Discover the Stettheimer Dollhouse: The 12-Room Dollhouse Featuring Miniature, Original Modernist Art, Including Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase

The Stettheimer Dollhouse has been wowing young New Yorkers since it entered the Museum of the City of New York’s collection in 1944.

The luxuriously appointed, two-story, twelve-room house features tiny crystal chandeliers, trompe l’oeil panels, an itty bitty mah-jongg set, and a delicious-looking dessert assortment that would have driven Beatrix Potter’s Two Bad Mice wild.

Its most astonishing feature, however, tends to go over its youngest fans’ heads — an art gallery filled with original modernist paintings, drawings, and sculptures by the likes of Marcel DuchampGeorge BellowsGaston Lachaise, and Marguerite Zorach.




The house’s creator, Carrie Walter Stettheimer, drew on her family’s close personal ties to the avant-garde art world to secure these contributions.

The art dealer Paul Rosenberg described the affinity between these artists and the three wealthy Stettheimer sisters, one of whom, Florine, was herself a modernist painter:

Artists… went there and not at all merely because of the individualities of the trio of women and their tasteful hospitality. They went for the reason that they felt themselves entirely at home with the Stetties—so the trio was called—and the Stetties seemed to feel themselves entirely at home in their company. Art was an indispensable component of the modern, open intellectual life of the place. The sisters felt it as a living issue. Sincerely they lived it.

Art is definitely part of the dollhouse’s life.

Duchamp recreated Nude Descending a Staircase, inscribing the back “Pour la collection de la poupée de Carrie Stettheimer à l’occasion de sa fête en bon souvenir. Marcel Duchamp 23 juillet 1918 N.Y.”

Marguerite Thompson ZorachAlexander Archipenko, and Paul Thevenaz also felt no compunction about furnishing a dollhouse with nudes.

Louis Bouché — the “bad boy of American art” as per the Stettheimers’ friend, writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, made a tiny version of his painting, Mama’s Boy.

Carrie wrote to Gaston Lachaise, to thank him for two miniature nude drawings and an alabaster Venus:

My dolls and I thank you most sincerely for the lovely drawings that are to grace their art gallery. I think that the dolls—after they are born, which they are not, yet—ought to be the happiest and proudest dolls in the world as owners of the drawings and the beautiful statue. I am now hoping that they will never be born, so that I can keep them [the art works] forever in custody, and enjoy them myself, while awaiting their arrival.

Carrie worked on the dollhouse from from 1916 to 1935. Her sister Ettie donated it to the museum and took it upon herself to arrange the artwork. As Johanna Fateman writes in 4Columns:

Twenty-eight of the artists’ gifts were stored separately; Ettie selected thirteen from the collection, and her graceful arrangement became permanent, though it’s likely that the pieces were meant to be shown in rotation.

The Museum of the City of New York’s current exhibition, The Stettheimer Dollhouse: Up Close, includes photos of the artworks that Ettie did not choose to install.

The works that have always been on view are Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, Alexander Archipenko’s Nude, Louis Bouche’s Mama’s Boy, Gaston Lachaise’s Venus and two nudesCarl Sprinchorn’s Dancers, Albert Gleizes’ Seated Figure and Bermuda Landscape, Paul Thevenaz’s L’Ombre and Nude with Flowing Hair, Marguerite Zorach’s Bather and Bathers, William Zorach’s Mother and Child, and a painting of a ship by an unknown artist.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover The Grammar of Ornament, One of the Great Color Books & Design Masterpieces of the 19th Century

In the mid-17th century, young Englishmen of means began to mark their coming of age with a “Grand Tour” across the Continent and even beyond. This allowed them to take in the elements of their civilizational heritage first-hand, especially the artifacts of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. After completing his architectural studies, a Londoner named Owen Jones embarked upon his own Grand Tour in 1832, rather late in the history of the tradition, but ideal timing for the research that inspired the project that would become his legacy.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Jones visited “Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey before arriving in Granada, in Spain to carry out studies of the Alhambra Palace that were to cement his reputation.”




He and French architect Jules Goury, “the first to study the Alhambra as a masterpiece of Islamic design,” produced “hundreds of drawings and plaster casts” of the historical, cultural, and aesthetic palimpsest of a building complex. The fruit of their labors was the book Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra, “one of the most influential publications on Islamic architecture of all time.”

