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Candace Wheeler: The Art and Enterprise of American Design, 1875–1900

October 10, 2001–January 6, 2002

Developer of a New Aesthetic

After splitting with Tiffany in 1883, Wheeler went on to form her own textile design firm, also named Associated Artists. At a time when the country usually looked abroad to discover the latest in sophisticated style, Wheeler sought to develop a new aesthetic for American design. Her firm aimed at creating fabrics for all levels of the market, with works ranging from special-order, hand-embroidered silk wall hangings to yard goods of printed cotton denim. Convinced that there was a market for authentically American design, Wheeler collaborated with the domestic textile industry, most notably the silk manufacturer Cheney Brothers of South Manchester, Connecticut, to produce innovative and beautiful textiles.

Many of Wheeler's designs were sinuous depictions of native flowers, woven in colors that suggested the brilliant quality of American light. Textiles by Associated Artists are among the highlights of "Candace Wheeler." One gallery is devoted to specially commissioned works the firm created for their wealthiest clients. The Tulip Portiere (ca. 1884), appliquéd with full-blown, pink silk velvet flowers on a metallic gold cloth, and the Iris Portiere (1884), in which beadwork dragonflies alight upon a lush bed of irises embroidered in purple, gold, and green silk floss, are stellar pieces on view. Another gallery displays the work of the young associates that Wheeler brought into her firm, including her daughter Dora Wheeler (1856–1940), Rosina Emmet (1854–1948), Ida Clark (1858–?), and Caroline Townsend (1854–89). In addition to creating textiles, these younger women were graphic designers and illustrators as well as painters. Early works by Dora Wheeler and Rosina Emmet, who had studied under William Merritt Chase, are highlights of this section of the exhibition. Chase's extraordinary portrait of Dora (1883)—in a vibrant blue dress, portraying the confident "new" woman, looking boldly out upon a world full of opportunities—is also featured.