Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. | other times by appointment, SpecColl@brynmawr.edu
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, 4:30 p.m., Carpenter B21 | reception to follow in the Rare Book Room
Related Friday Finds Events most Fridays at noon.
Bryn Mawr College is home to a remarkable collection of furniture made in the late nineteenth century by the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company in Gujarat, India. But how did Indian art and design come to occupy the central spaces of this American campus? A closer look beyond the intricately carved chairs and densely patterned metalwork reveals complex global networks of art, labor, and patronage, as well as the ambiguous role of Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932), the designer responsible for bringing them here.
This exhibition explores de Forest’s furniture and decorating work at Bryn Mawr College as an expression of his “all-over” vision of design. De Forest used “all-over design” to describe non-directional, infinitely repeating patterns, but the phrase also captures the aesthetic density of de Forest’s interior decorating projects and the expansive geographic origins of this furniture. De Forest arranged Indian-made chairs, sofas, and tables alongside Syrian chests, Russian bronzes, and Tiffany glass to create eclectic spaces in which every surface was laden with pattern and texture.
De Forest celebrated an ‘Indian’ aesthetic, advocated for Indian furniture makers, and argued for the inclusion of Indian art in American museums and schools. Though genuine, his enthusiasm was framed by Orientalist attitudes which emphasized the ‘exotic’ and decorative aspects of Indian art and helped to perpetuate longstanding systems of colonial oppression. At Bryn Mawr, his client M. Carey Thomas had an avid interest in global art and design—an interest held in tandem with her damaging belief in racial hierarchy and policies of exclusion. The Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company furniture displayed here offers a physical trace of this layered history.