What is this?
Fragment of printed dress silk with an abstracted design of skyscrapers with diagonal shafts of light playing off the facades. In black and white, with reversals of positive and negative space.
Why is this important?
Clayton Knight’s version was part of Stehli Silk’s Americana Prints collection, produced between 1925 and 1927. Art director Kneeland “Ruzzie” Green commissioned artists and illustrators, cartoonists and celebrities, including photographer Edward Steichen and tennis pro Helen Wallis, to create designs that captured something both distinctly American and utterly of the moment: “The skyscraper, jazz, and other modern notes of energetic America will be reflected in the designs,” (“Artists Localize Our Silk Designs,” New York Times, November 1, 1925). The article also declared Knight’s Manhattan to be the most successful design of the series, noting that “it is so modern that it suggests a view of all our skyscrapers piled up together, seen from an elevated train rounding a sharp curve.”
Knight’s design makes strong use of diagonals, as though floodlights were glancing off the facades of the buildings. The effect may show the influence of his career as an illustrator of books on aviation, as well as adventure novels for boys. Active as a pilot in both World Wars, the excitement of air travel infused his work.