Hewitt Sisters Collect

Exhibition Website

The remarkable story of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art—is the focus of this exhibition.

In 1897, the sisters established a museum within Cooper Union and curated its core collection. It was conceived as “a practical working laboratory” where students and designers could go to be inspired by actual objects in the four collecting categories then known as Drawings and Prints, Decorative Arts, Wallcoverings, and Textiles that became the basis of today’s collection. With an emphasis on participation, objects could be touched, moved, sketched, photographed, and measured. Even by today’s standards, their vision of creating a museum “for anyone  who wanted to use it as a place to work and learn” seems radical. However, thanks to breakthrough technology, we can continue to make the museum-going experience an even more user-focused one.

Wanting to elevate the state of decorative design in America, they looked to Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs as a model. At home and in their travels to Europe, they purchased works of technical as well as artistic merit. They also solicited friends and acquaintances for contributions of objects or funds to grow the collection. (...) 
 In galleries that were formerly Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie’s bedrooms, the Hewitt sisters’ collecting philosophy are celebrated with objects they gave to the museum, or which were acquired under their guidance, ranging from prints, drawings, and textiles to furniture, metalwork, and birdcages.

The exhibition has been recently updated to include an installation of decorative tiles and metalwork from the permanent collection. The museum’s decorative tile collection dates from the early thirteenth century and represents many countries of origin. Included in the installation are works from important designers and design centers, such as the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Carol Janeway, and Talavera de la Reina in Spain. Metalwork in the collection ranges from Italian Baroque gates to Japanese samurai sword mountings to Art Nouveau wrought iron grilles. Notable designers include Hector Guimard and Christopher Dresser.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Decorative Arts
  • International
  • Design
  • Christopher Dresser
  • Hector Guimard
  • Carol Janeway
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates