Carpet fragment, United States of America, 1880-1889, jute, approx. 2”x4”
Samantha Barris a fourth year student in the School of Human Ecology, studying Interior Architecture.
This semester, I have been investigating the recent history and current practices of textile production and design, as well as looking at sustainability. A visit to the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection allowed me to investigate a particularly stunning piece of jute carpet up close, and it was hard to ignore the aesthetic quality. It is evident that the Arts and Crafts movement was a strong influence on this woven piece.
The design is full of delicate florals with organic shapes and bends. The design suggests a geometric repeat, but a larger sample would be needed to confirm this. The Arts and Crafts movement in America followed the movement in England, reacting to the growing industrialization and seeming dehumanization of goods in the built environment, as well as the extreme ornamentation of the Victorian era. Designers such as William Morris aimed to create high quality goods with a handmade feel. Morris’ textile designs featured light weight and elegant geometric florals with intricate features, which have clearly influenced this piece in terms of content and color.
During the Arts and Crafts movement, people used interior design in their homes to showcase their cultural capital, a practice that emerged in the earlier Victorian era. This carpet could very likely have been intended for residential design, as it is cut to a size that could be used as a sample for potential customers looking to build or update their homes. Delicate carpets would have been important in the home to juxtapose with the dark stains on wood, thick beams, and strong rectilinear geometry that characterize Craftsman style homes and Arts and Crafts furniture. Not only did rugs and carpets help soften the feel of the space, but they offered a small pop of color and texture. Many high-end homes had furniture designed as complete suites by an architect, specific to the residence. Embodying the cultural context of the movement and adding visual comfort to the residential interior made these rugs integral in unifying Arts and Crafts interior features with the residential environment.
In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.