Published in the 1840s, the book pushed the printing technologies of the day to their limits. In search of a way to do justice to “the intricate and brightly colored decoration of the Alhambra Palace,” Jones had to put in more work researching “the then new technique of chromolithography — a method of producing multi-color prints using chemicals.” In the following decade, he would make even more ambitious use of chromolithography — and draw from a much wider swath of world culture — to create his printed magnum opus, The Grammar of Ornament.

With this book, Jones “set out to reacquaint his colleagues with the underlying principles that made art beautiful,” write Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Femke Speelberg and librarian Robyn Fleming. “Instead of writing an academic treatise on the subject, he chose to assemble a book of one hundred plates illustrating objects and patterns from around the world and across time, from which these principles could be distilled.” To accomplish this he drew on his own travel experiences as well as resources closer at hand, including “the museological and private collections that were available to him in England, and the objects that had been on display during the Universal Exhibitions held in London in 1851 and 1855.”

The Grammar of Ornament was published in 1856, emerging into a Britain “dominated by historical revivals such as Neoclassicism and the Gothic Revival,” says the V&A. “These design movements were riddled with religious and social connotations. Instead, Owen Jones sought a modern style with none of this cultural baggage. Setting out to identify the common principles behind the best examples of historical ornament, he formulated a design language that was suitable for the modern world, one which could be applied equally to wallpapers, textiles, furniture, metalwork and interiors.”

Indeed, the patterns so lavishly reproduced in the book soon became trends in real-world design. They weren’t always employed with the intellectual understanding Jones sought to instill, but since The Grammar of Ornament has never gone out of print (and can even be downloaded free from the Internet Archive), his principles remain available for all to learn — and his painstakingly artistic printing work remains available for all to admire — even in the corners of the world that lay beyond his imagination.

You can purchase a complete and unabridged color edition of The Grammar of Ornament online.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Pulp Tarot: A New Tarot Deck Inspired by Midcentury Pulp Illustrations

Graphic artist Todd Alcott has endeared himself to Open Culture readers by retrofitting midcentury pulp paperback covers and illustrations with classic lyrics from the likes of David BowiePrinceBob Dylan, and Talking Heads.

Although he’s dabbled in the abstractions that once graced the covers of psychology, philosophy, and science texts, his overarching attraction to the visual language of science fiction and illicit romance speak to the premium he places on narrative.




And with hundreds of “mid-century mashups” to his name, he’s become quite a master of bending existing narratives to his own purposes.

Recently, Alcott turned his attention to the creation of the Pulp Tarot deck he is funding on Kickstarter.

A self-described “clear-eyed skeptic as far as paranormal things” go, Alcott was drawn to the “simplicity and strangeness” of Pamela Colman Smith’s “bewitching” Tarot imagery:

Maybe because they were simply the first ones I saw, I don’t know, but there is something about the narrative thread that runs through them, the way they delineate the development of the soul, with all the choices and crises a soul encounters on its way to fulfillment, that really struck a chord with me. You lay out enough Tarot spreads and they eventually coalesce around a handful of cards that really seem to define you. I don’t know how it happens, but it does, every time: there are cards that come up for you so often that you think, “Yep, that’s me,” and then there are others that turn up so rarely that, when they do come up, you have to look them up in the little booklet because you’ve never seen them before.

One such card for Alcott is the Page of Swords. In the early 90s, curious to know what the Tarot would have to say about the young woman he’d started dating, he shuffled and cut his Rider-Waite-Smith deck “until something inside said “now” and he flipped over the Page of Swords:

I looked it up in the booklet, which said that the Page of Swords was a secret-keeper, like a spy. I thought about that for a moment; the woman I was seeing was nothing like a spy, and had no spy-like attributes. I shrugged and began the process again, shuffling and cutting and shuffling and cutting, until, again, something inside said “now,” and turned up the card again. It was the Page of Swords, again. My heart leaped, I put the deck back in its box and quietly freaked out for a while. The next day, I asked the young lady if the Page of Swords meant anything to her, and she said “Oh sure, when I was a kid, that was my card.” Anyway, I’m now married to her.

