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Modern Textiles

Printed linen depicting Diana the Huntress
Thomas Lamb
American, ca. 1930
108 x 35.75 in. (274.3 x 90.8 cm)
Thomas Lamb (1896-1988) is recognized today for his delightful illustrations for children's books and toys that stemmed from his monthly column "Kiddyland" in Good Housekeeping and his ergonomic designs in plastics. Following a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1948, Lamb acquired the moniker "The Handle Man."

But it was during his years as a textile designer in the 1920s and 1930s when Lamb first experimented with ideas that would influence his better-known industrial products and whimsical compositions for kids. Lamb studied at the Art Students' League and opened a textile design studio in New York City in the mid-1910s, producing furnishing textiles for major American department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue. His printed fabrics frequently appeared in the pages of American interior decorating publications like Arts and Decoration. He continued designing textiles into the 1940s, working with firms including the DuPont Rayon Company and the Kempner Linen Corporation.

Although the manufacturer of this textile is not known, another version in printed rayon suggests there is a connection to DuPont. This textile, which depicts the goddess Diana in the throes of the hunt, speaks to both aesthetic and commercial concerns in America in the 1920s and 1930s. The image of the Roman goddess Diana pervaded the arts of the period due to the revival of neoclassicism, especially in the aftermath of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Moreover, in the decades before the Great Depression and during America's rise to the status of a world superpower, the story of Diana served as an allegory for commerce and the hunt for profit as exemplified by the goddess's frequent appearance in sculpture and reliefs on civic architecture.

The simultaneous flatness and dynamism recall Art Deco ironwork, especially that of William Hunt Diederich and Edgar Brandt, in which foreground and background are collapsed into a single layer,. Although reduced to schematic silhouettes, the figures give the impression of constant motion. Diederich's bronze Diana with a hound from about 1925 similarly holds her bow and gazes backward, but most obvious among Lamb's influences is the sculptor Paul Manship. Indeed, Lamb's likeness in linen reads as a near mirror image of Manship's iconic bronze of the goddess first designed in 1921. Lamb's textile, an exemplar of unfettered Art Deco aesthetics, cleverly represents a moment in American history in which revivalism, modernism, mass production, consumerism, and art all comingled.

For more information, see the 2016 Cora Ginsburg Modern catalogue.

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