Noga Bernstein, "Maya Modern: Ruth Reeves and the Guatemalan Exhibition of Textiles and Costumes," American Art, Vol. 34, No. 3, Fall 2020
In 1934, the American textile designer Ruth Reeves traveled to Guatemala to study and collect Indigenous textiles that would inspire a group of her own pieces. The 1935 Guatemalan Exhibition of Textiles and Costumes displayed Reeves’s designs directly next to their Guatemalan sources. While Reeves repeatedly claimed that she created her designs “in the spirit, rather than in the letter” of the Guatemalan textiles, her methods of adaptation ranged from allusive to direct. Thus, the exhibition’s unusual structure was balanced by curatorial devices used to distinguish the two groups of works. This essay argues that Reeves’s exhibition challenged common concepts of modern authenticity and her own self-image as an original artist-designer. Furthermore, I contend that it was precisely the location of Reeves’s work at the intersection of art and design that enabled her to occupy this complex position in regard to her cross-cultural practice.