This post was written by Katie Wagner, Senior Book Conservator, David Holbert, Digital Imaging Specialist, and Jacqueline E. Chapman, Head, Digital Library and Digitization. Learn more about the diaries of more »
Tag: Hewitt Sisters
Curious what might life have really been like for two wealthy, unattached New York City sisters at the turn of the 20th century? Fictional sisters Ada and Agnes from HBO’s more »
This is a two-part series on the Hewitt sisters. Read part one.
By 1897, Sarah and Eleanor had collected enough to formally open their museum on the fourth floor of the Cooper Union. In the tradition of their grandfather, the Hewitt sisters wanted to actualize a museum and library that were not just a showcase, but also tools—places that students and designers could come to for reference and inspiration, then go out and create their own innovative objects. In the birth of the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, the sisters embodied the increasingly democratic attitudes that grew to dominate the 20th century. Their museum was to be open to everyone, with “no tedious restrictions and formalities,” which were often imposed by the exclusive art galleries of the era. Indeed, their museum provided a means for many women to gain economic independence through art and design.
Deep in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library’s collection of rare books, one might be surprised to come across children’s illustrated books by Walter Crane and Beatrix Potter. Even more fascinating might be the origin of these tomes, for in this collection are the very books read by the founding sisters of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum: Sarah (Sallie) and Eleanor (Nellie) Hewitt. These sisters—born of the Gilded Age, granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—would create the first and only museum dedicated to decorative arts in the United States, originally named the Museum for the Arts of Decoration. They were the first women to establish a museum in America.
Over the past several weeks, I explored the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Design Museum Library’s collection of illustrated children’s books…