Since Pre-Hispanic times the cochineal insect has been used as a natural colorant by indigenous peoples from the Americas. For the upcoming Cooper-Hewitt exhibition, Nature by Design: Cochineal, Emerging Objects produced a series of 3D printed objects using this ancient colorant.
The Californian studio founded by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello has been exploring for over a decade the relationship between new manufacturing technologies, such as different 3D printing processes, and traditional materials, such as clay, cement, wood and many more. The Cochineal installation explores the enduring legacy of cochineal and its innovative use among contemporary designers from across the Americas through a variety of mediums including lacquered furniture, textiles, and works on paper.
Nature by Design transforms the second floor of Carnegie Mansion into a treasure trove of textiles, jewelry, furniture, cutlery, and more drawn from Cooper Hewitt’s collection of over 210,000 design objects. The exhibition shows how designers across the centuries have observed nature, investigated its materials, and imitated and abstracted its patterns and shapes.
Another installation will center on Plastics, from molded tortoiseshell and vulcanized rubber to bioplastic pellets and semi-synthetic yarn, showing the beauty of natural plastics and design’s achievements with these pliable materials are explored in this fascinating range of objects.
Botanical Lessons explores nature in the Smithsonian collections through thirteen botanical models on loan from the National Museum of American History, and a selection of illustrated books and periodicals from Smithsonian Libraries, all of which served as teaching aids in a nineteenth-century period marked by a growing interest in science and education.
Another installation, titled Botanical Expressions, shows interpretations of botanical forms wind their way through the decorative arts of the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. Botanical Expressions focuses on key figures—Christopher Dresser, Emile Gallé, William Morris, and Louis Comfort Tiffany—whose knowledge of the natural sciences and personal practices of gardening enriched their creative output as designers. A timeline of objects reflects botanicals in form and pattern, highlighting shifting styles across geography and media in textiles, ceramics, glass, wallcoverings, and more. Significant loans from Smithsonian Libraries include illustrated guidebooks that designers used for natural research and drawing instruction.
Nature by Design is made possible by major support from Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee. Additional support is provided by the Cooper Hewitt Master’s Program Fund.