Madeline Weinrib, the famed New York–based designer known for incorporating artisan technique into her contemporary creations, is collaborating with The Met Store this year to introduce unique artisanal products. For the first of a series of upcoming projects, The Met partnered with AlNour to create a dazzling collection of hand-embroidered table linens inspired by The Met Cloisters.
We spoke with Madeline to discuss her history as an artist and designer, her love of The Met, and her passion for global design. Read the interview below, and stay tuned for more collaborations in fall 2021.
Can you tell us a bit about your work as a textile and rug designer?
My work is based upon traditional design motifs that I’ve altered for a more contemporary point of view and personal perspective. All my designs are done in collaboration with artisans who create handmade textiles.
I understand you had a career as a painter, before becoming a designer. Can you tell us about how your career in the arts informed your work as a designer?
As a painter, one of my obsessions was to create a body of work based upon a visual language with a very personal point of view. This process has also been important to my design work. My perspective has always been that of a painter—and to create a full body of work, like a series in an exhibition.
Your designs for the iconic Madeline Weinrib brand were well known for drawing inspiration from historic motifs, such as ikat, as well as employing craftspeople from around the globe skilled in traditional techniques. I’m curious to hear what inspired you to work that way, especially before it became a trend in the industry to do so.
There was no specific plan. I was traveling to the East in pre-Internet days, meeting other designers and traditional artisans. This led to a wonderful creative dialogue, which became my design work and then my obsession.
What do you enjoy about working with artisans from different cultures and traditions?
Through my work I have come to understand that I love to collaborate. When it is based upon mutual respect, collaboration becomes a shared journey of creativity. As Mother Theresa said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together, we can do great things.” This is the heart of a wonderful joint effort.
In your first project in collaboration with the Museum, you have organized a collaboration between The Met and AlNour. Can you tell us about how you came to be aware of AlNour, and what you feel makes them an ideal partner for the Museum?
For many years, I traveled to Marrakesh to buy vintage rugs. I discovered AlNour, a beautiful shop with hand-embroidered treasures, in the Medina. All the women working there are disabled. It’s a charming place that I always visit when in Marrakesh. I began collaborating with the women at AlNour to design products for the El Fenn Hotel boutique. With the Covid shutdown, I thought about the artisans I knew and how this would affect their lives. Especially, I thought about the AlNour women, whom I have come to know through our projects, and have become very fond of.
Can you tell us about your vision for future projects with The Met?
The Met is a perfect platform to introduce their hand-embroidered linens and also provides an opportunity for the women to be employed during the quarantine. AlNour’s work is so beautiful and they will continue to be able to manage their operations with professionalism. I am so honored that The Met has taken this on.
In addition to your design work, you are well known for supporting local New York arts institutions like APF, BAM, Neue Galerie, and the Cooper Hewitt. Can you tell us about your love of the arts and museums? And what inspired you to get involved?
The Internet has created many challenges for artists who cannot compete with mass production. How exciting it is for an artisan to use The Met as inspiration! We hope to expand this collection to support many artisans around the globe. I know the women of AlNour are very proud of their collaboration with The Met Store.
You are also a supporter of The Met, and a Friend of our Islamic Wing. I’d love to hear about how you came to be involved, and what you love about Islamic Art.
I feel we all should do whatever we can to contribute to our communities. I have always had a strong involvement with the arts, so it makes sense that I support the cultural institutions of my city. One of the ways I learned about the world and its history was through looking at art. I have beautiful memories of coming to The Met as a child, such as having lunch with my mother after a morning of looking at art together.
Can you tell us about what draws you to The Met?
My work has been so inspired by Islamic design. Traveling to some of these countries has been a great life experience, but also the Islamic wing has been a tremendous resource to me. So if you can’t get to Rajasthan, just come to The Met!
One of my favorite things about The Met is discovering all the wonderful treasures I encounter on my way to my destination. You can just meander and discover whole new worlds. It is an abundance that is available to all.
There are so many amazing galleries at The Met. I have fallen in love with many works of art throughout my life. I have a feeling there will be many more.