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NATIONAL TREASURES

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

Cooper Hewitt museum at the carnegie mansion illustration by Maira Kalman
endpaper from Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Maira Kalman
Maira Kalman’s view of Cooper Hewitt at the Carnegie Mansion.
Jenni Avins
By Jenni Avins

senior lifestyle correspondent

This article is more than 2 years old.

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.”

Rick Meyerowitz
Maira Kalman with Toscanini’s pants.

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.

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

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.

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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Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Photo by Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution
Wool slit tapestry square, 5th–7th century Egypt
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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