Day created her designs by drawing, which explains why she often simply used a black line set on dyed fabric. In a pattern like "Chequers," which looks like a soft and whimsical Frank Lloyd Wright, Day has established a geometric pattern of black lines that sometimes terminate in little cartoonish flower heads laid on a richly colored background of cotton satin. Another device she used was laying the black line pattern over grids of circles, squares or stripes.

Whereas Day threw away most of these drawings as she was finished with them, Groag's preliminary collages and drawings still exist, and Wiltse and Brown were able to acquire many of them. In that way, they have been able to illustrate her creative process from sketch to fabric. Groag worked for many companies, including American ones, but she's best remembered for her pieces made by David Whitehead, Ltd. Though Day often created for the fairly expensive screen-print method, nearly everything Groag did was in the cheaper roller-print technique. In addition, her patterns were much denser than Day's and tended not to have any directional orientation. Often a pattern is defined by an all-over arrangement of little squares, circles or other simple shapes.

Groag was an immigrant to Britain, having come from Austria, where she had been a student of secessionist designer and architect Josef Hoffmann at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule. You can really see that Viennese influence in her work, as in the several untitled swatches covered with linear labyrinths of meandering black lines on monochrome fields that can sometimes depict figures or other recognizable things. Though the origins of this approach lie in '20s and '30s vanguard design, Groag seemed to constantly update the look of her fabrics through color choices and by tweaking the style toward the expressionist end.

"Calyx," by Lucienne Day, screen-printed rayon.
"Calyx," by Lucienne Day, screen-printed rayon.

Details

Through January 25, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581, www.csfineartscenter.org.

Mahler was also an Austrian immigrant and a former protegé of Hoffmann's, and her style, like Groag's, comes directly out of the secessionist movement of the early twentieth century. However, Mahler is more clearly constructivist, and in that way more purely modernist in her preference for geometric decoration over things in nature. Day may be the superstar of this trio of designers, but Mahler is clearly the most advanced and most closely aligned with other European currents in fabric design.

In addition to fabrics, Mahler designed related works in wallpaper, carpeting and even plastic laminate kitchen countertops, among a slew of other things. She was discovered by noted interior design executive John Murray, of Whitehead, who knew that her work would strike a chord with an upwardly mobile young crowd looking for inexpensive but high-style designs to enliven their residences.

I can't say enough about how interesting, thoughtful, intelligently laid out and beautiful Designing Women is. I wasn't surprised to learn that curators from various museums in Britain as well as from the Cooper-Hewitt, the Wolfsonian and even the Museum of Modern Art have made their way to Colorado Springs to see it. Suffice it to say, it wouldn't kill you to exert a fraction of that effort to do the same.

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