A Museum Pays Tribute To Designer And Weaver Dorothy Liebes

An exhibit opens at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. It reveals the colorful, captivating masterpieces of Dorothy Liebes, the mother of modern weaving.

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum made a move to popularize Dorothy Liebes, a textile designer and weaver, through showcasing her work in an exhibit

The Museum of Modern Art dubbed Liebes as “the mother of modern weaving” due to her innovative, custom-designed modern fabrics. Liebes helped define the feel of 20th century luxury through first class airline seats, movie backdrops, hotel suites, bathing suits, metallic wallpaper, and car upholstery.

The Associated Press reported that the museum took a giant step in highlighting the impact of her work through textiles, furniture, and photos.

READ ALSO: The Power Of Weaves: Anya Lim On Reviving The Lost Tradition Of Weaving

Dorothy Liebes
Dorothy Liebes/Photo via Pinterest @allroads

Liebes’ humble beginnings

Liebes started weaving in college, where she taught herself the skill. She opened her first studio in San Francisco in 1930, wherein her first clients were architects and decorators. She provided them with custom made and hand-woven textiles. Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durell Stone, Samuel Marx, among others, commissioned her to create textiles that would be useful to their line of work. 

The illustrious weaver created masterpieces that showed expert skills as she made rich-textured patterns and textiles. She used uncommon materials such as feathers, metal objects, bamboo, and plastic. 

A Mexican plaid woven textile, c. 1940 by Dorothy Liebes
A Mexican plaid woven textile, c. 1940 by Dorothy Liebes/Photo via Museum of Modern Art’s website

Liebes moved to New York in 1948, where she continued her craft in designing and weaving.

A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum named the exhibition as A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes. The museum’s website says that it is the first monographic exhibition in more than 50 years on the designer. 

The museum’s Associate Curator and Acting Head of Textiles Susan Brown organized the exhibit. Brown teamed up with Alexa Griffith Winton, the museum’s Manager of Content and Interpretation for Liebes’ tribute. 

The exhibit dedicated to Liebes
The exhibit dedicated to Liebes/Photo via the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s exhibit website

The “Liebes Look” 

Liebes popularized an American form of midcentury design, consisting of luxurious handwoven fabrics paired with vivid color. This becomes the weaver-designer’s trademark work prevalently known as the “Liebes Look.” 

The museum’s website says Liebes believed industrial production “assured the greatest possible access to quality design” wherein handicrafts are essential. Liebes gave up custom fabric production in the 1950s to focus on handwoven samples. Her studio became a haven for new, synthetic creations which she and her team of weavers handcrafted. 

Another example of a textile created by Liebes
Another example of a textile created by Liebes/Photo via Pinterest @metmuseum 

The exhibit showed Liebes’ creative process at her weaving studios. It includes more than 175 of Liebes’ greatest works from textiles to documents, photographs, and furniture. 

The museum curators said that using small items like throw pillows to add pops of color to an interior is a direct legacy of Liebes’ influence. She also helped create consumer goods like tiles and wallpapers. Liebes showed off immense skill through weaving bold-colored patterns and textiles for clothing as well. 

Some of Liebes’ weaved clothing
Some of Liebes’ weaved clothing/Photo via the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s website

Liebes died in 1972. Museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Oakland Museum of California, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum showcased her work after her death. 

The exhibit opened in July of this year and will run until February 4, 2024. 

Banner photo via The Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Dorothy Liebes exhibit official website.

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