Behind the Scenes: Knoll Textiles

written by:
May 26, 2011

Many a modern-design enthusiast can spot a Cesca side chair and say it was designed by Marcel Breuer. But, were it upholstered in Digit fabric, few could name the textile designer. (Answer: Suzanne Tick.) The new exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center titled Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010 features Knoll's original fabrics and textiles. The project began four years ago when Knoll approached Bard to do an exhibit. Soon thereafter, the curatorial team was created, comprising of Earl Martin, the associate curator at the Bard Graduate Center; Angela Völker, the curator emeritus of textiles at the MAK in Vienna; Susan Ward, an independent textile historian, and Paul Makovsky, the editorial director of Metropolis and a Florence Knoll expert. After years digging through existing archives and searching through former Knoll employees' attics to put together a comprehensive history and catalogue of KnollTextiles works, the exhibit is finally on display. Here, Madovsky takes us behind the scene and shares went into creating the show and shares stories about a number of the pieces on display.
 

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  In the early 1950s, Knoll hired Evelyn Hill Anselevicius to create a series of handwoven textiles, including this fabric titled H910. "What's interesting about this one is that it's made of wool, plastic, and jute," Makovsky says. "She was innovative, doing weavings that mixed interesting colors or materials to create different textures and scales."
    In the early 1950s, Knoll hired Evelyn Hill Anselevicius to create a series of handwoven textiles, including this fabric titled H910. "What's interesting about this one is that it's made of wool, plastic, and jute," Makovsky says. "She was innovative, doing weavings that mixed interesting colors or materials to create different textures and scales."
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  This cotton, screen-printed textile by Eszter Haraszty dubbed Tracy was introduced in 1952. When the curatorial team began its research, the Knoll archives only went back to 1951. "We had to do a lot of digging," Makovsky says. "We reached out to ex-Knollies, people who worked at Knoll, and tried to track down textiles. Fortunately there were two employees who were married to one another and we found a cache of great, very rare textiles in their attic. One of them had always wanted to make pillows out of them but never got around to doing it, which was great for us because we used some of those in the exhibition."
    This cotton, screen-printed textile by Eszter Haraszty dubbed Tracy was introduced in 1952. When the curatorial team began its research, the Knoll archives only went back to 1951. "We had to do a lot of digging," Makovsky says. "We reached out to ex-Knollies, people who worked at Knoll, and tried to track down textiles. Fortunately there were two employees who were married to one another and we found a cache of great, very rare textiles in their attic. One of them had always wanted to make pillows out of them but never got around to doing it, which was great for us because we used some of those in the exhibition."
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  Knoll introduced webbing into its chairs in the 1940s. Seen here is Marianne Strengell's Pebble-Weave webbing on a Ralph Rapson rocking chair. "Materials were scarce and wartime restrictions meant Knoll had to come up with innovative solutions," Makovsky says. "Jens Risom's chair used rejected parachute webbing but the company later went to suppliers to make actual webbing with textures on it. Pebble-Weave was designed by Strengell, who was the head of weaving at Cranbrook. Florence had gone to Cranbrook and Rapson had as well so there was a connection between Knoll and the academy in the early days." Designers like Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia also studied at Cranbrook and Eliel Saarinen (a noted architect and Eero Saarinen's father) was head of the academy at one time.
    Knoll introduced webbing into its chairs in the 1940s. Seen here is Marianne Strengell's Pebble-Weave webbing on a Ralph Rapson rocking chair. "Materials were scarce and wartime restrictions meant Knoll had to come up with innovative solutions," Makovsky says. "Jens Risom's chair used rejected parachute webbing but the company later went to suppliers to make actual webbing with textures on it. Pebble-Weave was designed by Strengell, who was the head of weaving at Cranbrook. Florence had gone to Cranbrook and Rapson had as well so there was a connection between Knoll and the academy in the early days." Designers like Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia also studied at Cranbrook and Eliel Saarinen (a noted architect and Eero Saarinen's father) was head of the academy at one time.
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  German-American textile designer Anni Albers (who was married to Josef Albers) worked with Knoll from 1957 into the 1970s. Her Rail textile was introduced in 1962. "Albers had experimented with weaving gauze since the 1920s," Makovsky says. "Here she twisted threads so that it has these wide opens spaces in the textile itself. In the 1950s she wrote about using loose and rigid textiles as space dividers, which Florence Knoll had begun doing in showrooms. Florence wanted you to use textiles in very architectural ways, not always as drapes or upholstery but as different textures and as dividers in a space."
    German-American textile designer Anni Albers (who was married to Josef Albers) worked with Knoll from 1957 into the 1970s. Her Rail textile was introduced in 1962. "Albers had experimented with weaving gauze since the 1920s," Makovsky says. "Here she twisted threads so that it has these wide opens spaces in the textile itself. In the 1950s she wrote about using loose and rigid textiles as space dividers, which Florence Knoll had begun doing in showrooms. Florence wanted you to use textiles in very architectural ways, not always as drapes or upholstery but as different textures and as dividers in a space."
