In October 1976, Cooper Hewitt opened to the public in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Design. The Museum was created in 1897 by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, grand-daughters of Peter Cooper, the founder of the Cooper Union, a liberal public institution for the advancement of science and art. In 1968, the collection became part of the Smithsonian Institution, and, in 1994, the name of the Museum was changed to Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, and then in 2014 to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The Museum’s collections place it among the foremost repositories of design and decorative arts in the world. The Museum was founded with the purpose of being thoroughly accessible for study and continues to acknowledge that tradition.
The mission of the Museum is to enrich the lives of all people by exploring the nature and impact of design. Through its activities and research, the Museum stimulates creative thinking; makes information about design accessible to a broad public; provides a national and international forum for experimentation and discourse on design issues; serves new audiences, particularly students across New York City and the United States; and inspires others to value human achievements in design.
The Museum’s permanent collection contains more than 215,000 objects, representing contemporary and historical design in five curatorial departments—Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design; Product Design and Decorative Arts; Textiles; Wallcoverings; and Digital—and embracing the fields of architecture, interior design, landscape design, product design, decorative arts, graphic design, born digital, and more.
The Textiles collection includes examples from around the world dating as early as the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC–AD 220). It is particularly strong in woven silks from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries; printed fabrics from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries; embroideries from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, including European and American samplers, men’s caps, and waistcoats; and laces from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Contemporary textile design from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is also well represented.
The diverse collection of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design ranks as one of the world’s foremost repositories of design for the decorative arts, architecture, interiors, and ornament. One of only a handful of American museums to hold a work by Michelangelo Buonarroti, the department has strengths in seventeenth- through early nineteenth-century Italian architectural and decorative drawings from the collection of Giovanni Piancastelli, curator of the Borghese Collection; eighteenth-century French architectural and decorative designs in drawings, prints, and books, from the collection of Jean-Léon Decloux, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century French architectural decorator, collector, and dealer; and other European designs for architecture and stage sets and watercolors of nineteenth-century European interiors. Works by Carlo Marchionni, Giuseppe Barberi, Felice Giani, and John Crace and Sons, for example, are represented in depth. The Museum also boasts a major collection of nineteenth-century American drawings, including more than 300 works by Winslow Homer; more than 2,000 works by Frederic Edwin Church, the largest such holdings in the world; and more than eighty works by Thomas Moran. Twentieth-century strengths include posters and costume designs by E. McKnight Kauffer; designs for textiles and wallpapers from the Wiener Werkstätte; and the archives of American industrial-design pioneers Donald Deskey and Henry Dreyfuss; and contemporary American graphic design.
The Product Design and Decorative Arts collection is international in scope and includes metalwork, ceramics, glass, furniture, jewelry, and product design of most periods and styles. Objects range from Egyptian artifacts and classical antiquities to present-day industrial design and one-of-a-kind objects. The department has exceptional holdings in ceramics from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries; nineteenth- through twenty-first-century jewelry; product prototypes and models; metalwork in all categories; nineteenth- and twentieth-century seating furniture; Soviet propaganda porcelains; production glass; and cutlery.
The Wallcoverings department houses the largest collection of wallpaper and wallcoverings in the United States. The collection includes European and American production from the seventeenth through the twenty-first centuries, and is particularly strong in nineteenth-century French block-printed examples and twentieth-century
American production. Dutch gilded and embossed leathers, French stenciled domino papers, sample books, American bandboxes, and wallpaper fragments from historic homes are all part of the collection, which also includes a large research collection of published articles and advertisements related to wallcoverings.
The Digital department is one of the newest areas of collecting for the museum and cuts across all areas of design. Born digital design—design that is created and exists digitally—is perhaps one of the most rapidly growing areas of design practice. It includes interaction design, data visualization, app design, web design, information architecture, game design, digital animation, born-digital typography, and interface design; all areas that the museum is actively collecting.
The museum holds 22 archives of important American designers and manufacturers that are a unique and significant resource for untold stories about the history of design. Although without an archivist, the museum is not actively seeking out archives for the collection, it is still working to process and digitize existing archives.
In addition to the fivecuratorial departments, Cooper Hewitt also houses the National Design Library, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The Library contains more than 80,000 volumes in design and related fields, including approximately 8,000 rare books, 4,500 trade catalogs, and more than 120 subscriptions to design and architecture magazines. It also houses the archives of designers Henry Dreyfuss, Donald Deskey, George Nathan Horwitt, Donald Wallance, and Ladislav Sutnar, as well as an African-American and Latino-American design archive.
Special collections include more than one thousand volumes of World’s Fair materials from 1844 to the present, with particular strengths in the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations at London’s Crystal Palace and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Library also holds a pop-up book collection of some 1200 titles; and 4,300 black-and-white Thérèse Bonney photographs of Paris and Art Deco architecture and design (1925–40). A critical resource for the joint Master’s Program in the History of the Decorative Arts, jointly run by Cooper Hewitt and Parsons The New School for Design, the Library also supports independent research projects by Smithsonian Fellows and other scholars and visitors.
