Vera Paints a Scarf celebrates the work of artist-turned-textile designer Vera Neumann (1907–1993) and her contributions to the field of American design. Today, those who recognize the name know Neumann as the designer of women’s scarves, all signed with a cursive “Vera” and stamped with a ladybug symbol. Yet over the course of her career, which spanned from her label’s debut in 1942 to her death in 1993, she produced thousands of textile patterns based on her watercolor and ink paintings.
Neumann translated her designs into a prolific output that beautified homes and wardrobes across the United States in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s: fabric and linens for the dining room, kitchen, and bedroom, as well as wallpaper, women’s sportswear and lingerie, and her iconic line of scarves. Although she was a household name for several decades and one of the most successful female design entrepreneurs of the twentieth century, Vera Paints a Scarf is the first exhibition to comprehensively examine her career, exploring how her paintings and textiles created an accessible and quintessentially modern lifestyle for American women.
Whether a translation of the latest trends in abstraction or life’s simplest pleasures expressed through a rainbow palette, Neumann’s designs for scarves, sportswear, and household linens struck a chord with mid-century female consumers eager for an affordable label that reflected a fresh, modern aesthetic. Neumann believed that fine art should be accessible to everyone, and that this objective could be realized by incorporating design into everyday life. In addition, she and her business partner—her husband, George Neumann—were inspired by the Bauhaus philosophy, which encouraged the union of art, craft, and industrial production. These ideals guided her creative practice and informed her company’s advancement of an aspirational identity rooted in an appreciation for art and design, on and off the wall.
Telling the story of the artist behind the Vera brand, Vera Paints a Scarf begins with a selection of paintings produced in Neumann’s preferred technique, Japanese sumi-e (ink painting), from which her textile designs derive. The exhibition continues with a broad exploration of her design work through a curated selection of over two hundred objects from her lines for the home and women’s fashion produced between 1950 and 1980, including original works on paper, textiles and garments, archival photographs and video, and the ephemera related to the company’s marketing campaigns, which ingeniously used the tagline “Vera paints” to promote her mass-market label.