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Favorites From the Cooper-Hewitt’s New Online Collection

The museum's clothing and textiles are unwrapped for view as never before

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Matchbook in the shape of a folded men’s shirt, with incised checkerboard-patterned weave, cuffs and bib, smiling child’s head peering out from opening at collar. Reverse inscribed “New York Clothing House, 102 & 104 Baltimore St., Baltimore.” Upper curved section swings open to reveal match compartment,  c. mid-19th century. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, has recently digitized 60 percent of its collection and made it available to the public. If my math is correct, that means that 123,802 objects spanning 24 centuries can now be viewed online. Prints, drawings, graphic design, decorative arts, textiles, wall coverings and garments that previously had been on view only during exhibitions or in print catalogues can now be found on the Cooper-Hewitt website along with details about materials and construction, when the object was acquired and its provenance.

Cubist design of woman wearing a full coat with large fur collar and cuffs, 1927-’28, signed DSD. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

Take note that the database is in its infancy. That means the search functionality is still very limited and placeholders for a slew of images are commonplace. While you may encounter hiccups here and there, the Cooper-Hewitt Lab is fully transparent throughout this massive undertaking, letting us know that the glitches are just part of getting everything working smoothly. I’m willing to be patient, especially after I came upon some incredible objects—skewing more toward dress and textiles, obviously—while digging into the online collection.

Woman’s coat with full skirt gathered into the waist seam, asymmetrical front opening and long sleeves that narrow to the wrist, made of silk warp ikat in blue, green, yellow, burgundy and white. From Afghanistan, 20th century. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

Indigo resist-dyed skirt made from hand-spun yarns. The waistband and upper pleated band are solid blue while the lower pleated band of the skirt is patterned with five rings of hand-drawn designs, including sawtooth and “Greek key”-type patterns. China, 1950-’60. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

L’eggs pantyhose packaging, 1970s. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

Passementerie for a dress front/collar, 1930s. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

Halter-style dress with a tie at the neck in tan, dark brown and dark blue. Looping is tighter in the mid-section to form a waistband, Argentina, 2009. Image: Cooper-Hewitt

And while you’re perusing the Cooper Hewitt’s collection, I highly recommend its Object of the Day series in which the museum spotlights the history and provenance of an object from its collection. One of the best so far—on October 24, the museum chronicled the Swatch watch and how it popularized the analog watch amidst a surge of digital Casios and Timexs.

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