National treasures

Maira Kalman chose Abe Lincoln’s watch and Toscanini’s pants to re-open America’s national design museum

June 18, 2014
Obsession
Design
June 18, 2014

The illustrator and author Maira Kalman will guest-curate one of the first exhibitions when the newly renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopens in Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion in Manhattan this December. And for her show, Maira Kalman Selects, she reached beyond the museum’s collections, and into her own.

“There was just one thing missing from the Cooper Hewitt collection, and the entire Smithsonian,” she explained to Quartz—just a little facetiously—in the room that will house her exhibit. “Toscanini’s pants—the famous conductor. I’m loaning them to the show.”

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Maira Kalman with Toscanini’s pants.(Rick Meyerowitz)

The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini’s trousers are one of a handful of objects that Kalman will be lending to the museum from her personal collection of treasures (also: a pair of too-big brown Oxfords and a chaise lounge).

Otherwise, Kalman assembled her Selects from the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian’s collections, to suggest a life story told through personal design objects: an embroidered silk Mamluk cap from Egypt; Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch (restored to ticking condition); an Ingo Maurer lamp. “It’s all the stuff!” said Kalman with a laugh.

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A quilted and embroidered Mamluk cap, Egypt, late 13th or early 14th century Cooper Hewitt
A quilted and embroidered Mamluk cap, Egypt, late 13th or early 14th century.(Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Photo by Andrew Garn © Smithsonian Institution)

A lot of that stuff will also be immortalized in two new books by Kalman, due out this fall: My Favorite Things, which will include 50 of her paintings based on the objects in the Cooper Hewitt exhibition, and Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, a children’s alphabet book with original gouaches of objects in Cooper Hewitt’s design collection. (That “Zig-Zag” refers to Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig-Zag chair.)

These books will likely become their owners’ own personal treasures, just like the “stuff” pictured inside was once for someone long ago.

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Maira Kalman illustration of blue hat from Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2014)
(Maira Kalman, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2014))
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Wool slit tapestry square, 5th–7th century Egypt at Cooper Hewitt
Wool slit tapestry square, 5th–7th century Egypt(Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Photo by Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution)
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A 5th–7th century Wool slit tapestry square from Egypt from Maira Kalman and Cooper Hewitt
(Maira Kalman, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2014))

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