At lower left, original design by Edna Leonhardt. Pattern repeat and mapping by Ann Wilson.
∼ by Ann Wilson ∼
Before computer-aided design, the work of the textile print designer was all done by hand. Designs intended for repeating patterns were hand-sketched and painted. This age of pre-digital textile design is documented in the Point Papers Collection, now available online through the Paul J. Gutman Library.
The nearly 400 items in this collection are among several thousand original designs that once belonged to the Northampton Textile Company, which has been shuttered for decades. The university acquired these designs some 30 years ago, thanks to a former Director of the Gutman Library, Stan Gorski (now retired), who recognized their value as historic objects and textile design research materials. “Point papers” is a term that refers to hand-painted designs on grid paper that were translated into woven fabrics by textile manufacturers like Northampton. In addition to point papers, the collection includes hand-painted croquis (design sketches) dating from c. 1930 to the 1970s.
I’ve been part of the ongoing effort to inventory and photograph these designs. As a student of print design myself, working directly with these papers has been a huge inspiration. These objects include all of the artist’s mark making — the applied gouache paint, penciled-in notes, and hand-drawn boxes that denote the repeat pattern. When handling the papers, my gloves get covered with pencil residue from the designers’ original marks. While it was common for textile designers to remain anonymous, a significant portion of these designs are signed by Edna F. Leonhardt, whom I’ve written about previously.
In perusing the collection, it’s fascinating to see the variation within the time-honored textile design themes of floral, geometric, and abstract. Here’s a sampling of some of the designs:
After many months of inventorying these papers, I wanted to see them as they were intended, as endless repeating patterns. So I scanned a few of them, cleaned them up in Photoshop (removing all those pencil marks), and placed them into repeat. Perhaps I’m biased because I love mid-20th-century design, but I find this collection to be timeless and very relevant to today’s trends. I had a lot of fun mapping these repeats into various contemporary home decor applications, such as wallpaper, carpet, and home furnishings, as seen below.
Original design at left (#4966) by Edna F. Leonhardt. Wallpaper mapping at right by Ann Wilson.
Original design (#1276) by Edna F. Leonhardt. Design repeat and mapping by Ann Wilson.
Original design (#6255) by Edna F. Leonhardt. Design repeat and upholstered chair mapping by Ann Wilson.
Now that this collection is available online, these designs have a new lease on life, illustrating that old adage “everything old is new again.” After being in storage for decades, they can now inspire a new generation of designers at Jefferson and beyond. The hope is that design students — not just textile design, but also interior, graphic, and fashion design as well as architecture and historic preservation — will find ways to reinterpret them with the characteristics of our current place and time.
Explore the Point Papers Collection on JSTOR