Beverly Chichester, Doll Quilt, c. 1937
During the Great Depression the federal government funded several projects for artists and about art.
Sylvia De Zon, Patchwork Quilt, c. 1939Romana Javitz, who administered the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection, and textile designer Ruth Reeves proposed an Index of American Design, a visual survey of American crafts.
Detail of a pieced quilt by Mae C. ClarkeThe project began in 1935. Over 300 artists rendered objects in great detail. Coverlets, baskets, beadwork, weathervanes and quilts from the Colonial era to 1900 were captured in watercolors.
Marion Curtiss, Quilt, c. 1938
Why paint the objects instead of photographing them? At the time there was no reliable color film, so the only way to truly record the art was in a color painting. Out-of-work commercial artists received training in the complex process of capturing one piece of art in another.
Magnus Fossum painting a coverlet
Many of the pieces in the survey were from museums but others were in private collections. The Index rendering is sometimes the only record we have of the piece.
Byron Dingman, Quilt, c. 1941
At a time when American folk arts were often considered second rate, the Index of American Design brought new respect to crafts from many cultures. The publication of the pictures helped define American traditions.
In 1950 many of the paintings were published in a book set The Treasury of American Design by Clarence P. Hornung (expanded in 1972). Other authors, for example, Dolores A. Hinson, published quilt pictures. Hinson also patterned out several of the complex appliqués in her American Graphic Quilt Designs.
18th-century dress by Julie C. Brush
The National Gallery of Art has a website with pictures of objects in various categories. There are 17 in the textile tour:
Read more about the Index by clicking here: