This exhibition was on display from December 12, 2014 to October 29, 2017.

There were 197 objects in this exhibition but right now we can only show you 187 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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Two remarkable women founded the collection and institution that is now Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of the industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper, formed the core collection, which was originally housed in New York's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. With the goal of elevating the state of decorative design in America, they looked to Paris's Musee des Arts Decoratifs as a model and in 1897 the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration was inaugurated.
Displayed here and in the two galleries to your left are objects collected by the Hewitt sisters, ranging from prints, drawings, furniture, and metalwork to buttons, birdcages, and textiles.They purchased works of technical as well as artistic merit at home and on their travels to Europe, from dealers, and at auction. The collection was conceived as "a practical working laboratory," a visual library where students, designers, and the public could be inspired directly by objects. There were few restrictions: objects could be touched, moved, sketched, photographed, and measured. Even by today's standards, the sisters' vision for a modern museum was radical. Today, thanks to unprecedented access to digital technology, we can continue to extend the sisters' user-focused ambitions.
A museum's collection tells the story of its founders, donors, directors, and curators, and the richness of Cooper Hewitt's collection is no exception. Celebrated here are donors to the core of our collection, which was amassed by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sisters also solicited friends and acquaintances for contributions of objects or funds to grow the collections that served as design resource material for the Museum for the Arts of Decoration in the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
To assist in their efforts, in 1907, under the direction of department store owner and collector George A. Hearn, the sisters established an advisory committee of leaders from the artistic, collecting, and business communities. Members included industrialist J.P. Morgan, who donated important collections of sixteenth-century textiles, and Astor descendant Mr. John Innes Kane and his wife Anne Schermerhorn Kane, who gave objects they purchased and inherited, ranging in date from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Other donors included Mrs. Charles Alexander; Mrs. George T. Bliss, and her daughter Susan Dwight Bliss; and railroad and banking magnate Jacob H. Schiff. The acquisition of French drawings and prints from collector and dealer Jean Leon Decloux, and Italian drawings owned by Borghese family curator Giovanni Piancastelli, reflects the Hewitt sisters' commitment to eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century designs on paper in addition to decorative arts.
Hewitt Sisters Collect is made possible by generous support from Nancy Marks.
Additional funding is provided by Margery and Edgar Masinter and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

  • This object is part of the Textiles collection.
  • This object is part of the Textiles collection.
  • Tapestry Fragment (Spain)
  • silk, metallic (gilded parchment wound around silk core).
  • Gift of John Pierpont Morgan.
  • 1902-1-82
  • This object is part of the Textiles collection.
  • There are 5 images of this object.
  • This object is part of the Textiles collection.
  • There are 3 images of this object.
  • Border (Portugal)
  • silk embroidery on linen foundation.
  • Gift of John Pierpont Morgan.
  • 1902-1-904
  • This object is part of the Textiles collection.
  • There are 38 images of this object.
  • Leather (Holland)
  • leather, stamped, silvered, painted.
  • Gift of Eleanor Garnier Hewitt.
  • 1903-12-18
  • Leather
  • leather, stamped, embossed, silvered, varnished.
  • Museum purchase through gift of Thomas Snell.
  • 1903-21-3
  • Mount (France)
  • cast and gilt bronze.
  • Gift of Jacob H. Schiff.
  • 1904-20-470
  • Mount (France)
  • cast and gilt bronze mounted on carved wood block.
  • Gift of Mrs. Charles B. Alexander.
  • 1907-1-40
  • Drawing, View of Masquerade Ball
  • pen and black ink, brush and gray wash, watercolor, black chalk on white laid....
  • Purchased for the Museum by the Advisory Council.
  • 1911-28-38
  • Coffeepot Coffeepot
  • hard paste porcelain, vitreous enamel.
  • Gift of Mrs. Edward Luckemeyer.
  • 1912-13-1-a,b
  • Birdcage Birdcage
  • tin-glazed earthenware, metal wire, metal.
  • Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt.
  • 1916-19-60-a,b
  • Church Birdcage
  • turned, cut, and stained mahogany, cherry, pine, cut brass, wire,....
  • Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt.
  • 1916-19-83-a,b