Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Starting in 1947 and lasting through the mid-sixties, the political attitudes and cultural mentality of United States Cold War crept into design, imposing codes of conduct by means of material goods and a distinct domestic aesthetic. In direct response to fear associated with the possibility of devastated nuclear landscapes, nature-inspired motifs on curtains and draperies allowed inhabitants to create a controlled situation, enclosing the interior of the home and shutting out the perils of manmade destruction outside. Likewise, seemingly abstract patterns mimic scientific images of atomic energy, atom and h-bombs, and airplanes, providing a new common visual language to help acclimate citizens in an uncertain world through decoration and the use of space. Scholarly research has focused on the influence of modern artists on mid-century textile designers, concurrently aiding in the elevation of textile design from craft to high design. Yet an examination of work by those such as Alexander Girard, Ruth Adler Schnee, and Angelo Testa, among others, shows that the Cold War culture, a largely uninvestigated area, was also deeply imbedded in contemporary design and held similar sway. As containment culture asked, American citizens collaborated with designers to construct the idyllic American domestic space, simultaneously keeping thoughts of nuclear warfare at bay and maintaining high morale. This exploration aims to present thorough research regarding the reciprocal relationship between Cold War culture and textile design, providing a richer understanding of how textiles and politics can be used in tandem to promote political action as well as the aesthetic of an era.