The Secret Life of Textiles: The Milton Sonday Archive

Date(s): Dec 18, 2017 – Dec 31, 2018
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NY, New York 10028, USA

Textile scholar Milton Sonday is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the structures of handmade fabrics, particularly woven textiles and lace. Hired in 1962 by the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., as a draftsman for a project on Precolumbian ceramics, he was promoted shortly thereafter to assistant curator responsible for carpets. In 1967, he joined the curatorial staff of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Early in his career, Sonday began to put his artistic skills to use in creating legible and visually pleasing technical drawings that express the weaves of patterned textiles. He went on to teach seminars on fabric analysis, developing various methods that enabled students (even those who claimed they “couldn’t draw”) to re-create and therefore understand the structures of historical textiles.

This installation includes a selection of Sonday’s studies of lace structures and couched embroidery, loom models for patterned weaves, and diagrams made from classic handwoven textiles. His clear, comprehensible, and attractive drawings and models have become more than didactic tools. The wit and imagination evident in Sonday’s choices of materials and colors and the skill with which the works are made has inspired delight and appreciation over the years.

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