This summer, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present the first monographic exhibition in more than 50 years on designer and weaver Dorothy Liebes (1897–1972). Among the most influential designers of the 20th century, Liebes shaped American tastes in areas from interiors and transportation to industrial design, fashion and film. On view July 7 through Feb. 4, 2024, “A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes” will feature more than 125 works, including textiles, textile samples, fashion, furniture, documents and photographs.
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, on commissions ranging from Doris Duke’s Honolulu home Shangri-la to the United Nations Delegates’ Dining Room. 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. Her luxurious handwoven fabrics combined vivid color, lush textures, unexpected materials and a glint of metallic—a style that grew so prevalent it became known as the “Liebes Look.” This exhibition’s title is a nod to her recipe for creating a successful color scheme for the home or in fashion: “a dark, a light, a bright.”
Despite widespread recognition during Liebes’ lifetime, the impact of her long and productive career has been largely overlooked in contemporary scholarship. The Dorothy Liebes Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art—first digitized and published online in September 2021—reveal the scope of Liebes’ collaborations with architects and industrial designers, her position as a respected design authority, her role as an international ambassador for modern textiles and her commitment to the experimental design practice that was the hallmark of the Dorothy Liebes Studio.
Organized in five sections, “A Dark, A Light, A Bright” opens with an introduction to Liebes and important early works, including the prize-winning Schiaparelli panel for the 1937 Paris Exposition and objects related to the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition where Liebes formulated and articulated her vision for the role of handcraft in modern design. A five-minute documentary film, along with a wall graphic that maps key projects and professional achievements, illustrates the broad range of her collaborative work.
For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org