Bag, Nandi, 1965
Sheila Hicks has always worked as both an artist and a designer, collaborating with architects and industry. After graduating from Yale and studying weaving for several years in South and Central America, she established her own experimental weaving workshop in Taxco, Mexico. The weavings she created there were exhibited at the Knoll showroom in Mexico City in 1962 and at the Chicago Merchandise Mart the following year. In 1964, she met Florence Knoll Bassett, who engaged her to produce textile designs and to serve as a color and materials consultant to Knoll Textiles. Hicks also designed hand-embroidered upholstery for Knoll International in France, for use on Saarinen pedestal chairs. The collaboration with Knoll, however, was short-lived.
In 1965, Hicks was approached by a representative of Commonwealth Trust (CommTrust) of Calicut, Kerala, India. CommTrust was (and is, as of 2013) the longest continually operating hand-weaving mill in India. In the 1960s, the mill had thousands of highly skilled weavers, but their fabric designs were rejected by European buyers as incompatible with modern furniture. Hicks had been suggested more than once as a textile designer whose ideas were at the forefront of contemporary design thinking and who could revitalize the mill’s designs. CommTrust was also confident in her ability to work in a non-industrialized setting; Hicks had lived and worked in many countries, always fully immersing herself in the culture.
Hicks stayed in Kerala for two-and-a-half months. Each day, she sat down to experiment at the loom, working with the mill’s vibrantly colored yarns and using the traditional equipment and techniques well-known to the local weavers. When she had arrived at a successful design, she turned the loom over to one of the weavers and moved on to the next loom. By introducing slubby hand-spun weft yarns and using complex combinations of colors, she created richly textured cotton fabrics suitable for European upholstery, curtains, and table linens.
Hicks encouraged the company to capitalize on the unique qualities of hand-woven fabrics rather than compete with machine-woven goods from Europe. She selected a group of 20 designs to become the Kerala Collection, and named each design for a village in the area. The samples were stitched to handmade paper and presented in a hand-woven bag. The anonymously-produced line was a success, winning CommTrust the state’s Best Exporter award for three consecutive years, from 1968 to 1970. Hicks returned two years later to create the Monsoon Collection, which included some silk fabrics. One of the designs, Badagara, has been in continuous production for more than 45 years.
The museum holds an important collection of Hick’s work. The proposed acquisition of this early commercial design from the Kerala Collection will help us to create a more robust narrative of the intertwined nature of Hicks’s art and design practice.
This object was
It is credited
Gift of the Cristobal Zanartu Family, Paris.
Its dimensions are
H x W x D (as 3-D object): 45.7 x 31.1 x 10.2 cm (18 in. x 12 1/4 in. x 4 in.) H x W (flat): 48.9 x 38.1 cm (19 1/4 in. x 15 in.)
Cite this object as
Bag, Nandi, 1965. cotton. Gift of the Cristobal Zanartu Family, Paris. 2013-32-1.