Abstract in 1937

You must be able to tell I'm a historian through and through. W.W. Kent's books are fascinating, and what neat thing did I find within today? On p. 212 of Rare Hooked Rugs (1941), Kent displays a photograph courtesy of Mrs. Lilian Mills Mosséller who designed it (Plate 236). Mosséller lived in New York and Asheville, North Carolina. I scanned it and show it here.

Kent claims it is a "famous" rug called "Coffee and Cream." It is an abstract hooked before 1937 when it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the International Rugs and Carpets show. It was taken on tour across the USA by the American Federation of Arts in 1938. In 1939 it was exhibited at the World's Art Fair in New York. With my interest in abstract rugs, so far this is the earliest intentional abstract I have been able to locate to date.

The design idea was taken from the top of a swirling cup of coffee with cream in it. Unfortunately all we have in terms of a picture is this black and white. But Kent tells us that the colors were fabulous: six shades of white, oyster, eggshell, snow white, with an accent of chartreuse.

Mosséller appears to have been a well-known rug designer in her day. She wrote a few pages about the "contemporary rugs and their future" which Kent put in his book. She had a studio in New York and employed many hookers, whom she calls "artisans" and "workers". She seems to have been known for hiring handicapped people to hook her rugs. Kent preserves a photograph of these men and women working in her studios. She also had devised a huge crude cutting machine which stripped the wool in pieces that look to be around 3/4 inches wide. She was very keen on rug designers being considered on par with Picasso and Van Gogh, and she was very proud that her rug hung in the Met alongside these famous painters.

She is very insistent that designers must start signing their work by weaving their signature in the fabric, just as the painters do with paint. This intrigues me, because here is a shift from the earlier idea that hand-hooked rugs are utilitarian mats manufactured by workers and should not be signed, to the idea that the designer at least is an artist and her rugs will only increase in value if her signature is on it.