Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction

Design for an embroidery

Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Design for an embroidery. 1926

Gouache, pencil, colored pencil, and wool yarn on graph paper. 16 3/4 x 16 7/8" (42.6 x 42.8 cm). Private collection, on long-term loan to the Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland. Photo Peter Schälchli

Conservator, Annie Wilker: My name is Annie Wilker and I'm an Associate Paper Conservator here at The Museum of Modern Art.

A big part of Taeuber-Arp's practice included creating really precise schematic plans for her finished pieces. She started out by drawing her ideas in pencil on a piece of graph paper. Once her drawing was done, she painted in the forms with gouache and stitched similar colored wool yarns directly onto the paper.

There's a one-to-one relationship between the grid of the paper and the grid of the embroidery canvas. One reason Taeuber-Arp may have made such an accurate diagram is that she didn't always execute her plans herself. Sometimes she asked family or students to create the finished product. The crumpled appearance of this diagram on paper and the tears at the edges give a sense that it was heavily used.

Right around the same time that Taeuber-Arp designed and created this embroidery, she also received her first interior design commission, and that was to redesign the lobby, bar, and restaurant dance hall of the Hotel Hannong, which is in Strasbourg, France. And she decided to use some of these motifs from the embroidery to create murals. There were mirrors interspersed, so visitors could see their own bodies reflected among her stylized figurative motifs. This was a complete environment where the viewer was fully immersed in Taeuber-Arp's abstractions.

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