My clearest memories of felt involve red and green costumes, I believe for a Christmas pageant. I recall that I was seven years old and dressed as holly, a fact I would not have remembered had it not been for the cluster of tennis ball sized holly berries pinned to my chest. I had a partially obstructed view of of the festivities as a result of this adornment.
So when I read about the exhibition of felt at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum I was a tad skeptical. Martha Stewart waxed poetic about it, but as much as I enjoy Martha Stewart, this is a woman who gets excited about varying types of high quality glue, so I wasn't prepared to give up my felt prejudice on her recommendation alone.
But it was rainy and gloomy on Sunday, and I was in the mood for an outing. A museum seemed the only sensible option, and although I have admired the beautiful mansion that houses Cooper-Hewitt from the street many a time, it is one of the few museums in New York that I had never set foot in. So the time seemed right.
I don't know what on earth I had been waiting for. Not only is the mansion just as stunning on the inside as it is on the outside (although sadly, the lovely garden was closed), but the exhibit was completely enlightening. Felt...enlightening? Who would have thought?
Thankfully, it was not a retrospective on felt through the ages as I had feared it might be. First of all, the museum is blessedly small so there was no room for that sort of thing. Second of all, the curators must have understood that presenting the last 8,000 years of textile history would have been tedious both to view and create. Rather, we see very early uses for felt (it is the oldest textile) such as this baby cradle
and this vibrant floor (or ground) covering:
But then the exhibit moves swiftly to more contemporary times, with examples of felt fashioned couture:
I do love this. It reminds me of a Rick Owens outfit...that sort of sensual crow look.
And then on to modern era Scandinavian felt furniture (who knew?):
I am having a moment with Scandinavian design, which I suppose may explain why the furniture was one of the high points for me. But regardless, I found it creative, elegant and new. It is rare to come across a truly original furniture design that also serves as a functional piece, but there were quite a few examples of just that rarity here. The sofas especially I found thrilling, but was unable to find photos of them. So there you have it, incentive to visit!
However wonderful the rest of the exhibit is, the piece de resistance was unquestionably the palace yurt:
Traditionally a yurt is a tent of sorts used by nomadic peoples, but this particular one was fashioned specifically to hang inside of the museum's conservatory. A combination of wool felt, silk and other shimmering, ethereal fibers, it has an otherworldly, vaguely dilapidated sense about it. It would perhaps be an appropriate home for Cate Blanchett's character from Lord of the Rings, or maybe is indicative of what Miss Havisham's home might have looked like in the very early stages of decay.
Sitting inside of it is truly a contemplative experience. The ideal setting for a rainy spring afternoon.