Published: September 19, 2023
Eileen M. Smiles is an American decorative arts specialist and dealer with David A. Schorsch – Eileen M. Smiles American Antiques, one of the leading galleries of American folk art. A few years ago, Smiles, who has master’s degrees in the history of decorative arts and in early childhood education, decided to create a collection of wallpaper and textiles that is inspired by the works of art the two have handled over the years. Eileen M. Smiles Designs celebrates American folk art and vernacular design.
We reached out to find out a bit more about this new venture and what plans Eileen has for the business in the coming years.
Tell our readers a bit more specifically about what you’re doing?
Fabric and wallpaper design grew as a natural extension of our antiques business because I wanted to make some use of our photo archive. David started collecting antiques as a young child and then dealing at age 14 – that was a while ago! So we have a lot of photos of a lot of antiques, and I thought this would be a great way to share some of them. So, about two years ago, I started working on this project.
Where did the idea or inspiration come from?
Color and pattern are such integral aspects of American folk art. Painted furniture and boxes, Pennsylvania German watercolors, friendship tokens and cutwork pictures provide literally a treasure trove of inspiration for textiles and pattern designs.
Our first designs incorporate motifs from cutwork pictures. The famous Pennsylvania cutwork picture, “American Fantasy,” from The Flowering of American Folk Art is a piece that we have bought and sold three times over the years. It’s an iconic image and a favorite of mine. The fabric and wallpaper pattern “American Fantasy” features peacocks, dogs, cats and trailing borders from that cutwork picture, as well as some motifs from other cutworks.
Tell me about your collaboration with Elizabeth Halpern: who she is and how you came to work with her?
I looked at the work of a lot of different graphic designers in publications like Uppercase and different websites that feature freelance surface pattern designers. Elizabeth Halpern’s work appealed to me and seemed like a good fit with our aesthetic, so I contacted her. This was during Covid, so we started out having Zoom meetings, and two years later, we still haven’t met in person, but we work really well together and have a lot of fun.
I have too many ideas. I cut up pictures and play with different motifs, scales and patterns that I have in mind. I send them to Liz, we collaborate, and she turns them into proper patterns for digital printing. We have several more designs in the works as well as new colorways for existing patterns.
Do you work with clients on bespoke patterns/designs?
I would love to work on bespoke designs with collectors. One of our clients has cushions on their sofa with motifs from one of the artworks in their collection that we sold to them. It’s really fun.
Are historically inspired wallpapers and textiles enjoying a renaissance or do you feel they are timeless designs? Or both?
Wallpaper is really popular right now, and interior designers are using both bold and tranquil color schemes, modern and traditional patterns. English country style is making a big comeback, and American country and folk art are logical aesthetic parallels.
Your designs are in a few showrooms in Southern California, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma City — do you have plans/want to expand?
Yes, we have five showrooms/sales representatives that sell directly to the interior design trade. We are hoping to eventually be in more showrooms in other regions of the country as well.
—Madelia Hickman Ring
[Editor’s note: Eileen M. Smiles’ website is www.eileensmiles.com.]
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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