Date of this Version
Published in Silk Roads, Other Roads: Textile Society of America 8th Biennial Symposium, Sept. 26–28, 2002, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
The American Textile History Museum acquired its first Associated American Artists fabric in 1996. From a curatorial viewpoint the fabric was intriguing because although it's rare that useful information is printed in the selvage, this fabric was labeled "A SIGNATURE FABRIC "GAY FACADE" © CREATED BY JOHN HULL OF ASSOCIATED AMERICAN ARTISTS." As the Museum expanded its collection of AAA fabrics it was discovered that most of these fabrics also have the date printed on them. The selvage inscriptions and the nature of the designs and fabric names prompted further exploration of the organization.
In 1934 the Associated American Artists organized, under the leadership of Reeves Lewenthal, with the mission to bridge the gap between artists and their audiences by making fine art affordable. Lewenthal believed the purpose of the organization was two-fold: to disseminate art that would elevate the American artist, and to increase the public's appreciation of art. This conviction led to a nationwide collaboration with fifty department stores that agreed to display and sell signed etchings and lithographs by artists belonging to this newly formed group, most notably Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. The artwork which would have sold for $20-$50 in galleries was sold for S5.00 on the theory that anyone with an aesthetic sense should be able to purchase fine art regardless of their income level.
After the initial release in department stores the Associated American Artists began offering their work through catalogues because they felt they could then reach a larger, international audience. Just five years later, in 1939, the organization opened its first gallery selling paintings, sculpture, watercolors, and fine prints. By the late 1990s the gallery was no longer an independent organization but owned by Associated Group, a company operating primarily in the wireless communication and radio broadcasting industries. AT&T bought out Associated Group in 1999 and the gallery, which was last located at 20 West 57th Street appears to have gone out of business sometime after February 2000.
Riverdale and Lowenstein Fabric Lines
Between 1952 and 1957, the Associated American Artists expanded their merchandising theories to include designing fabrics for both the apparel and interior markets. These fabrics, the majority titled, signed, and dated in the selvage, were heralded at their introduction by newspaper articles, shelter and apparel magazines—both for the public and the trade.
Under the direction of Lewenthal, the Associated American Artists entered the textile market in 1952 by first working with Riverdale Manufacturing to produce designs for interior furnishing fabrics. On the introduction of this inaugural collection, entitled "Pioneer Pathways," Lewenthal was quoted in a House & Garden article stating, "Art needn't be mysterious.... Today's artist is a designer.. .and every American room can become a showcase for his genius."