Printing Popular Culture

Textile patterns can reflect critical issues such as nationalism or social justice, others pick up on less weighty topics. The following examples are from the museum’s collection.

T-Shirt (1992) by Bob MackieOriginal Source:

Printing Popular Culture

Printed textiles are not the first thing you think of relative to daily headlines, sports events, movies, politics, music, literature, and celebrity life. But cloth, as a medium, has been used for communicating aspects of popular culture for centuries in regions all over the world. During the 19th and 20th centuries, technological advancements in printing increased the availability of textile-related souvenirs and novelty items such as printed scarves, t-shirts, and tea towels.

Handkerchief (1876) by Maker unknownOriginal Source:

Commemorative Prints

This scarf commemorates Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exposition of 1876, it was the first official world's fair in the United States, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Ten million people visited, or roughly 20% of the U.S. population at that time.

During the early 1800’s most printed textiles were still manufactured with carved wood blocks or etched metal plates. This scarf features built elements and cloudy skies through both etched line work and stippling. By the second half of the 19th Century, lithography had become a well-honed option for designers.

Textile panel Textile panel (1927/1933) by Witcombe, McGeachin & Co.Goldstein Museum of Design, University of Minnesota

This print commemorates the 3,600-mile Transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh from New York to Paris in May 1927. For this completing this perilous feat (six aviators had died attempting it), Lindbergh earned $25,000 and a place in aviation history. The name for his plane, "Spirit of St. Louis," acknowledges the source of financing: two St. Louis businessmen. During the interwar years Lindbergh had presumed associations with Nazi Germany, thereby sullying his reputation. The integrity of Lindbergh’s character continues to be explored by biographers.

Textile panelGoldstein Museum of Design, University of Minnesota

Why the cat? Lindbergh had a kitten, named Patsy, who is said to have accompanied him on test flights of the Spirit of St. Louis. It is purported that prior to the Trans-Atlantic flight a mechanic handed him a kitten, not Patsy, suggesting it would be a good companion on his long flight. The kitten did not join him as Lindbergh thought it would be too cold for the kitten to survive.

Textile panel (1940/1945) by Maker unknownGoldstein Museum of Design, University of Minnesota

This screen-printed yardage depicts an earthquake that hit Ghana on June 22, 1939. The 30 second quake registered 6.5 on the Richter scale and could be felt up to 750,000 km away. The symbolism within the overall design recognizes the diminutive and humble nature of mankind.

Clenched fists, lightning bolts, and snapping palm trees highlight the quake’s power while reflecting the Ghanaian tradition of narrating culture through cloth.

The building depicted is the General Post Office of Ghana; the time on the clock tower reads 7:20, the exact time the earthquake struck.

Furnishing fabric (1940/1949) by Printer: King Features SyndicateOriginal Source:

Pop Culture

The comic strip "Blondie" has run continuously since 1930. Dagwood and Blondie Bumstead and their dog Daisy still entertain readers in 2,000 newspapers in 47 countries. Created by Chic Young, the cartoon focuses on the antics of Dagwood, often shown making an impossibly-huge sandwich known as ‘the Dagwood’.

Tea Towel (1981/1981) by Maker unknownOriginal Source:

Tea towels, often associated with England, have popped up in cities all over the world depicting maps, cuisine, and tidbits of regional culture. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the 1981 wedding of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of England was prime fodder for kitschy commemorative pieces like this. When Prince William, son of Charles and Diana, wed Kate Middleton in 2011, Buckingham Palace forbade the production of similar memorabilia, calling it "undignified."

Scarf (1939) by Maker unknownOriginal Source:

The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-40 celebrated the recent completion of both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. The fair's theme, Pageant of the Sun, acknowledged the reciprocal relationship among nations bordering the Pacific Ocean and the goods they produced.

Pageant of the Sun was symbolized by an 80-foot sculpture designed by architect Mark Daniels, entitled Tower of the Sun

Necktie (1950/1970) by Countess MaraOriginal Source:

Signs of the Times

Small ornamental objects, such as scarves and neckties, often experiment with quirky design themes. They provide a somewhat cautious approach to dressing boldly, giving people a way to add surprise to an otherwise standard outfit.

Lucilla de Vescovi Whitman, founder of Countess Mara neckwear, was ahead of her time when she opened shop in 1935. Her New York City shop featured idiosyncratic high-end ties with a range of subjects including sports, animals, and musical instruments.

Blouse (1968) by Frankie WelchOriginal Source:

Political campaign t-shirts, buttons, hats, and bumper stickers are pervasive in the here and now. However, we are less likely to see formal blouses constructed from printed silk yardage, such as this 1968 design bearing the “H” logo of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Humphrey (1911-1978) was a multi-term US senator from Minnesota and a leading author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He served as the 38th vice-president under Lyndon Johnson from 1965 to 1969 and ran for the Presidency in 1968. In addition to the blouse, HHH merchandise included scarves, dresses, skirts, and hats.

Men's Shirt (1995/2005) by PlayboyOriginal Source:

Playboy magazine, one of the most recognizable brands in the world, marked a change in sexual mores when it was first published in 1953. Renowned for photos of nudes, Playboy also features fiction, cartoons, and interviews with notable public figures. This shirt uses digital printing to reproduce historic covers from the popular magazine. The miniature gridded pattern that this creates calls out bystanders who dare to move in closely for a better look.

Mini skirt (2002/2002) by Stephen SprouseOriginal Source:

Pop Art

The Pop Art movement of the 1960’s celebrated the mass culture and the variability of contemporary life. It was strongly characterized by irony and irreverence and challenged the distinctions between high and low art and promoted the “popular” experience.

Designer and artist Stephen Sprouse, whose graffiti prints and neon colors became a defining aesthetic of the early 1980s, mixed uptown sophistication with street-wise style. Personal affiliations with avant-garde artists like Andy Warhol gave Sprouse’s work additional cachet. In 2002, he created a collection of apparel, home accessories, and sports gear for Target called “AmericaLand”. Rendered in a patriotic graffiti motif, the uncompromising head-to-toe Sprouse line was fresh, brash, and edgy.

Suit (1992) by Franco MoschinoOriginal Source:

The meta narrative of Moschino’s skirt suit parodies American artist Roy Lichtenstein. Moschino’s cheeky ensemble, which is a wearable consumable, realizes Lichtenstein’s sophisticated satire about idealization and mass production.

Lichtenstein used hand-painted Ben Day dots to recreate individual comic strip frames at a large scale. Ben Day dots refer to a printing technique that relies on the eye's ability to blend closely spaced dots together.

“Speech bubbles” which are most often found in comic books, comic strips, and cartoons represent the speech or thoughts of a given character. The speech bubble on the back of this jacket translates to: "Tomorrow is Another Day"

Hand Bag (2005) by Loop DesignsOriginal Source:

Andy Warhol's 1962 screen-print of Marilyn Monroe has been copied and recreated so many times that some may not know its origins; her lips, eyelids, and hair are cannily separated and printed in brash colors to exaggerate the strange commodification of celebrity life. Warhol’s commentary is either swept under the rug or consciously exploited for this relatively affordable version of Monroe’s portrait; a shiny synthetic handbag.

Credits: Story

Jean McElvain, Associate Curator
Eunice Haugen, Registrar

Goldstein Museum of Design's programming is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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