Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books"

April 23, 2008
News Release

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In October, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books," an exhibition that examines the relationship between wallpapers and children's books through works from the permanent collection and the National Design Library. On view in the second floor galleries from Oct. 3 through May 8, 2009, the exhibition will feature more than 30 wallcoverings and nearly 30 related children's books. "Wall Stories" is organized by Gregory Herringshaw, assistant curator in charge of wallcoverings, and Stephen Van Dyk, director of the National Design Library.

"Wall Stories" will explore the progression of children's wallpapers from their origin in the 1870s to the present and examine the sociological and technological events that lead up to their introduction as a genre. Since their inception, children's wallpapers have been strongly influenced by literature and popular culture. Works on view will include papers illustrated with nursery rhymes and designs inspired by works of fiction and adventure, such as "Peter Rabbit," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Cinderella." The exhibition also will trace the evolution of children's books from instructional to fictional and include such developments as movable and pop-up books, which added an interactive element to children's reading.

"This exhibition highlights the range of the museum's permanent collection and furthers research and connections between collecting departments and the resources of the National Design Library," said director Paul Warwick Thompson. "Cooper-Hewitt houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of wallcoverings in the United States, and this exhibition allows many outstanding works to be unrolled and displayed for the first time to the general public."

Wallpaper motifs have always followed the social movements and aesthetic trends of the times, and popular culture has remained an important influence on their design. The talents of many well-known artists and designers also have informed and shaped children's wallpaper designs, from children's book illustrators, such as Walter Crane and Beatrix Potter to artists like Cecil Aldin and William Wegman.

While wallpaper has been used in interior decoration for approximately 300 years, wallpapers designed specifically for children were only introduced in the second half of the 19th century. The earliest works designed for children had strong religious and moral overtones. Among the earliest children's papers in the collection are the 1870s sidewalls "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Robinson Crusoe," which are based on literary works and illustrate these tales of moral discipline and adventure. Wallpapers designed later in the 19th century with imagery from Kate Greenaway's books showed children properly coiffed and accessorized, stressing the importance of good behavior.

In keeping with the social mores of the time, wallpapers produced in the 20th century were often lighter in tone and featured more engaging content. Favorite children's characters from literature and, later, comic strips were used to illustrate wallpapers. Highlights of the works on view in this section include wallcoverings featuring Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan, which were first illustrated in children's novels and later popularized in cartoons. Also on view will be wallpapers inspired by comic strip legends Popeye and Dick Tracy, alongside related pop-up books from the 1930s, including "Dick Tracy: The Capture of Boris Arson" and "Popeye with the Hag of the Seven Seas." Other popular works of the time showcase leisure-time activities and cultural fads, including a 1948 "Cowboys and Indians" wallpaper and a "Cowboys in pop-up action pictures" book from 1951.

Wallpapers for children are still designed today to educate and amuse. "Frames," an interactive wallcovering by Graham & Brown that was recently acquired by Cooper-Hewitt, consists of freely drawn picture frames on a white ground, which enable children to create their own unique space by coloring in the frames. "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books" is made possible in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Additional support is provided in part by The Liman Foundation and The Walt Disney Company.

About the Wallcovering Department
The Wallcoverings Department contains an extensive array of papers, including both historic and contemporary examples. With more than 10,000 works, the department boasts the largest and most comprehensive collection of wallcoverings in the United States. From early hand-embossed leathers to examples of block printing and machine production, the collection contains pieces that trace the changes in technology and design trends from the 17th century through the 21st century.

About the National Design Library
The National Design Library, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, contains more than 80,000 volumes, including books, periodicals, catalogs and trade literature, dating from the 15th century to the present. The volumes in the library cover American and European design and decorative arts, with concentrations in wallcoverings, textiles, architecture, graphic design, interior design, ornamental patterns, metalwork, glass, ceramics, furniture and jewelry.

About the Museum
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.

Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. Cooper-Hewitt and Smithsonian members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit The museum is fully accessible.

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