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)


In 1918, Stewart Culin, Curator of Ethnology, opened his first "study room" at The Brooklyn Museum of Art, filled it with Indian cottons, and invited American designers to use it for inspiration.

While Culin never designed a textile or costume and never deviated from his scholarly and curatorial roles, he in effect functioned as both master of a design library and informal manufacturer's agent American designers responded by incorporating ideas gleaned from the materials he offered them. Stores displayed his exhibitions and even bought from the same sources he collected from.

This presentation will explore how Culin saw himself, his museum and his specialty (ethnography) as active participants in the shaping of both an American design aesthetic and specific textile and costume designs. American costume will enter the discussion secondarily, as examples of designs that have been filtered through an "ethnographic" clothing reference, rendering a study room object marketable.

At the site (The Brooklyn Museum of Art) materials from the Stewart Culin Archive and the Special Collections will be displayed, and everyone will be encouraged to participate in an extended discussion after .the presentation. Issues for discussion will include: How curators and museums affect the marketplace and are affected by it: what factors during and after World War I were prompting the development of an American aesthetic; what were the elements of that aesthetic; what changes have occurred in the tradition of museums inspiring designers.