Global Age Design: Ruth Reeves and Cross-Cultural Practice


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art




Between the 1910s and 1950s, American textile designer, painter, and educator Ruth Reeves created a large body of work inspired by various ancient and then-current indigenous art traditions of the Americas, most notably Guatemalan and Peruvian textiles. In her travels to Central and South America during the 1930s, Reeves assumed the role of goodwill ambassador, aspiring to promote inter-American relations through her work. This project identifies Reeves’s indigenous sources and analyzes how she used them, contextualizing her stylistic methods within shifting political ideologies and diplomatic relations—from isolationist patriotism and pan-Americanism to universalism. In contrast to many other primitivists, Reeves was open, even obsessive, in her engagement with questions of artistic borrowing. Her practice of displaying her works alongside their sources, together with her discussion of those sources in her writings, provide insight into her methods of adaptation, and offer new ways of understanding how cross-cultural practice shaped American modernism.