Ruth Reeves (1892-1966)

<a href="/items/browse?advanced%5B0%5D%5Belement_id%5D=50&advanced%5B0%5D%5Btype%5D=is+exactly&advanced%5B0%5D%5Bterms%5D=Ruth+Reeves+artwork">Ruth Reeves artwork</a>

Ruth Reeves (1892-1966)
by Mark Waller
Gallery Moderne
Piermont, NY

Ruth Reeves, born in 1892 in Redlands, California, was an innovative craftsman, painter, teacher, expert on Indian handcrafts, and one of the most renowned American textile designers from the first half of the 20th century. Reeves began her art training at the Pratt Institute from 1910 to 1911, and then went on to continue her studies at the San Francisco Institute of Art from 1911 to 1913. In 1913, she won a scholarship to attend the Art Students League in New York where she studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Robert Henri, and in 1920, she went to Paris to study under the prominent avant-garde artist Fernand Leger. As a result, many of her subsequent designs from that time period displayed an influence of Cubism and other modernist movements.

After returning to New York, Reeves established herself in its thriving artistic community and exhibited her work widely including exhibitions at the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, the Museum of Modern Art in 1929, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1930, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930, and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia in 1932. In 1928, Reeves exhibited in the American Designers Gallery along with fellow Rocklanders, Henry Varnum Poor and Maurice Heaton, as well as other decorative artists. Varnum Poor, a close friend of Reeves, designed and built her house in the artist community on South Mountain Road in New City, where she lived with her family.

In early 1932, her friend and fellow designer Donald Deskey commissioned her to contribute designs for the decoration of Radio City Music Hall in New York. He wanted her to create a vast carpet that would cover the grand lobby, staircase, and three mezzanines---and be symbolic of theatrical activities.î Her design incorporated interwoven geometric abstractions of musical instruments.

Reeves was a member of the American Union of Decorative Arts and Craftsmen (AUDAC), which aimed to bridge the gap between fine and commercial arts as well as promote higher quality and better designs for mass-produced goods. Like many other members of the union, she rejected European influences, and instead she took inspiration from ancient crafts and textiles from South and Central America, as well Native American groups from the United States. Funded by a grant from the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C., Reeves pursued this interest and traveled extensively in Guatemala in 1934 in order to study traditional Mayan textile and costume production. Upon her return to New York in 1935, she held an exhibition at Rockefeller Center featuring costumes and fabrics she brought back from Guatemala, alongside her own designs inspired by the visit.

Reeves, along with Ramona Javitz, are credited for inspiring the creation of the Index of American Design, a comprehensive visual record of the history of American design. Reeves repeatedly visited the New York Public Libraryís picture collection for new design ideas and there she met Ramona Javitz, the director of the Picture Collection from 1929 until 1968. Due to the increasing number of commercial artists and the growth of American advertising, the New York Public library was unable to meet the publicís request for visual design archives and the Index, their proposed project, aimed to fulfill this blatant need. Reeves personally approached Holger Cahill, the National Director of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration in Washington D.C., about the project. Cahill was very supportive and approved a national program, which launched in December 1935. The Index of American Design (IAD), which was funded for six years, became one of the most renowned art projects of the New Deal of the most far-reaching contributions of the FAP, employing over a thousand artists and illustrators across the country that produced thousands of watercolors. Reeves was named the first national supervisor of the project and later served as a federal field advisor.

Reeves taught at the School of Painting and Sculpture at Columbia University and the Cooper Union Art School. During her career, she produced numerous textile designs and wall hangings for significant cultural institutions, such as the children's room of the public library in Mount Vernon, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.

In the 1940s, Reeves went to study textile and design abroad, initially in South America and then in India in 1956 as one of the first Fulbright scholars. She became interested in cire perdue (lost wax casting), a method of making brass objects, and she wrote the authoritative book on Indian cire perdue in the late 1950s. She went on to serve on the All-India Handicraft Board and assist the Census of India with its 1961 monographs on the native crafts of villages. Reeves had a great influence on the development of the study of Indian folk art. She died in Delhi in 1966.