100 A.D., which uses geometric 2-D wizardry on the curved surface to convey the interconnection of underground water reservoirs that enable agricultural communities to thrive in the Southwestern desert.

Native designs and magical powers are sometimes merged with European style, as in a man’s painted hide summer coat, which was created by a female Naskapi artist from Labrador, Canada. Designed inspired by European coats, with images for a good hunt, but worn by the hunter for only one season

The curators have taken care to cite the artists in cases where they are known, such as an1880s buffalo-hide shield painted by Joseph No Two Horns, a Lakota artist who participated in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.

1910 woven quilled basket and 3D lid by Elizabeth Hickox of Northern California

The show puts a spotlight on innovators, who began making monumental works for collectors, such as the large pottery jar by Nampeyo, the first well-known Hopi artist and Elizabeth Hickox, who became known for her three-dimensional embellishments in woven basketry in Northern California.

Enjoy all of the details of our favorites from this show in our Flickr album.

Tiffany Again Illuminates the Carnegie Mansion

Tiffany’s glass vases against De Forest’s stenciled walls of the Teak Room

If you’d like to experience a few moments surrounded by the splendors of the Gilded Age in America, climb the staircase inside the Carnegie Mansion (Cooper Hewitt) and enter another world. As a tribute to the mansion’s second-floor renovation, Cooper Hewitt mined its own collection and borrowed key pieces as part of the installation, Passion for the Exotic: Louis Comfort Tiffany and Lockwood de Forest, closing March 26.

You’ll find yourself in a quiet mystical room that served as the Carnegie family library when it was first designed in 1902 by Lockwood de Forest, a superstar of the Aesthetic movement. The Smithsonian has brought the room back to its original glory, carved teak, stenciled walls, and all.

Paying tribute to Mr. Carnegie’s passion for all things Tiffany, the curators have brought out their lamps, lit them up, and borrowed a magnificent turtleback Tiffany chandelier that is close to original. The effect of low light emanating through all the iridescent glass and illuminating the walls and built-in cabinet is unusually magical.

Painted bronze and blown glass Turtleback glass chandelier by Tiffany Studios, 1910

The design triumph is even more interesting when you think that at the time, 92 percent of New Yorkers did not even have electricity. So, this installation is not only beautiful, but stands as a 1902 example of cutting-edge technology and avant-garde design.

Take a look at our Flickr album, showing the objects in the room, and explore each one and its provenance on a special page on the Cooper Hewitt website.

So, how did this seemingly perfect collaboration interior embellishment, light, and the exotic happen? De Forest and Tiffany, who began working together in the 1880s, both shared a passion for the intricate designs of the Middle East and India. Each globetrotter had seen Indian interiors firsthand and felt their American design practices would benefit from exotic infusions.

Electrified Dragonfly Lamp designed by Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department

Tiffany and de Forest once were business partners, but after that dissolved, they kept working together on a project-by-project basis. De Forest brokered a deal with a workshop in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India, to manufacture decorative teak wood and brass panels that he designed for his own and Tiffany’s interior-design clients.

So the installation at the Cooper Hewitt is your chance to experience the magic of one of America’s great design collaborations.

To give the room a unique aesthetic glow, De Forest stenciled the wall in yellow lacquer to create an illusion that he associated with Indian screens. The teak details, inspired by Indian design, and the built-in cabinet inside Mr. Carnegie’s room came from the Gujarat workshop.

The Teak Room is currently the most complete De Forest interior still in existence in the site for which it was created. Seeing this work, lit by the glow of the Tiffany lamps and decorated with other Tiffany decorative objects, is a must.

Japanese-inspired Tiffany desk set, 1910-1920.

And when you climb the grant staircase to the second floor, you can also take advantage of the interactive display at the top of the stairs, which is loaded with history about the mansion and photos showing the original interiors.

If you want to soak in more of Tiffany’s prowess, watch Ben Macklowe’s Cooper Hewitt livestream on the master’s background, influences, technology, and business and find out what happened to the Tiffany-designed rooms at the White House: