Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/1108722057/

Esperanza Spalding Selects

This exhibit is about people, culture, and design evolving. This exhibit is about people, culture, and design devolving. This exhibit is about people, culture, and design simultaneously evolving and devolving. All of the objects in this room reflect a juncture in design where values, forms, and relationships broke down and new iterations emerged. I call it d+evolution. In preparing this exhibit, I myself have gone through a d+evolution: From bass-playing, singer–songwriter to curator and piano “re-imaginer.” D+evolution happens in life as well as in design. THAT is what this exhibit is really about. Each little undoing of what we know—or who we think we are—prompts a next step in our evolution toward what we become. The design of who we are is constantly devolving and evolving—from environment to environment, idea to idea, style to style—simultaneously breaking down while building up what it means to be you, me, and we. This exhibit is a celebration of d+evolution. As you explore the gallery, you’ll be accompanied by four pieces of music d+evolved from one of the pieces of sheet music to your right. Enjoy, and may your state of being forever be d+evolving! –Esperanza Emily Spalding


Evolving Perspectives

The progression of these designs documents our expanding cultural awareness: the devolution of patently racist images opens the door to an evolving kinder awareness of our common realities. This group features sheet music cover designs used to market American popular music in the early 20th century. Representations of the people depicted on these covers illustrate degenerate and evolving views toward the indigenous, North African, or African American traditions that influenced each song. For example, “Quit Cryin’ the Blues” features a weeping Sambo caricature of an African American man. “Solitude,” from 1934, displays an elegant photo of composer Duke Ellington. The artist who sketched the players surrounding Ellington focused on their roles in the orchestra rather than their racial identity. Fifteen years later, “Sugar Blues” carries the picture of a smiling, elegantly dressed European‑American. Music and design integration often precedes societal integration, though our progress seldom travels in a straight line. People buying this sheet music may have perceived themselves as separate or superior to caricatures portrayed on these covers, yet they welcomed the culturally mixed songs into their homes and playing hands.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722029/

  • Designed by Hap Hadley Studio
  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1356.L49 Q5 1931
  • music
  • hands
  • blues
  • caricature

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108726395/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1630.2.W55 S84 1949
  • music
  • jazz
  • musical instruments
  • blues

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108726397/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1630.2.W39 I8 1930
  • music
  • jazz
  • musical instruments

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108726399/

  • Designed by William Austin Starmer
  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1630.2.H46 I53 1918
  • figures
  • music
  • headdress

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108726401/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1366.E44 S65 1934
  • figures
  • music
  • orchestra
  • jazz
  • musical instruments

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108726403/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, M1508.B76 L69 1933
  • figures
  • music
  • love
  • Egypt
  • horse

Devolve to Evolve

These pieces developed from deconstructed materials intended for a wholly different function. This devolution can be traced through the material histories of these objects.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18319945/

  • stamped, silvered, and varnished dutch leather, carved ivory, enamel and brass
  • Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt
  • container
  • fish
  • flowers
  • animals
  • women's fashion accessories
  • storage
  • accessories
  • brass
  • mice

Tooled leather wallcoverings made in Holland were used as screens in Japan. The panels were then cut up further, devolving into this purse.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18495073/

  • plated brass
  • Gift of Stephen W. Brener and Carol B. Brener
  • container
  • curving form
  • shells
  • texture
  • imitation
  • mussel

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18651119/

  • brass, copper
  • Gift of Anonymous Donor
  • container
  • portable
  • metalwork
  • identification

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18651137/

  • copper coins, beaten aluminum wire, glass beads
  • Gift of Anonymous Donor
  • jewelry
  • reuse
  • currency
  • dancing

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18669115/

  • woven metal wire, plastic, foil
  • Museum purchase through bequest of Richard Greenleaf in memory of his mother Adeline Emma Greenleaf
  • metallic
  • design
  • display
  • women's fashion accessories
  • personal adornment
  • woven
  • flexible
  • postmodern
  • dense
  • recycling

This designer repurposed used pill blister packs to create a necklace.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18768143/

  • Designed by Shinichiro Ogata
  • Manufactured by WASARA Co. Ltd.
  • reed, bamboo, bagasse pulp
  • Gift of WASARA Co. Ltd.
  • dining
  • biodegradable
  • simplicity
  • eco-conscious

Common reeds and invasive bamboo became fine serving ware, which can easily decompose back into the earth.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18768149/

  • Designed by WASARA Co. Ltd.
  • reed, bamboo, bagasse pulp
  • Gift of WASARA Co. Ltd.
  • dining
  • biodegradable
  • simplicity
  • eco-conscious

Common reeds and invasive bamboo became fine serving ware, which can easily decompose back into the earth.


Functional/Decorative

Each of these pairs demonstrates a new decorative design evolving—emerging from the aesthetics of purely functional parts, equipment, or tools. The derivative objects have no use in the environments from which the designs they are modeled after emerged.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18489959/

  • cut mulberry paper treated with persimmon tannin and silk thread
  • Gift of Helen Snyder
  • pattern
  • nature
  • stencil
  • resist dyeing
  • katagami

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18639319/

  • Designed by Ed Wiener
  • cast gold
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kelley Rollings
  • pattern
  • geometric
  • craftsmanship
  • studio jewelry

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18639321/

  • cast bronze
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kelley Rollings
  • trade
  • geometric
  • metalwork
  • currency

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18646875/

  • mahogany, leather
  • Museum purchase from Decorative Arts Association Acquisitions Fund, in memory of Dona Guimaraes
  • seating
  • concave
  • department store
  • Egyptian revival

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18650245/

  • flattened metal, bent wire, glass
  • Gift of Cordelia Rose in honor of David McFadden
  • animals
  • elephants
  • personal adornment
  • metal
  • jewelry
  • flattened form
  • earrings

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18650247/

  • painted and incised soapstone, bent wire, glass beads
  • Gift of Cordelia Rose in honor of David McFadden

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18696773/

  • Designed by Dagobert Peche
  • lithograph on off-white paper
  • Museum purchase through gift of George A. Hearn
  • graphic design
  • lace
  • geometric
  • harlequin
  • poster
  • branching
  • Wiener Werkstätte

The design of this poster, produced for the Wiener Werkstätte, referenced collections of 19th-century katagami (pattern paper), a tool created by Japanese craftsmen to print patterns on silk.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/102335177/

  • Manufactured by Katzenbach and Warren, Inc.
  • screen printed on canvas
  • Gift of Katzenbach and Warren, Inc.
  • vegetation
  • abstraction
  • yellow
  • cut out

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/102335181/

  • Manufactured by Joan Miró
  • screen printed on canvas
  • Gift of Katzenbach and Warren, Inc.
  • figures
  • abstraction
  • sun
  • outline

Revealing Covers

Design often reveals messages and tensions that reflect the community in which it is produced. These covers reveal a tension between artistic vision and contemporary assumptions about “the other.”

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18656159/

  • Designed by Carin Goldberg
  • lithograph on paper
  • Gift of Steven Heller
  • graphic design
  • typography
  • publishing
  • women designers

This 1989 biography of Josephine Baker—world-renowned singer, dancer, spy for the Allies during World War II, and adoptive mother of war orphans—defaults to an objectifying portrait that shows her posing nearly naked.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18694907/

  • Designed by Alvin Lustig
  • lithograph on paper
  • Gift of Susan Lustig Peck
  • graphic design
  • music
  • orchestra
  • album

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722025/

  • Designed by Johan Frederik Engelbert ten Klooster
  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, N5 .W469
  • costume
  • art nouveau
  • exoticism
  • headdress

The cover of this 1928 edition of Wendingen shows that from afar, artists in Holland respected cultural traditions, while their government continued to colonize many Asian countries.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722037/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, N5 .W469
  • illustration
  • typography
  • contrast
  • outline

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722039/

  • lithograph on paper
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, N5 .W469
  • typography
  • Egypt
  • totem pole
  • all-over pattern

Colonial Inversion

The exchange of aesthetics between colonized people and their oppressors evolves and devolves the previously concentrated design values of both parties. These textile, fashion, and wallcovering designs demonstrate styles that developed in Western nations influenced by the traditions and trends of colonized lands, and vice-versa.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18711505/

  • Designed by Sheila Bridges
  • screen printed on paper
  • Gift of Studio Printworks
  • interior
  • domestic
  • home
  • arches
  • landscape
  • trees
  • sidewall
  • wall
  • New York
  • Harlem
  • toile

Harlem Toile de Jouy was inspired by the traditional format of toiles de Jouy, copper plate-printed fabrics popular in the 18th century. They frequently showed pastoral scenes and personifications of the Continents with a somewhat staggered placement across the width of the fabric. Working with this design format, Bridges has replaced the classical landscape scenes and personifications found on historic toiles with contemporary views that explore some of the stereotypes embedded in the African American experience.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/68268279/

  • Designed by Theo Maas
  • Manufactured by Vlisco
  • 100% cotton
  • Gift of Vlisco
  • communication
  • women's clothing
  • identity
  • apparel fabric
  • fans
  • zigzags
  • radiating

Vlisco, a company specializing in Dutch wax prints (a technique adopted from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia) adapts those prints for customers in Western Africa and the diaspora.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722013/

  • Designed by Paul Poiret
  • book with lithographic plates
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, GT513 .L59 1911
  • figures
  • nature
  • fashion
  • textile designs

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722021/

  • book with lithographic plates, volume 1, p. 129
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, E77 .M135 1838
  • history
  • North America
  • portraits
  • indigenous

The style of “M’Intosh, a Creek chief” has been devolved and evolved by American colonial garb of the 19th century. Colonial aesthetics have broken apart the style of his culture.


D+Evolving Design Technologies

The presumption that evolution means “more advanced” is not always true. These diverse textiles carry a common message: sometimes the simpler way becomes the most innovative.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18628819/

  • cotton
  • Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund
  • women's clothing
  • trade
  • diamonds
  • funerals
  • subtractive
  • African
  • Kalabari

The subtractive process by which Indian madras becomes pelete bite is a transformative one. Kalabari women selectively remove threads from the simple woven plaids or checks. Often the lightest and brightest threads are removed, leaving a striking dark geometric design on a lighter checked ground.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18802443/

  • Designed by Atelier Martine
  • cotton warp, linen weft
  • Gift of Louise Dushkin
  • flowers
  • stylized
  • interiors
  • naive

Paul Poiret hired untrained girls to work in his school, École Martine. Encouraging them to sketch their innocent impressions of plants and animals, Poiret turned the drawings into popular drapery, carpet, and wallcovering designs.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/673135585/

  • Designed by Jack Lenor Larsen
  • cotton
  • Cowtan and Tout Larsen Archive Collection, Gift of Longhouse Reserve
  • dance
  • tie-dye
  • interiors
  • folding

Kenyan artisans return to their own tradition of utilizing drum beats to guide the accuracy of their pleating and binding of the cloth before dyeing.


Beyond Functionality

The function of these familiar objects has devolved. These designs have evolved to serve a purpose beyond their form.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18713073/

  • Designed by Fernando Campana
  • wicker, iron, found objects (plastic, rubber)
  • Commissioned from the designers by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
  • interior
  • decoration
  • home
  • seating
  • irregular
  • contrast
  • cross-media
  • postmodern
  • playful
  • chair

The designers who created this chair from a collection of discarded objects produced an intriguing design while reminding us that nothing need be wasted.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18799783/

  • Designed by John De Cesare
  • color pencil, graphite on cream wove paper
  • clouds
  • music
  • geometric
  • flames
  • translation

John De Cesare transmuted the way the music of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” made him feel—drawing a “non‑functional” score that invites the viewer to feel it too.


Sacred ↔ Secular

Items intended for secular use draw from the aesthetics of religious imagery. Symbols from secular life illuminate our understanding of religion.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18497979/

  • Designed by Norman Orr
  • offset lithograph on white wove paper
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie J. Schreyer
  • religion
  • graphic design
  • music
  • typography
  • figure
  • poster

This poster, advertising a rock and roll concert in an implicitly secular club, draws inspiration from iconic portraiture of Jesus.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/69122329/

  • silk, cotton
  • Museum purchase through gift of Paul F. Walter and from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund
  • stripes
  • Islamic
  • symbols
  • spiral
  • swords
  • African
  • Hausa

This majestic robe from Nigeria displays embroidery patterned after calligraphy styles found in the Holy Koran.

Esperanza Spalding Selects

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108722017/

  • book, page 20b
  • Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, PS3519.O2625 G6
  • figures
  • silhouette
  • musical instruments
  • trombones

Trombones, not generally associated with spiritual preaching, carry the theme of James Weldon Johnson’s book of poetic sermons.