Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)



Progressive educational theories, many which had their roots in the late nineteenth century, were put to the test as a result of the Federal Art Project initiative. A small collection of printed textiles at the Museum at FIT produced during the second half of the nineteen-thirties at the Educational Alliance Art School in New York City reflect philosophies relevant to the period of the New Deal. The textiles represent and illustrate major social forces in America: the late nineteenth century settlement house providing services such as language, citizenship, and skills training; Roosevelt's New Deal and the federal relief efforts of the Works Progress Administration; the period was rich in exploring how children learn, experimenting with different environments to support and enhance children's creative expression. The designs of these textiles allow the contemporary viewer to pay witness to the children's point of view and their world of the 1930s.

Fourteen textiles were purchased by the museum between 1989 and 1993. They were purchased from two dealers. These textiles proposed many questions, such as, where and how they were produced; and for what purpose; if they were sold and where; were they exhibited; how ,many yards of each design were printed; were there other WPA/FAP programs producing similar textiles? Primary sources from the Educational Alliance Trustees meeting records during the 1930s, the Holger Cahill papers in the collection of the National Archive, photographic documentation from the Photographic Division of the Works Progress Administration, and examination of the objects themselves, all helped answer many of these questions. One goal of the research was to determine at what level of the production were the children involved. Were they creating the initial prototypes that were then manufactured elsewhere?