The art and life of Vera Neumann

As a child, I loved playing with my mother’s silk scarves; I’d create wrapped chic strapless sheath gowns for my dolls. As a teen, I turned the oversized Gucci and Hermes silk scarves into halter tops and pair them with cut-off jeans. I had no shame. Among all those scarves, my mother’s favorites were her Veras. “Leave my Veras alone. Be satisfied with the ones you’ve already squandered,” she’d say as she dressed and artfully tied a Vera  around her neck a la française.
The memory of coveting my mother’s Veras resurfaced when I saw that the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) presents Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Life of Vera Neumann, the first museum exhibition that examines the career of American artist and designer Vera Neumann (1907-1993). On view through January 26, 2020, the exhibition spotlights one of the most successful female design entrepreneurs of the 20th century, telling the story of an originator of the American lifestyle brand through more than 200 works—from a selection of Neumann’s paintings, the source of her whimsical design motifs, to her signature scarves, fashions, textiles, and table linens signed with a cursive “Vera” and stamped with a ladybug.
Sections of the exhibition highlight Neumann’s biography and the history of the company she helmed from 1942 until her death in 1993; the fine art that fueled her designs, painted using the East Asian sumi-e technique; the scarf, a hallmark accessory of the company, produced in an array of sizes, shapes, fabrics, and color. Inspired by the Bauhaus philosophy, which encouraged the union of art, craft, and industry, Neumann and her business partner and husband, George Neumann, launched Vera Industries in 1942 with reproductions of her artworks silkscreened onto napkins and placemats.
Vera: The Life and Art of an Icon, a 208-page tome written by Susan Seid with design journalist and editor Jen Renzi accompanies the exhibition. The book’s pages are filled with the designer’s original sketches and paintings, personal and commercial photographs, marketing materials, and contemporary photographs by Steven Meckler.
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