Jack Lenor Larsen papers, 1941-2003

A Finding Aid to the Jack Lenor Larsen Papers, 1941-2003, in the Archives of American Art, by Justin Brancato

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Jack Lenor Larsen (b. 1927), based in New York and of international reputation, has been deeply involved in the design of hand woven fabric and its application to modernist interior design. An international entrepreneur, Larsen also has written books on design and has been a frequent lecturer.

Larsen was born in Seattle, Washington to parents of Canadian/Scandinavian descent; his father was a building contractor. Larsen studied architecture at the University of Washington and became interested in materials design, receiving his M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1951. Following graduation, he opened a studio in New York and established Jack Lenor Larsen Incorporated. Just months later, Larsen successfully competed for the commission to design draperies for the important glass walled Lever House building on Park Avenue designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Larsen was highly successful in marketing his ideas and innovations, which included combining metallic thread with natural polished linen and hand woven fabrics consisting of varied yarns in random and repeating patterns. This later style of fabric became known as the "Larsen Look" and was synonymous with modern design. Larsen's firm successfully adapted technological advances to fabric design but also used ancient techniques; they were first to design fabrics for jet air planes, stretch upholsestry and printed velvets.

In 1958-1960, Larsen represented the United States Department of State in Vietnam and Taiwan, studying those countries' crafts with the goal of developing industry to create jobs and products for export. Larsen then saw the opportunity for international fabric design and production. He travelled to Latin America, Africa and Asia to study local crafts and weaving with an eye towards business opportunites, focusing on hand spun and hand woven silks. By the 1990s Larsen was producing fabric in over 30 countries. In 1997, Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc. merged with the British fabric house, Cowtan and Tout and became the United States subsidiary of the British company, Colefax and Fowler.

Many museums have collected and/or exhibited Larsen fabrics. Notable among them are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musee des Arts Decoratifs (in the Louvre Museum), Museum of Modern Art, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In addition, Larsen is the author of several books relating to fabric and fabric design including Material Wealth: Living with Luxurious Fabrics (an international survey of contemporary fabric design) and an autobiography, Jack Lenor Larsen: A Weaver's Memoir.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The Jack Lenor Larsen papers measure 3.7 linear feet and date from 1941-2003. Larson was a renowned weaver and designer, entrepreneur, and a scholar who wrote and lectured on modernist design. His career in the New York design world is documented by biographical materials, correspondence, writings by and about him, various printed materials and photographs.

Found are biographical materials and artifacts including items from his early years, 4 volumes of daily planners and numerous awards. Correspondence includes letters from notables such as Isamu Noguchi, Walter F. Mondale, and various craft artists such as Helen W. Drutt English, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Beatrice Wood, and author Hannah Tillich, widow of Paul Tillich. Business correspondence is from museums, professional societies, magazines and other organizations such as the Josef Albers Foundation. Larsen also curated textile exhibitions and there are records pertaining to these exhibitions.

There are a substantial number of writings, lectures and speeches by Larsen, and proofs of a book he co-authored with Mildred Constantin, Beyond Craft: The Art of Fabric. Also found are writings about Larsen and 3 interviews with him including a 1965 videotaped interview, 2 transcribed interviews, and an audio tape of Larsen's talk "Personal Perspective," presented at a conference of the American Craft Council.

Photographs show Larsen and his employees at work and at professional events. Photographs removed from albums retain their original order. Lastly, there are printed materials include catalogs and announcements, newspaper and magazine clippings, and press and promotional materials.

Arrangement and Series Description

The Jack Lenor Larsen papers are organized into 7 series based primarily on record type and arranged chronologically.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:


  • Modernism (Art)
  • Textile design--New York (State)--New York
  • Weavers--New York (State)--New York

Types of Materials:

  • Audio cassettes
  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video recordings


  • Abakanowicz, Magdalena
  • Constantine, Mildred
  • Drutt, Helen Williams
  • Mondale, Walter F., 1928-
  • Noguchi, Isamu, 1904-1988
  • Tillich, Hanna
  • Wood, Beatrice
  • Josef Albers Foundation


The records were donated to the Archives in 2004 by Jack Lenor Larsen in connection with the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.

How the Collection was Processed

The papers were processed by Justin Brancato in June, 2008.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Jack Lenor Larsen papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Jack Lenor Larsen papers, 1941-2003. Archives of America Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1941-2001
(Boxes 1, 5; 0.6 linear feet)

Biographical material consists mostly of diplomas, honorary doctorates, and awards and certificates from associations, institutions and colleges. There are 4 volumes of daily planners, an address book, Boy Scout merit badges and sash, and a short genealogical outline.

Box Folder
1 1 Family Tree, undated
1 2 Passports, 1955-1994
1 Diplomas
1 3 Bremerton High School, 1945
1 4 University of Washington, 1949
1 Honorary Doctorates
1 5 Parsons School of Design, 1981
(Oversized material housed in Box 5)
1 6 Philadelphia College of Art, 1982
1 7 Awards and Certificates, (College of Arts and Sciences, University of Washington), 1991
1 8 Washington Intermediate School Pupil's Quarterly Report, 1941-1944
1 9 Eagle Scout Badge, undated
1 10 Boy Scout Merit Badges and Sash, undated
1 11 Elmer Lenor Larsen Memorial, 1980
1 12 Daily Planners and Address Book, 1991-2001
(4 volumes)
Box Folder
5 1 Honorary Doctorate, (Parsons School of Design), 1981
5 Awards and Certificates
5 2 American Institute of Decorators, 1954-1956
5 3 American Society of Interior Designers, 1976
5 4 Deco Press, 1974
5 5 House and Garden, 1958, 1969
5 6 Industrial Design Review, 1969-1974
5 7 Institute of Business Designers, 1973
5 8 International Contract Product Design Award, 1975
5 9 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925
5 10 Mostra Internazionale dell' Arredamento, 1973
5 11 Paulex, Inc., 1957
5 12 Printing Industries of Metropolitan New York, Inc., 1984
5 13 Resources Council Product Design Awards Programs, 1974-1983
5 14 The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, 1975
5 15 Surface Design Association, 1980
5 16 Upholstery Leather Group, 1957