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  American furniture and textile designer Ross Littell worked with Knoll through the 1950s and 60s, after which he moved to Denmark then Copenhagen to collaborate with well-known European manufacturers. His linen, screen-printed textile Mira was introduced in the Knoll collection in 1958.
    American furniture and textile designer Ross Littell worked with Knoll through the 1950s and 60s, after which he moved to Denmark then Copenhagen to collaborate with well-known European manufacturers. His linen, screen-printed textile Mira was introduced in the Knoll collection in 1958.
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  "A lot of times when you look at a piece in a museum, the identification placard will say that it is, perhaps, a Saarinen chair, but it doesn't identify the textile on it," Makovsky says. "Some museums also see nothing wrong with reupholstering a chair on exhibit. We were looking at pictures and in databases trying to find out what textiles were on the pieces in the collections and determining if they were original or not." Shown here is Ettore Sottsass's Eastside lounge chair upholstered in Romanie fabric by Jhane Barnes.
    "A lot of times when you look at a piece in a museum, the identification placard will say that it is, perhaps, a Saarinen chair, but it doesn't identify the textile on it," Makovsky says. "Some museums also see nothing wrong with reupholstering a chair on exhibit. We were looking at pictures and in databases trying to find out what textiles were on the pieces in the collections and determining if they were original or not." Shown here is Ettore Sottsass's Eastside lounge chair upholstered in Romanie fabric by Jhane Barnes.
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  This Stephens side chair by Williams Stephens dates to the early 1970s and is upholstered with the Inca textile by Sheila Hicks.
    This Stephens side chair by Williams Stephens dates to the early 1970s and is upholstered with the Inca textile by Sheila Hicks.
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  Apples is a screen-printed textile created in 1950 by ceramicist and illustrator Frederick Stig Lindberg. "After Hans and Florence Knoll are married in 1946, they go to Europe on their honeymoon and spend time in Sweden looking for furniture and textiles to bring back to the U.S. and put into the Knoll line," Makovsky says. "They worked with Astrid Sampe, who was the director of textiles at Stockholm department store Nordiska Kompaniet, or NK. Apples was part of NK's line and became part of Knoll's collection in 1948."
    Apples is a screen-printed textile created in 1950 by ceramicist and illustrator Frederick Stig Lindberg. "After Hans and Florence Knoll are married in 1946, they go to Europe on their honeymoon and spend time in Sweden looking for furniture and textiles to bring back to the U.S. and put into the Knoll line," Makovsky says. "They worked with Astrid Sampe, who was the director of textiles at Stockholm department store Nordiska Kompaniet, or NK. Apples was part of NK's line and became part of Knoll's collection in 1948."
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  Swiss-born Herbert Matter had his hands in everything. He began working with Knoll in the 1940s doing photography, graphic design, corporate identity, advertisements, and catalogs, and even designed the Knoll logo. "His 1965 Good Catch advertisement [shown here] is typical of his work," Makovsky says. "Most ads might show folded textiles but here he used different swatches as fish scales. Knoll sometimes had a very serious image with its interiors—they were very rational—and these ads injected a certain humor."
    Swiss-born Herbert Matter had his hands in everything. He began working with Knoll in the 1940s doing photography, graphic design, corporate identity, advertisements, and catalogs, and even designed the Knoll logo. "His 1965 Good Catch advertisement [shown here] is typical of his work," Makovsky says. "Most ads might show folded textiles but here he used different swatches as fish scales. Knoll sometimes had a very serious image with its interiors—they were very rational—and these ads injected a certain humor."
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  German weaver Paul Maute's Cato textile ("probably the most famous textile in the Knoll line," Makovsky says) upholsters Eero Saarinen's model 72U side chair (circa 1965). "When I spoke early on with Florence about this exhibition, she explained her philosophy about designing a good textile. She said you have to think about the people, the furniture, and the atmosphere—not just about the pattern itself," Makovsky says. "By people she meant the client and what they need, what they look like. When you talk about the furniture, if you look at the Saarinen chair, it's not just square but has rounded edges so you have to be careful if you use a patterned textile that the fabric doesn't bunch up. The idea of atmosphere was the most important for Florence. The textile is part of the architectural space and if you have textiles that are handwoven then that adds a very human feeling to the interior space."
    German weaver Paul Maute's Cato textile ("probably the most famous textile in the Knoll line," Makovsky says) upholsters Eero Saarinen's model 72U side chair (circa 1965). "When I spoke early on with Florence about this exhibition, she explained her philosophy about designing a good textile. She said you have to think about the people, the furniture, and the atmosphere—not just about the pattern itself," Makovsky says. "By people she meant the client and what they need, what they look like. When you talk about the furniture, if you look at the Saarinen chair, it's not just square but has rounded edges so you have to be careful if you use a patterned textile that the fabric doesn't bunch up. The idea of atmosphere was the most important for Florence. The textile is part of the architectural space and if you have textiles that are handwoven then that adds a very human feeling to the interior space."
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  German designer and painter Wolfgang Bauer created a number of textiles for Knoll in the 1960s. Collage, a cotton velvet, screen-printed fabric, was introduced in 1969.
