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Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

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Title: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum  
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Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

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Location in New York City
Established 1964
Location New York City, New York, United States

40°47′04″N 73°57′30″W / 40.7844°N 73.9582°W / 40.7844; -73.9582

Director Caroline Baumann[1]

The Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum is a design museum located in New York, New York. It is one of nineteen museums that falls under the wing of the Smithsonian Institution and is one of two Smithsonian museums located in New York City. It is the only museum in the United States devoted to historical and contemporary design. Its collections and exhibitions explore approximately 240 years of design aesthetic and creativity.[2] The museum has one of the world's largest collections of decorative arts.


The Cooper-Hewitt Museum was founded in 1896. It was originally named Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration and it fell under the wing of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. In 1895, the granddaughters of Peter Cooper, Sarah Cooper Hewitt, Eleanor Garnier Hewitt and Amy Hewitt Green, asked the Cooper Union for a space to create a Museum for the Arts of Decoration. The museum would take its inspiration from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. The museum would serve as a place for Cooper Union students and professional designers to study decorative arts collections. Cooper Union trustees provided the fourth floor of the Foundation Building. It opened in 1897.[2] It was free and open three days a week.[2][3]

The three sisters served as directors until Sarah Cooper Hewitt died in 1930. After her death, four directors were appointed to run the museum. Constance P. Hare served as chair. In 1938, Edwin S. Burdell became the director of the Cooper Union. The museum became his responsibility. The board of directors was abolished and an advisory council was established.[2]

Eventually the museum and art school started to distance themselves from one another in regards to programming. Other departments of the Cooper Union were making financial demands and the Cooper Union announced that they would close the museum.[2] This led to the museum being closed on July 3, 1963.[4] Public outcry was strong against the closing. A Committee to Save the Cooper Union Museum was formed by Henry Francis Du Pont. The American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums) developed a case study about the future of the museum. Negotiations then began between the Cooper Union and the Smithsonian Institution. On October 9, 1967, Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley and Daniel Maggin, the chair of the Board of Trustees, signed an agreement turning over the collection and library of the museum to the Smithsonian. On May 14, 1968, the New York Supreme Court approved the agreement and the museum fell under ownership of the Smithsonian. July 1, 1968, it was officially transferred to the Smithsonian and the museum was renamed the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design. The following year, 1969, it was renamed as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design.[2] In October of that year, Lisa Taylor became the Director.[5]

The museum, which was the first Smithsonian museum outside of Washington, D.C., moved to its home at the Andrew Carnegie Mansion in 1970.[2] The Mansion was renovated and the museum opened to the public on October 7, 1976 with the exhibition "MAN transFORMs."[6] A conservation laboratory was opened in July, 1978. The Samuel H. Kress Foundation funded the lab and it focuses on textile and paper conservation.[7] Lisa Taylor retired in 1987 and in 1988 Dianne H. Pilgrim took her place as Director.[8] In 1994, the museum's name was changed for the final time to the Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum.[2] Pilgrim retired from the museum in 2000.[9][10] In 2000, Paul W. Thompson became Director.[10]

The museum began renovations in 2008. The mansion is currently closed for renovations and during this period it has held exhibitions at the United Nations building[11] and on Governor's Island.[12] The museum opened a new online retail shop in 2012.[13] In 2012, the Cooper-Hewitt created an additional space in Harlem as an education facility. Designer Todd Oldham is donating design services for the space.[14]


The Cooper-Hewitt is located in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion. The Georgian style mansion was built over the course of the years 1899 to 1902 and has sixty-four rooms. The home served as not only the home for Andrew Carnegie, his wife, and daughter, but also as his office for his philanthropic work after his retirement. The mansion was designed by Babb, Cook & Willard. It was the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame. It was the first home in New York to have an Otis elevator. The elevator is now in the collection of the National Museum of American History. The home also had central heating and an early form of air-conditioning.[2] The property also has a large private garden.[15] In 1974 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[2] The conservatory, which is made of Tiffany glass, was renovated in 1975.[16] In 1995, the museum closed for a year for a $20 million renovation to connect the three buildings on the property, improve accessibility, and build a design study center. Funds for the 1995 renovation project included $13 million from the Smithsonian Institution and a $2 million donation by Agnes Bourne.[17]

In 2008 the museum started to undergo renovations.[2] The renovation costs $64 million and is the largest in the museum's history. The renovation was partially financed by the museum endowment. The goal is to provide approximately 60 percent more exhibition space, classroom space and a new library. To accommodate the museum renovations, the Cooper-Hewitt closed to the public in 2011 and will re-open in 2014.[18]


