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Cooper Hewitt Acquires Historic Textile Designed for UN Security Council

A sample of the textile designed for the United Nations Security Council Chamber, designed by Else Poulsson (1951) (courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)
A sample of the textile designed for the United Nations Security Council Chamber by Else Poulsson (1951) (image courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)

With the world still reeling from World War II, a Norwegian architect was tasked with designing one of the most important places of international peace and negotiation. The United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York still appears much as Arnstein Arneberg imagined it in 1952, with a mural by Per Krohg of a phoenix rising from symbolic ashes in the center, surrounded on the walls by a damask pattern of hearts, anchors, and wheat by textile artist Else Poulsson. A portion of that original textile was gifted this month by the Royal Norwegian Consulate General to the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Gregory Herringshaw wrote on the Cooper Hewitt site that the textile is “one of the most culturally significant wallcoverings acquired by the museum.” It joins the Cooper Hewitt’s extensive textile collection, including other diplomatic design objects such as a 1953 geometric curtain made by Sven Markelius for the UN’s Economic and Social Council Chamber. Herringshaw also noted that none of Poulsson’s original rayon satin, woven by Joh. Petersen AS, remains on the UN walls; this portion was saved by a former employee at the Oslo mill. The work was meticulously recreated in a recent renovation of the Security Chamber Council, completed in 2013. Visitors and council members are still surrounded on three sides by blue and gold radiance, coming from both a textile wallpaper and a draped tapestry on either side of the mural.

Cooper-Hewitt Director Caroline Baumann receiving the textile from Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway (courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)
Cooper Hewitt Director Caroline Baumann receiving the textile from Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway (image courtesy Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) (click to enlarge)

“Her pattern symbolizes the anchors of faith, the growing wheat of hope, and the hearts of charity,” Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway said in a speech at the acquisition ceremony. Curiously, Norway’s announcement of the news notes that the country has no permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but that everything in its interior design is Norwegian: “It is unclear how it was decided that Norway was to provide the furnishing and interior decoration for the Security Council Chamber, but it is likely the first UN Secretary General, Norwegian Trygve Lie played an important role.”

After the chamber’s completion in 1952, Arneberg stated that his “understanding of the problem was to execute a room of good, durable materials with a character, in all simplicity, which represented not only a casual taste of today, but a character so neutral that it could withstand the test of time.” Poulsson, who died in 2002, did instill her tranquil fabric with a timeless quality. Over 50 years later, after witnessing negotiations on everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the the War in Darfur, it still doesn’t feel dated.

Adlai Stevenson II showing aerial photos of missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 25, 1962, with the tapestry textile visible in the upper right corner (via PD-USGOV)
Adlai Stevenson II showing aerial photos of missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 25, 1962, with the tapestry textile visible in the upper right corner (image via PD-USGOV)
The textile on the walls of the United Nations Security Council Chamber (photo by John Gillespie/Flickr)
The textile on the walls of the United Nations Security Council Chamber (photo by John Gillespie/Flickr)

Read more about the United Nations Security Council Chamber textile on the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s blog

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