    German designer and painter Wolfgang Bauer created a number of textiles for Knoll in the 1960s. Collage, a cotton velvet, screen-printed fabric, was introduced in 1969.
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  Marga Hielle Vatter's Dynamic fabric upholsters Max Pearson's 46 chair from the 1970s. "Knoll textiles became known for having a handwoven feeling to them, and early on, they did use hand weavers in the factory in Long Island City," Makovsky says. "Later on, in the 50s and 60s, they took handwoven patterns and machine weaved them. You would get the handwoven look but doing it by machine made them cheaper in price and faster to make."
    Marga Hielle Vatter's Dynamic fabric upholsters Max Pearson's 46 chair from the 1970s. "Knoll textiles became known for having a handwoven feeling to them, and early on, they did use hand weavers in the factory in Long Island City," Makovsky says. "Later on, in the 50s and 60s, they took handwoven patterns and machine weaved them. You would get the handwoven look but doing it by machine made them cheaper in price and faster to make."
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  Florence Knoll's hand reached beyond textile design and interiors and into showroom design and marketing. "She hated floppy panels hinged to walls that displayed textiles," Makovsky says. "People would be looking at them, flipping through panels, and get stuck because someone else was flipping them too." She instead upholstered fabrics into rectangular panels that she used as decorative elements throughout the showrooms. The fabric wheel (shown here) was another way to display textiles. "It echos the form of a wheel, which was the same shape used in Richard Shultz's Petal dining table for Knoll, so there was that connection to furniture, advertising, and marketing," Makovsky says.
    Florence Knoll's hand reached beyond textile design and interiors and into showroom design and marketing. "She hated floppy panels hinged to walls that displayed textiles," Makovsky says. "People would be looking at them, flipping through panels, and get stuck because someone else was flipping them too." She instead upholstered fabrics into rectangular panels that she used as decorative elements throughout the showrooms. The fabric wheel (shown here) was another way to display textiles. "It echos the form of a wheel, which was the same shape used in Richard Shultz's Petal dining table for Knoll, so there was that connection to furniture, advertising, and marketing," Makovsky says.
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  Florence Knoll was also instrumental in developing the standard three-inch-by-three-inch fabric swatch that have now become the industry standard. These swatches show samples of Scotch Linen by Franz Lorenz.
    Florence Knoll was also instrumental in developing the standard three-inch-by-three-inch fabric swatch that have now become the industry standard. These swatches show samples of Scotch Linen by Franz Lorenz.
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  Noémi Raymond designed patterns for Knoll that were introduced from 1948 until 1950. Born in France, Raymond moved to New York as a child and was influenced by Japanese art and design. She married Antonin Raymond, an architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and who, in 1916, went to Japan to supervise the final design work and construction of Wright's Imperial Hotel. "It's interesting that here were these two designers who were not only influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's work but also by Japanese aesthetics," Makovsky says. "In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art had its very famous Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition where Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames showed their furniture and Raymond won first prize for printed textiles." Her Mosaic print (shown here) was introduced in 1950 and was hand printed.
    Noémi Raymond designed patterns for Knoll that were introduced from 1948 until 1950. Born in France, Raymond moved to New York as a child and was influenced by Japanese art and design. She married Antonin Raymond, an architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and who, in 1916, went to Japan to supervise the final design work and construction of Wright's Imperial Hotel. "It's interesting that here were these two designers who were not only influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's work but also by Japanese aesthetics," Makovsky says. "In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art had its very famous Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition where Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames showed their furniture and Raymond won first prize for printed textiles." Her Mosaic print (shown here) was introduced in 1950 and was hand printed.
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  This handwoven textile by Evelyn Hill Anselevicius is another example of the design's unique color and texture combinations. This sample, circa 1952, is made of wool. KnollTextile's new Knoll Luxe line features many fabrics with handwoven appearances. "It goes back to the roots of Knoll and when Florence started to textile division in the 1940s," Makovsky says. Two recently additions to the Luxe line are by fashion designers Rodarte and Proenza Schouler. "It also harks back to the early history of KnollTextiles when Florence used men's tailoring fabric. It's interesting that Dorothy Cosonas, the new KnollTextiles creative director, understands Knoll's history and kept it in mind."
    This handwoven textile by Evelyn Hill Anselevicius is another example of the design's unique color and texture combinations. This sample, circa 1952, is made of wool. KnollTextile's new Knoll Luxe line features many fabrics with handwoven appearances. "It goes back to the roots of Knoll and when Florence started to textile division in the 1940s," Makovsky says. Two recently additions to the Luxe line are by fashion designers Rodarte and Proenza Schouler. "It also harks back to the early history of KnollTextiles when Florence used men's tailoring fabric. It's interesting that Dorothy Cosonas, the new KnollTextiles creative director, understands Knoll's history and kept it in mind."
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  Shown here is Francisca Reichardt's Omahar design from 1971. Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010 is on display at the Bard Graduate Center in New York through July 31. Learn more at bgc.bard.edu.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    Shown here is Francisca Reichardt's Omahar design from 1971. Knoll Textiles, 1945-2010 is on display at the Bard Graduate Center in New York through July 31. Learn more at bgc.bard.edu.

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