The Three of Pentacles is another favorite, one that presented a particular design challenge.

The Smith deck shows a stonemason, an architect and a church official, collaborating on building a cathedral. Now, there are no cathedrals in the pulp world, so I had to think, well, in the pulp world, pentacles represent money, so the obvious choice would be to show three criminals planning a heist. I couldn’t find an image anything close to the one in my head, so I had to build it: the room, the table, the map of the bank, the plan, the people involved, and then stitch it all together in Photoshop so it ended up looking like a cohesive illustration. That was a really joyful moment for me: there were the three conspirators, the Big Cheese, the Dame and The Goon, their roles clearly defined despite not seeing anyone’s face. It was a real breakthrough, seeing that I could put together a little narrative like that.

Smith imagined a medieval fantasy world when designing her Tarot deck. Alcott is drawing on 70 years of pop-culture ephemera to create a tribute to Smith’s vision that also works as a deck in their own right “with its own moral narrative universe, based on the attitudes and conventions of that world.”

Before drafting each of his 70 cards, Alcott studied Smith’s version, researching its meaning and design as he contemplates how he might translate it into the pulp vernacular. He has found that some of Smith’s work was deliberately exacting with regard to color, attitude, and costume, and other instances where specific details took a back seat to mood and emotional impact:

Once I understand what a card is about, I look through my library to find images that help get that across. It can get really complicated! A lot of times, the character’s body is in the right position but their face has the wrong expression, so I have to find a face that fits what the card is trying to say. Or their physical attitude is right, but I need them to be gripping or throwing something, so I have to find hands and arms that I can graft on, Frankenstein style. In some cases, there will be figures in the cards cobbled together from five or six different sources. 

These cards are easily the most complex work I’ve ever done in that sense. The song pieces I do are a conversation between the piece and the song, but these cards are a conversation between me, Smith, the entire Tarot tradition, and the universe. 

Visit Todd Alcott’s Etsy shop to view more of his mid-century mash ups, and see more cards from The Pulp Tarot and support Kickstarter here.

All images from the Pulp Tarot used with the permission of artist Todd Alcott.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate: 7 Courses Will Help Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

During the pandemic, Google launched a series of Career Certificates that will “prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months.” One such certificate focuses on User Experience Design, or what’s called UX Design, the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful experiences to users.

Offered on the Coursera platform, the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate features seven courses, including the Foundations of User Experience, Start the UX Design Process, Build Wireframes and Low-Fidelity Prototypes, and Conduct UX Research and Test Early Concepts. In total, this program “includes over 200 hours of instruction and hundreds of practice-based activities and assessments that simulate real-world UX design scenarios and are critical for success in the workplace. The content is highly interactive and developed by Google employees with decades of experience in UX design.” Upon completion, students can directly apply for jobs with Google and over 130 U.S. employers, including Walmart, Best Buy, and Astreya. You can start a 7-day free trial and explore the courses. If you continue beyond that, Google/Coursera will charge $39 USD per month. That translates to about $235 after 6 months.

Explore the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate by watching the video above. Learn more about the overall Google career certificate initiative here. And find other Google professional certificates here.

The new certificates have been added to our collection, 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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Who Designed the 1980s Aesthetic?: Meet the Memphis Group, the Designers Who Created the 80s Iconic Look

For those who remember the 1980s, it can feel like they never left, so deeply ingrained have their designs become in the 21st century. But where did those designs themselves originate? Vibrant, clashing colors and patterns, bubbly shapes; “the geometric figures of Art Deco,” writes Sara Barnes at My Modern Met, “the color palette of Pop Art, and the 1950s kitsch” that inspired designers of all kinds came from a movement of artists who called themselves the Memphis Group, after Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” a song “played on repeat during their first meeting” in a tiny Milan apartment. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to think of any other design phenomenon that can be located as specifically to a group of people,” says Yale Center of British Art’s Glenn Adamson in the Vox explainer above,

Founded in December 1980 by designer Ettore Sottsass — known for his red Olivetti Valentine typewriter — and several like-minded colleagues, the movement made a deliberate attempt to disrupt the austere, clean lines of the 70s with work they described as “radical, funny, and outrageous.” They flaunted what had been considered “good taste” with abandon. Memphis design shows Bauhaus influences — though it rejected the “strict, straight lines of modernism,” notes Curbed. It taps the anarchic spirit of Dada, without the edgy, anarchist politics that drove that movement. It is mainly characterized by its use of laminate flooring materials on tables and lamps and the “Bacterio print,” the squiggle design which Sottsass created in 1978 and which became “Memphis’s trademark pattern.”




