Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum, a subsidiary of the Smithsonian Institution, is the United States’ national museum of design history and contemporary design and the only museum in the U.S. whose collection is solely focused on contemporary and historic design. The museum is located in the former Andrew Carnegie Mansion at Fifth Avenue and East 91st Street, part of Manhattan’s Museum Mile. In addition to its permanent collection and regular exhibits, the museum presents the annual National Design Awards in more than ten categories, “celebrating the best in American design.” The Museum also offers a Master of Arts program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design in cooperation with Parsons The New School for Design.
The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration was founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt, the granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper, and daughters of Abram S. Hewitt, Mayor of New York in 1887–88. It was formed on the model of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris and was to be free to all. The Museum was initially part of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.
The main museum building is the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, completed in 1903, and since designated a National Historic Landmark. Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate and philanthropist, lived there until his death in 1919. The neighborhood became known as Carnegie Hill. The Carnegie Corporation gave the house and property to the Smithsonian in 1972, and the modern incarnation of the Museum opened there as a Smithsonian Institution subsidiary in 1976. In 1995, the building was renovated to improve the study center and provide handicapped access following a re-branding and re-naming the previous year. The interior was redesigned by the architectural firm, Polshek and Partners, headed by James Polshek in 2001.
The Museum contains more than 250,000 objects ranging from Han Dynasty objects to the present; it is organized into four curatorial departments: Product Design and Decorative Arts, Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design, Textiles, and Wall coverings. The museum also houses the National Design Library, containing 70,000 volumes. Among its holdings, Cooper-Hewitt possesses a Michelangelo drawing for a seven-branched candelabrum. It was identified in the Museum’s drawings collection by Sir Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, while on a sabbatical at the museum in April 2002.
National Design Week
National Design Week was founded in 2006 “in recognition of design’s continuing resonance in our daily lives.” The program’s goal is to draw attention to the ways that design enriches everyday life, through outreach to school teachers and their students, and partnerships with design organizations across the country. Museum admission is free during the week to increase visitation and understanding of design. National Design Week and the National Design Education Center is supported by Target. The winners of New York City’s bike rack competition are scheduled to be announced at the third annual National Design Week in October 2008 in addition to the balance of the National Design Awards.
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