The Museum is dedicated to engaging the public in all aspects of design through its exhibitions, publications, and educational programs. In addition to the areas of specialization mentioned above, specific groups in the Museum’s collection that merit further study are: the Strater collection of Swiss enameled glass; the archives of the lighting and metalwork firm E. F. Caldwell; American art pottery of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; archives of 20th-century designers such as the graphic-design firm M&Co.; and highly specialized collections, such as more than 4,000 matchsafes, locks and keys, jewelry and jewelry designs, buttons, and modern industrial design. The Textiles collection offers an opportunity to pursue detailed and technical research on European silk-weaving centers from the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries, with the goal of establishing specific places of origin and the study of the relationships, differences, and influences of Greek, Turkish and North African embroideries from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Other opportunities include Italian eighteenth-century architectural and nineteenth-century stage designs; eighteenth-century French ornament prints; nineteenth-century European watercolor interiors and twentieth-century American machine-printed wallpaper. Contemporary design research opportunities include field research on contemporary graphic design, and product design. The Museum has on staff the first curator of Socially Responsible Design, offering research opportunities on design that address challenges faced by expanding population in global informal communities. Current field research has been conducted in eighteen cities across Asia, South and Central American, and Africa. Further research areas are collections management, management information systems related to collection inventory control, digitization, and retrieval, as well as registration functions related to temporary traveling and permanent exhibitions, textile and paper conservation, and general research for collections cataloging, exhibitions, publications, and programs.
Barack, Sarah, Head of Conservation and Senior Objects Conservator. B.A. Brown University (1996); M.A. Art History and Conservation of Art and Historic Works, Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2003); M.B.A. Columbia Business School (2009). Research specialties: Ceramics and glass conservation and early American glass manufacture; Outreach and educational programming for K-12 students and educators. Contact: BarackS@si.edu
Brown, Susan Jeanne, Assistant Curator of Textiles. B.A. (1987) Cornell University; M.A. (2001) Fashion Institute of Technology. Research specialties: Felt, technical textiles. Contact: BrownSu@si.edu
Condell, Caitlin, Associate Curator & Head, Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department. B.A. (2007) Oberlin College; M.A. (2012) Williams College. Research specialties: Modern and contemporary drawings, prints, and photographs, graphic design, architecture, industrial design. Contact: CondellC@si.edu
De Leon, Christina, Associate Curator of Latino Design. B.A. (2005) Hobart and William Smith; M.A. (2010) New York University; Doctoral Candidate, Bard Graduate Center. Research Specialties: Decorative arts and material culture of Viceregal America; Modern and Contemporary U.S. Latino and Latin American Design. Contact: DeLeonC22@si.edu
Eng-Wilmot, Kira, Textile Conservator. B.A. (2002) University of Richmond, VA; M.A. (2009) Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC. Research specialties: textile conservation, collections management, exhibition installation, preventative conservation, Contact: engwilmotS@si.edu
Lipps, Andrea, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Design. B.A. (2000) University of Michigan; M.A. (2008) Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum and Parsons The New School for Design. Research specialties: Contemporary design, specifically social innovation. Contact: LippsA@si.edu
McQuaid, Matilda, Deputy Curatorial Director. B.A. (1979) Bowdoin College; M.A. (1991) University of Virginia. Research specialties: Textiles; Contemporary design. Contact: McquaidM@si.edu
Orr, Emily, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design. B.A. (2002) Colgate University; M.A. (2006) N.Y.U.; PhD (2017) Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum. Research specialties: Nineteenth and twentieth-century American material culture; retail history; consumer culture. Contact: OrrEm@si.edu
Smith, Cynthia E., Curator of Socially Responsible Design. BSID (1987) Ohio State University; MPA (2005) Harvard University. Research specialties: Socially responsible design. Contact: SmithCynthia@si.edu
Trope, Cynthia, Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts. B.A. (1980) State University of New York, College, Oneonta; M.A. (1991) Parsons School of Design/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Research specialties: Twentieth-century design: Scandinavian design; glass; care of museum collections. Contact: TropeCi@si.edu
You, Yao-Fen, Senior Curator and Head of Product Design and Decorative Arts. B.A. (1995) University of California, Berkeley; M.A. (2000) and Ph.D. (2005) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Research specialties: 16th-18th Century European Decorative Arts (Ceramics and Silver; Schatzkammer/Kunstkammer); History of Dining; Polychrome Sculpture; History of Collecting and Art Markets; Provenance Research; 15th-16th Century Netherlandish Art. Contact: Youy@si.edu
Affiliated Research Staff
Lupton, Ellen, Curator Emerita. B.F.A. (1985) Cooper Union School of Art; Ph.D. (2008) University of Baltimore. Research specialties: History and criticism of twentieth- and twenty-first century graphic and industrial design. Contact: LuptonE@si.edu