Memphis design shared with modernism another quality early modernists themselves fully embraced: “Nothing was commercially successful at the time,” says Barbara Radice, Sottsass’s widow and Memphis group historian. But David Bowie and Karl Lagerfield were early adopters, and the group’s 80s work eventually made them stars. “We came from being nobodies,” says designer Martine Bedin. By 1984, they were celebrated by the city of Memphis, Tennessee and given the key to the city. “They were waiting for us at the airport with a band,” Bedin remembers. “It was completely crazy.” The Memphis Group had officially changed the world of art, architecture, and design. The following year, Sottsass left the group, and it formally disbanded in 1987, having left its mark for decades to come.

By the end of the 80s, Memphis’ look had become pop culture wallpaper, informing the sets, titles, and fashions of TV staples like Saved by the Bell, which debuted in 1989. “Although their designs didn’t end up in people’s homes,” notes Vox — or at least not right away — “they inspired many designers working in different mediums.” Find out above how “everything from fashion to music videos became influenced” by the loud, playful visual vocabulary of the Memphis Group artists, and learn more about the designers of “David Bowie’s favorite furniture” here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Design Thinking for the Greater Good: A Free Online Course from the University of Virginia

Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector shows how and why human-centered design is a powerful tool. Offered by the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, the course lets students “view design thinking success stories from around the world, in areas as diverse as government, health care, and education.” Throughout the course, students will “learn the tools, techniques and mindset needed to use design thinking to uncover new and creative solutions in the social sector.”

You can take Design Thinking for the Greater Good for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

Design Thinking for the Greater Good has been added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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The Letterform Archive Launches a New Online Archive of Graphic Design, Featuring 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

The Letterform Archive Launches a New Online Archive of Graphic Design, Featuring 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

An online design museum made by and for designers? The concept seems obvious, but has taken decades in internet years for the reality to fully emerge in the Letterform Archive. Now that it has, we can see why. Good design may look simple, but no one should be fooled into thinking it’s easy. “After years of development and months of feedback,” write the creators of the Letterform Archive online design museum, “we’re opening up the Online Archive to everyone. This project is a labor of love from everyone on our staff, and many generous volunteers, and we hope it provides a source of beautiful distraction and inspiration to all who love letters.”

That’s letters as in fonts, not epistles, and there are thousands of them in the archive. But there are also thousands of photographs, lithographs, silkscreens, etc. representing the height of modern simplicity. This and other unifying threads run through the collection of the Letterform Archive, which offers “unprecedented access… with nearly 1,500 objects and 9,000 hi-fi images.”




You’ll find in the Archive the sleek elegance of 1960s Olivetti catalogs, the iconic militancy of Emory Douglas’ designs for The Black Panther newspaper, and the eerily stark militancy of the “SILENCE=DEATH” t-shirt from the 1980s AIDS crisis.

The site was built around the ideal of “radical accessibility,” with the aim of capturing “a sense of what it’s like to visit the Archive” (which lives permanently in San Francisco). But the focus is not on the casual onlooker — Letterform Archive online caters specifically to graphic designers, which makes its interface even simpler, more elegant, and easier to use for everyone, coincidentally (or not).

The graphic design focus also means there are functions specific to the discipline that designers won’t find in other online image libraries: “we encourage you to use the search filters: click on each category to explore disciplines like lettering, and formats like type specimens, or combine filters like decades and countries to narrow your view to a specific time and place.”

From the radical typography of Dada to the radical 60s zine scene to the sleek designs (and Neins) found in a 1987 Apple Logo Standards pamphlet, the museum has something for everyone interested in recent graphic design history and typology. But it’s not all sleek simplicity. There are also rare artifacts of elaborately intricate design, like the Persian Yusef and Zulaikha manuscript, below, dating from between 1880 and 1910. You’ll find dozens more such treasures in the Letterform Archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Discover the First Modern Kitchen–the Frankfurt Kitchen–Pioneered by the Architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1926)

Nearly 100 years after it was introduced, architect Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky‘s famous Frankfurt Kitchen continues to exert enormous influence on kitchen design.

