The Warm Fuzzies: An Ode to the Sweater

By Elizabeth Botten

December 16, 2010

Elizabeth Botten, a member of our reference staff, finds some favorite woollen treasures from the collection.

Christmas card design by Gertrude Abercrombie
Print of a Christmas card design, 19--, Gertrude Abercrombie, artist. Gertrude Abercrombie papers, 1880-1986, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Having grown up in the Midwest where cold weather and snow are a given in winter, I’ve always had fondness for “sweater weather.” Being a lover of kitsch and pop culture, I feel a wave of delight whenever I see someone swathed in jingle bells or sporting a woolen menorah (and if it lights up all the better). ‘Tis the season for the ubiquitous sweater, and what better time than now to look to the Archives of American Art’s collections for sweater inspiration!

 

The Classics

The Winters
Yvor Winter and his wife, ca. 1960, Harry Bowden, photographer. Harry Bowden papers, 1922-1972, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Cross-country skiers holiday card design
Holiday card design of cross-country skiers, between 1930 and 1955, Allen Tupper True, artist. Allen Tupper True and True family papers, 1841-1987, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

When it comes to holiday sweaters, one cannot find a more classic example than the Fair Isle sweater, worn here by the poet Janet Lewis. When I think about skiing—and by skiing I mean lounging around a fancy ski lodge with a piping hot mug of cocoa—there are always two essentials to my day dream: a Malm fireplace, and a Fair Isle sweater.

In this hand colored card, Allen Tupper True offers “Seasons Greetings” and a fine example of how to sport a classic sweater if one actually skis.

The Fanciful

Christmas card from Alexandra Darrow
Alexandra Darrow Christmas card to unidentified recipient, 1957, Prentiss Taylor papers, 1885-1991, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Bisese Christmas card to Hemphill
Ed Bisese Christmas card to Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., 1992. Herbert Waide Hemphill papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Here muralist Alexandra Darrow takes a classic wool or cashmere crewneck and makes it festive by adding some greenery for her 1957 Christmas card found in the Prentiss Taylor papers. If you want to add some holiday charm and whimsy to your sweater while keeping your look tasteful, you will find no better example than Ms. Darrow.

Every year Maryland artist Ed Bisese creates a silk-screened card featuring himself and his family. In this card from 1992, Bisese is floating through space in a fun striped sweater and matching hat. Though it is his wife Liza, pregnant at time with their daughter Isabella, who wears what may the ultimate in Christmas accessories: angel wings and a halo!


Rockwell Kent: Arctic Enthusiast

The Kents in traditional Inuit dress
Rockwell and Frances Kent in traditional Inuit clothing, ca. 1930, unidentified photographer, Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Kent and his dog playing in the snow
Rockwell Kent playing in the snow with his dog, ca. 1935, unidentified photographer, Rockwell Kent papers, [circa 1840]-1993, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Artist and explorer Rockwell Kent documented his travels and adventures in cold weather climes such as Newfoundland, Greenland, and Alaska in numerous books, writings and artwork. Pictured here with his wife Francis in traditional Inuit dress, it is easy to admire not only the functionality of this clothing, but how beautifully the varying patterns and textures work together.

I remain convinced, however, that Kent is wearing a festive reindeer sweater under his ski suit!


But That’s Not a Sweater...

Photograph of Wood Gaylor
Wood Gaylor, ca. 1950, unidentified photographer, Wood and Adelaide Lawson Gaylor papers, 1866- [ca. 1986], Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

For achievement in the sweater sub-category “Festive Flannel,” I nominate artist and Connecticut native Wood Gaylor. Here he shows the kind of classic New England style that is essential to braving the cold winter months in our northernmost states.


That’s Really Not a Sweater!

Reisman family holiday card
Philip Reisman holiday card, 1956, Philip Reisman, artist, Philip Reisman papers, 1904-1994, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Perhaps Polish born artist Philip Reisman was able to handle cold weather without a sweater, or maybe he just had a special fondness for ketchup. Either way, I love his cheeky take on the traditional holiday family portrait.

Whether your seasonal sweater style is understated or over the top, the Archives of American Art wishes you a warm and happy holiday season!

Elizabeth Botten works in the Reference Services Department at the Archives of American Art.

Comments

An interesting array of woollen treats!!! I've just bought a knitted dress with snowflakes on for Christmas day!!

I love knitting and enjoyed your post. I have made a few sweaters and really like the classics. Knitting and sitting by the fire just seem to go together.

My brothers and I have started a tradition of wearing old time Christmas sweaters. The more colorful and obnoxious, the better.

This "The Warm Fuzzies: An Ode to the Sweater" is a great blog I love the pictures as well

An interesting array of woollen treats!!! I've just bought a knitted dress with snowflakes on for Christmas day!!

The more colorful and obnoxious, the better.

This holiday season came and went so fast :(
Luckily we are still getting snow here in NY and we're putting our sweaters to great use :)
Happy New Year!

The more colorful and obnoxious

ah those look like nice cozy sweaters. I actually liked the classic sweater that the man skiing was wearing, it was quite neat. A great thing that would go with those sweaters would probably warm blankets haha! I didn't know that there were these many sweaters, plus I didn't know that there was a deep and rich history about them! Thanks for the read.

Excellent ideas, I'm very glad you decided to share this useful info.

There are some obnoxious sweaters out their but have fun with it.

how the world change:)excellent ideas

We have been fighting a heat wave here in Northern VA. To be honest, I'm looking forward to it getting cold enough to be be able to put on a sweater. At least when it's cold, like around Christmas (which is a time I love) you can keep layering on sweaters, but when it's so crazy hot, there's only so much you can take off! :)

Hehe, I love my sweaters. But can't wear them right now, since we're in the middle of the summer.

I like this, really blog about fashion classic.