Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt: Designing a Modern Museum
This exhibition was on display from February 04, 2022 to October 10, 2022.
There were 92 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 91 of them. Some objects may not be viewable because they were on loan; this might be due to issues involving image rights or simply because there is no digitized image for the objects.
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Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum exists today because of the vision of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt. In 1897, a longtime dream of the sisters was realized when they formally opened the galleries of The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration to the public. The collection they established for that museum is the foundation of Cooper Hewitt's collection today.
Sarah (1859–1930) and Eleanor (1864–1924), also known as "Sallie" and "Nellie," were two of six grandchildren of industrialist and educator Peter Cooper, and daughters of Abram and Sarah Hewitt. An upbringing that prioritized education and philanthropy shaped the women's creative and spirited personalities, inspiring them to pursue charitable interests of their own. Eleanor wrote, "Love of beautiful and exquisite workmanship was an inheritance from two practical and artistic grandfathers . . . producing . . . a natural interest in the arts of decoration."
In the early 1890s, Sarah and Eleanor began designing a museum for the arts of decoration within The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the public school founded by Peter Cooper in 1859. The purpose of the museum was not only to inspire good American taste through a study of historical decorative arts, but to offer a path to professional employment in the field of design. The sisters called their museums "modern," and planned galleries, collections of objects, and reference materials to be freely accessible to students and a broad public.
This exhibition marks the 125th anniversary of The Cooper Union Museum and celebrates the Smithsonian Institution's 175th year.