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Dorothy Liebes papers, circa 1850-1973, bulk 1922-1970

Biographical Note

California and New York weaver, textile designer, and consultant Dorothy Wright Liebes (1899-1972) was known for distinctive textiles featuring bold color combinations and unusual textures achieved through the use of materials such as glass rods, sequins, bamboo, grass, leather, ribbon, wire, and ticker tape. Her work with companies in the synthetic fiber industry to make craft weaving compatible with man-made fabrics and machine looms, produced an innovative and exciting new aesthetic in interior design that was both functional and affordable, and made Liebes a mid-century household name.
Born Dorothy Wright in Santa Rosa, California, Liebes was the daughter of chemistry professor Frederick L. Wright and teacher Bessie Calderwood Wright. She studied art, education, and anthropology at San Jose State Teachers College and the University of California, Berkeley. During her college years, a teacher encouraged her to experiment with weaving and textile design since many of her paintings resembled textiles.
Liebes was a teacher for several years before deciding to pursue a career in textile design. She then studied weaving at Hull House in Chicago and traveled to France, Italy, Guatemala, and Mexico to learn the traditional weaving forms of those cultures. Upon her return to the United States, Liebes opened her first professional studio for weaving and textile design on Powell Street in San Francisco; Dorothy Liebes Design, Inc. was established in 1934, and eventually employed a staff of weavers. Liebes moved her studio to 545 Sutter Street in 1942.
Her first client in the industry was Goodall-Sanford Mills, with whom Liebes worked as a consultant for more than a decade. As her client base expanded, she decided to open a New York studio and maintained both studios until 1948 when she closed her San Francisco operation and relocated to New York City.
Liebes became a color and design consultant to corporations such as DuPont, Dow, and Bigelow-Sanford and tested and promoted newly developed synthetic fibers. She advised textile chemists in the development of fibers that were versatile enough to produce many different textures and worked with engineers and technicians to develop new machines that could reproduce the irregularities of hand-loomed fabrics. Liebes became a sought-after speaker by textile industry and consumer groups, and sometimes taught workshops on color and design.
Liebes's commissions included the United Nations Delegates Dining Room, the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel and the King of Saudi Arabia's traveling royal throne room. Between 1937 and 1970, Liebes participated in more than thirty solo and group exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, de Young Museum, Cranbrook Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, and other venues. She received prizes and awards from institutions and corporations such as Lord and Taylor, Neiman-Marcus, the Paris Exposition, the American Institute of Decorators, the American Institute of Architects and the Architectural League. She was also awarded the Elsie de Wolfe Award and an honorary degree from Mills College in 1948.
Liebes's other notable activities included her work a director of the Decorative Arts Display for the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair, which she credited with establishing her as an authority in the field, and her work as organizer and director of "Arts and Skills," a Red Cross occupational therapy project that included training in weaving for soldiers injured in World War II. In the 1950s, she worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, journeying though the southwest to study Indian schools and weaving techniques.
Liebes was married to businessman Leon Liebes from 1928 until their divorce in 1940 and continued to use the name Liebes for the remainder of her life. In 1948, she married Pulitzer prize winning Associated Press special correspondent Relman "Pat" Morin.
During the last year of her life, Dorothy Liebes was semi-retired due to a heart ailment. She died in New York City on 10 September 1972.