Ruth Reeves (1892 – 1966) American Textile Designer

Carpet for Radio City Music Hall by Ruth Reeves
Carpet for Radio City Music Hall by Ruth Reeves

Ruth Marie Reeves (1892โ€“1966) was an American painter, Art Deco textile designer and expert on Indian handicrafts.

Early Life and Education

Ruth Marie Reeves was born on July 14, 1892, in Redlands, California. She studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1910 to 1911, the San Francisco Art Institute from 1911 to 1913, and the Art Students League in 1913. She obtained a scholarship and studied until 1915. She married Leland Olds, an Amherst College graduate, in 1917. In 1922, they divorced.

Reeves went to Paris in 1920 to study with Fernand Lรฉger.

She pioneered vat dyes and the screen print technology for home fabrics during her time in Paris.


Her works were influenced by current innovations in France, such as Cubism, when she returned to the United States in 1927. The American Designers’ Gallery in New York hosted Reeves’ debut exhibition, which featured textiles. “Probably the most intriguing work any designer has offered for commercial production today,” Lewis Mumford said of her wall hangings and skirts inspired by indigenous Guatemalan motifs shown in 1935.

The carpeting and wall fabrics of Radio City Music Hall in New York City are among her most well-known creations. Today, you may view her fabric and carpet designs, as well as those of her colleague Marguerita Mergentime. Reeves and Mergentime were commissioned to develop textiles for the hall by Donald Deskey, who won the competition to design the interiors of Radio City Music Hall.

The Index of American Design, one of the three main divisions of the Federal Art Project (FAP), was created by Reeves and Romana Javitz, curator of the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection, as a way for American artists to find authentic American everyday objects to use as visual references for their work. In January 1936, the FAP formed the Index, with Reeves as its national supervisor. She kept the role until Adolph Cook Glassgold took over in the spring. Shaker art was praised inside the Index because Reeves believed it emphasised the art of the average man in America.

She went on to teach at New York’s Cooper Union Art School.

She had three daughters with engineer Donald Robert Baker. In 1940, the couple divorced. She was a Fulbright scholar in India after 1956, where she worked on the All-India Handicrafts Board. In 1966, she died in New Delhi.

Textile Design

She frequently used storylines based on her own or her friends’ lives. South Mountain is one of her earliest narrative works, intended to be an autobiographical depiction of her family. It was named after the street where she lived in New York’s artist enclave. This was the first of her “personal prints,” limited editions commissioned by specific individuals.

In 1930, the W. & J. Sloane Company commissioned Reeve to design a series of narrative textiles for the American Federation of Art’s International Exhibition of Decorative Metalwork and Cotton Textiles, which was to be presented later that year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The corporation failed to follow up on her progress and was ultimately shocked by the unusual fabric she created. Each pattern showed a succession of rooms in an imaginary house and was printed on twenty-nine different cotton varieties. The fabrics didn’t sell either, and the relationship ended on a sour note. “American Scene,” a panorama that highlights everyday American life: work, sports, and family, is the most notable work from this collection.

Reeves designed a collection of textiles in 1933 that was the Hudson River School inspired. The Gardner School Alumnae Fund provided funding for these fabrics. The textiles were displayed at the National Alliance of Art and Industry in 1934.

The Carnegie Institution sponsored her to travel to Guatemala in 1934. Her textiles from this trip were displayed at Radio City Music Hall in New York. She collaborated with R.H. Macy & Company in 1935 to design five Guatemalan-inspired patterns, which were some of her only commercially produced pieces.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 4). Ruth Reeves. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:18, September 23, 2021, from

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