Schütte-Lihotzky analyzed designs for kitchens in train dining cars and made detailed time-motion studies of housewives’ dinner preparations in her quest to come up with something that would be space saving, efficient, inexpensively pre-fabricated, and easily installed in the new housing springing up in post-WWI Germany.




Schütte-Lihotzky hoped that her design would have a liberating effect, by reducing the time women spent in the kitchen. Nothing is left to chance in these 1.9 by 3.44 meters, with the main emphasis placed on the well-traveled “golden triangle” between worktop, stove, and sink.

The design’s scientific management honored ergonomics and efficiency, initiating a sort of household dance, but as filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, who directed eight dancers on a painstaking facsimile of a Frankfurt Kitchen, below, observes:

…as with any progress, there is friction and pressure. As women gain more rights (then and now), are they really just adding more to their to-do list of responsibilities? Adding to the number of plates they need to spin? They haven’t been excused from domestic duties in order to pursue careers or employment, the new responsibilities are additive.

 

(Note: enter your information to view the film.)

Choreographer Zoé Henrot, who also appears in the film, emphasizes the Frankfurt Kitchen’s design efficiencies and many of its famous features — the drawers for flour and other bulk goods, the adjustable stool, the cutting board with a receptacle for parings and peels.

At the same time, she manages to telegraph some possible Catch-22s.

Its diminutive size dictates that this workplace will be a solitary one — no helpers, guests, or small children.

The built-in expectations regarding uniformity of use leaves little room for culinary experimentation or a loosey goosey approach.

When crushingly repetitive tasks begin to chafe, options for escape are limited (if very well-suited to the expressive possibilities of modern dance).

Interestingly, many assume that a female architect working in 1926 would have brought some personal insights to the task that her male colleagues might have been lacking. Not so, as Schütte-Lihotzky readily admitted:

The truth of the matter was, I’d never run a household before designing the Frankfurt Kitchen, I’d never cooked, and had no idea about cooking.

Singer-songwriter Robert Rotifer is another artist who was moved to pay homage to Schütte-Lihotzky and the Frankfurt Kitchen, a “calculated move” that he describes as something closer to designing a kitchen than “divine inspiration”:

I sat on the train traveling from Canterbury up to London… I was about to record a new album, and I needed one more uptempo song, something driving and rhythmical. While the noisy combination of rickety train and worn-out tracks suggested a beat, I began to think about syncopations and subjects.

I thought about the mundane things nobody usually writes songs about, functional things that defy metaphor—tools, devices, household goods. As I listed some items in my head, I soon realized that kitchen utensils were the way to go. I thought about the mechanics of a kitchen, and that’s when the name of the creator of the famous Frankfurt Kitchen flashed up in my head.

There, in the natural rhythm of her name, was the syncopation I had been looking for: “I sing this out to Grete Schütte-Lihotzky.” Writing the rest of the lyrics was easy. The repetitive element would illustrate the way you keep returning to the same tasks and positions when you are working in a kitchen. In the middle-eight I would also find space for some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen over the decades, such as the way her design isolated the kitchen worker, i.e. traditionally the woman, from the rest of the family.

Rotifer, who also created the paintings used in the animated music video, gives the architect her due by including accomplishments beyond the Frankfurt Kitchen: her micro-apartment with “a disguised roll-out bed,” her terraced houses at the Werkbundsiedlung, a housing project’s kindergarten, a printing shop, and the Viennese Communist party headquarters.

It’s a lovely tribute to a design pioneer who, reflecting on her long career around the time of her 100th birthday, remarked:

If I had known that everyone would keep talking about nothing else, I would never have built that damned kitchen!

Museums that have acquired a Frankfurt Kitchen include Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Oslo’s National Museum.

Learn more about the Kitchen Dance Project in this conversation between filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, choreographer Zoé Emilie Henrot, and Minneapolis Institute of Art curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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