Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
In January 1918 President Woodrow Wilson was given a Karnak Wilton carpet woven by the Shuttleworth Brothers Company of Amsterdam, New York, and inspired in part by the Statue of Liberty lighting ceremony he officiated in 1916. Featuring at its center the Statue of Liberty, surrounded by symbols of America's past and present, the rug remained at the White House throughout Wilson's presidency. Presented shortly after America's entrance into World War I and just weeks after Wilson's now-famous "Fourteen Points" speech, this "Liberty Rug" provided a symbolic narrative of the triumph of American progress while serving as physical proof of the country's manufacturing prowess. More than just a chronicle of history, however, the Liberty Rug was an emblem of the period's cultural embrace of order and industry, as well as the fervent patriotism associated with Progressive-era political notions of expanding American democracy. This presentation will discuss the Karnak Liberty Rug's manufacture and primary motifs as they relate to issues of national identity, and political and industrial power in America during the war. A brief introduction will address the history of American carpet manufacture and the role of the Shuttleworth Brothers Company in particular. In addition, the rug will be situated within the broader history Western of carpet-making and politics. Finally, I will discuss the relatively shortlived popularity of the rug, and what that may suggest about America's changing politics. Key research sources include marketing materials, period news and popular accounts, and literary references.