The Cooper-Hewitt collections consist of decorative and design objects. The museum's original collection focused on architecture, sculpture, painted architecture, decorative arts, woodwork, metalwork, pottery, costume, musical instruments and furniture.[3] Upon its opening, Abram S. Hewitt's wife, Sarah Amelia Hewitt donated a lace collection, George Hearn donated two fountains worth $1,000, and Lloyd Bryce's wife donated art and objects from the Palace of Fontainebleau.[3]

The museum had a metalwork gallery, which showcased historic iron grillwork and a room devoted to ironwork, both which no longer are focus rooms.[19][20] The museum has a wide variety of objects in its collection, ranging from matchbooks, to shopping bags, porcelain from the Soviet Union, and the papers of graphic designer Tibor Kalman.[10]

The museum has held notable objects in its collection such as a chair used by Abraham Lincoln during a visit to the Cooper-Union and a Rolls-Royce once owned to the Beatles.[21][22] The car was donated by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1978. In the summer of 1985 the car was auctioned off at Sotheby's for $2,090,000.[22] Museum namesake Peter Cooper created the first metal chair in the United States. One of the chairs resides in the museum collection.[23]


Exhibitions at the Cooper-Hewitt explore the history and culture of design and decorative arts. A 1968 exhibition called "Please Be Seated," focused on contemporary chairs.[24]

In 1977, approximately a year after the museum reopened, "Palaces for the People," was held. The exhibit explored a century of resort and motel architecture in the United States.[25] In 1979, the museum hosted hundreds of objects on loan from various other Smithsonian museums for an exhibit called "Smithsonian."[26] The museum, in 1980, showcased the history and culture of the oceanliner in the exhibition "The Oceanliner: Speed, Style, Symbol."[27] Later that year the "Hair" exhibit featured over 350 objects about the history of hair styles and "Electroworks" covered the history of copy machine art.[28][29] In conjunction with the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities the Cooper-Hewitt showcased Scandinavian design.[30] In 1983, The Cooper-Hewitt was the first museum in the United States to exhibit the Amsterdam School.[31]

The museum also tours exhibits through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The first exhibit they toured was 1978's "Close Observation: Selected Oil Sketches by Frederic E. Church."[32] In 1993, the Cooper-Hewitt created the exhibition "The Power of Maps," which was its first exhibition to be shown on the National Mall at the S. Dillon Ripley Gallery. The exhibit featured upwards of 200 maps from around the world.[33] William and Mary were the focus of a 1988 exhibition.[34] An exhibition featuring 16th and 17th century decorative arts from Burghley House.[35]

The jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels was a focus of an exhibition in 2011.[36] That same year artist Sonia Delaunay had a solo show at the museum.[37] The Cooper-Hewitt worked with the Walker Art Center, in 2012, to develop "Graphic Design - Now In Production," which showcases graphic design that has been created since 2000.[12] An additional exhibition was held in 2012, in lieu of the museums closing due to renovations, at the United Nations Headquarters called "Design With the Other 90% Cities," about design and global issues.[38]

Other exhibitions at the museum have included Puiforcat silver, wallpaper, the works of Alexander Girard, and universal design.[10][17][39]


The museum's National Design Education Center is sponsored by Target. The space educates children K-12 about design. There is also an online Educator Resource Center.[40] In 2012, the Cooper-Hewitt started work on a design center in Harlem to "Encourage students and their teachers to think like designers, approach the world in a visual way and better understand the role design plays in their everyday lives." The center, which is designed by Todd Oldham and sponsored by Target, will provide free workshops and programming.[14]


The Cooper-Hewitt is home to the National Design Awards. They also support a masters degree program at Parsons The New School for Design.[2] In 2006, the Cooper-Hewitt and Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared October 15–21 National Design Week in New York City. The week focuses on outreach throughout the city, including schools, and organizations across the United States. The museum is free for the week.[40] The museum sponsored a bike rack competition in 2008. The winners of the contest were a part of an exhibition at the museum.[41]


In July, 2009, director Paul W. Thompson left the museum to become the rector of the Royal College of Art.[18] In January 2010, Bill Moggridge replaced Thompson as Director.[42] Moggridge was the first designer to head the museum.[18] Moggridge remained director until his death in 2012.[43]

The museum began a capital campaign in 2006, hoping to raise $79 million for the renovation and $10 million for its endowment.[44]

Further reading

  • Dolkart, Andrew. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum: The Andrew and Louise Carnegie Mansion : Art Spaces. New York: Scala Publishers (2002). ISBN 1857592689



External links

  • The Collection at Cooper-Hewitt
  • Cooper-Hewitt Labs
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