Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
During the late 1920s, a collaborative effort was launched by designers and manufacturers in the United States to develop indigenous modern decorative arts and unite art with industry. They were motivated by the realization that Europe surpassed U.S. in the production of contemporary furnishings—a fact made evident at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925, an event that the U.S. tellingly declined to participate in because it believed it could not meet the requirement of presenting new and original designs.1 The exhibition, a selection of which toured the US in 1926, became a model for the display and marketing of modern design and the stylistic trends seen in the exhibition, as well as those recently introduced by emigres from Western and Central Europe, came to inform American decorative arts.2 “Art Deco,” the phrase now used to describe the various progressive styles that emerged during this period, materialized in all facets of the applied arts, including textiles, and the industry adopted—and adapted—the fashions of their European counterparts to suit the American marketplace. A trade catalog of hand-printed linen that was produced by the New York textile importer Robert McBratney & Company, Inc.3 provides a window into this moment and illustrates the adoption and dissemination of Art Deco in the U.S. textile industry. The catalog, which resides in Lloyd Cotsen’s Textile Traces Study Collection in Los Angeles, is, like its maker, poorly documented and this paper serves as an effort to document both. Through an analysis of the catalog and a discussion of Robert McBratney & Co., its affiliations with key designers from the period, and its presence in several important exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s, this paper situates both catalog and company within the history of American textiles and considers the function of the catalog not only as a tool to promote and sell McBratney’s linen, but to promote a philosophy that shaped American design.