Series 2: Correspondence, 1958-2003,
(Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)

This series contains personal and professional correspondence including letters from craft artists and other notables such as Walter F. Mondale, Isamu Noguchi, and Hannah Tillich, (Mrs. Paul Tillich). Also found are greeting cards and postcards from colleagues, friends and family including some artwork as illustrations or enclosures. Professional correspondence includes letters from museums and art institutions, including the American Craft Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Josef Albers Foundation, design and manufacturing corporations and magazines such as Connoisseur and Contact.

Box Folder
1 13-14 Personal Correspondence, 1958, 1972-2003, undated
1 15 Business Correspondence, 1981-2003, undated
1 16 Letters, Invitations, Party/Event Lists, 1991-2003, undated

Series 3: Exhibition Records, 1986-1990,
(Boxes 1-2; 0.7 linear feet)

This series is comprised of records of exhibitions at the Bellas Artes Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Erie Art Museum in Erie, Pennsylvania, both curated by Larsen. Also found is correspondence, other business documentation, slides and printed material.

Box Folder
1 Bellas Artes Gallery
1 17 Correspondence, 1988-1990, undated
1 18 Artists, 1988-1990
1 19 Printed Material, 1988-1989
1 20-21 Slides, 1989
(35mm color)
1 Erie Art Museum,
1 22 Biographies, 1988
1 23-25 Correspondence, Artists, 1987-1988
Box Folder
2 Erie Art Museum,
2 1 Correspondence, Artists, 1987-1988
2 2 General Correspondence, 1986-1988, undated
2 3 Artist Lists, 1987-1988
2 4 Shipping Expense, 1987-1988
2 5 Photographs, undated
2 6-7 Slides of Artwork, 1987-1988

Series 4: Writings, 1950-2003,
(Box 2-3; 1.3 linear feet)

Writings by Larsen include a foreword to The Miracle of Ancient at the Peru Merrin Gallery and many lectures, speeches and magazine articles. Larsen lectured at prestigious institutions including the Louvre Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and World Craft Council. Also found are a draft of an unpublished book and articles by Larsen for publications such as American Craft, Art and Antiques and Fiber Arts, I.D. There also are writings about Larsen such as "Body and Soul: Jack Lenor Larsen as Designer and Collector" by David Revere McFadden, Chief Curator at the Museum of Art and Design.

The materials in the folders titled Lectures and Writings by Larsen preserve their original order.

Box Folder
2 8 Writings by Larsen, 1950s, 1983-1988, undated
2 9 Foreword for The Miracle of Ancient Peru at the Merrin Galley together with correspondence, contracts and printed material, 1988
2 10 Writings about Larsen, 1950, undated
2 11 Lectures and Speeches by Larsen, 1982, 1997, undated
2 12 Lectures and Speeches about Larsen, undated
2 13-17 Lecture Notes by Larsen, 1964-2002, undated
2 18 Master List of Lectures and Writings by Larsen, undated
2 19-24 Lectures and Writings by Larsen 1-80, 1970-1986, undated
Box Folder
3 1-9 Lectures and Writings by Larsen 81-189, 1987-2003
3 10 Transcript of Larsen Interview by Susan Lindsay, 1995
3 11 Transcript of Larsen Interview by Suzanne Ramljak, 2003

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1970-1992,
(Box 3, 5; 0.5 linear feet)

This series includes photographs of Larsen and his employees at work and professional activities. The photographs have been removed from their albums, retaining their original order.

Box Folder
3 12 Photograph Albums 1-2, 4, circa 1970-1992, undated
3 13 Photograph Album 3, undated
3 14 Photograph Album 5, RHIDEC Los Angeles, 1990
3 15 Trade Shows, undated
3 16 Events, MK 40th Anniversary, undated
Box Folder
5 17 Photographs of Fabrics designed by Marga Hielle-Vatter, undated

Series 6: Printed Material, 1972-2002,
(Boxes 4-5; 0.3 linear feet)

Printed material includes announcements, magazine and newspaper clippings, catalogues and journals. Also found are press materials for Larsen's "Terra Nova" Collection, designed in collaboration with Museum Industries and the Museum of the American Indian and a proof of Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric, a book co-written by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen.

Box Folder
4 1 Announcements, 1992-2002, undated
4 2 Clippings, 1972-1996, undated
4 3 Catalogs and Journals, 1986-1992, undated
4 4 Press Materials, "Terra Nova," 1985
4 5 Poster, undated
4 6 Programs, 1992-1996, undated
Box Folder
5 19 Proofs, Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric, 1972

Series 7: Audio Recordings, 1965,
(Box 4; 0.1 linear feet)

This series consists of a radio interview with Larsen aired on KCBS, San Francisco and a talk titled "Personal Perspective" that Larsen presented at a meeting of the American Craft Council.

Box Folder
4 7 Radio Interview, KCBS, San Francisco, Jack Lenor Larsen and Helen Bentley, 1965
(1 sound tape reel)
4 8 "Personal Perspective," talk by Jack Lenor Larsen, undated
(1 audio cassette)