Date of this Version
Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Lucienne Day and Eszter Haraszty were leaders in both the design and business of mid-century textiles, Day through prominent commissions with Heal Fabrics and other firms in Britain, and Haraszty as director of Knoll’s textile division in the United States. Later, each designer turned from design for commercial production toward needlework-derived textile art, but their attitudes and methods were strikingly different. Both designers’ commercial work is well documented in scholarly design literature (Day’s especially), but their needlework is relatively neglected. This paper will shed deserved light on their textile art at a time when the studio craft movement was solidifying, and will show how their differing attitudes toward needlework reflects the stories they wanted to tell about their own lives, personal and professional, as well as the tension between critical perspectives of “women’s work” as alternatively oppressive or liberating.
Day’s apparent concern that characterizing her new work as craft might degrade her standing as a professional, as well as Haraszty’s evangelism toward craft, reflect different aspects of contemporaneous debates over the relative values of design, fine arts, and handicraft/craftsmanship. Day developed “silk mosaics,” the term itself a self-conscious distancing from the patchwork-derived process, which was pointedly completed by assistants, not the designer herself. Major studies of Day typically take her dissociation from craft unquestioningly.
Like Day, Haraszty coined a new term for her particular approach—“needlepainting,” a freewheeling form of embroidery—but she was comfortable identifying as a crafter/maker. Yet even the exhibition catalog for 2012’s Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design addresses only her work for Knoll, dismissing her embroidery as something done after “her lifestyle and aesthetic shifted dramatically.” With one foot in professional textile design and another in the world of make-it-yourself craft, Haraszty breaks the boundary between high design and handicrafts.