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People everywhere make useful things: furniture, bed coverings, clothing, and buildings. And, interestingly, people everywhere love to decorate the things they use. The decorative aspects (shapes, patterns, colors) are as important as their function because they communicate ideas, life events, and troubling issues:

  • The Persian tile wall panel is a wall covering and it communicates a spiritual message of infinite perfection.
  • The armor offers physical protection and it was a gift of love from a wealthy woman to her husband.
  • The quilt is a bed covering and it celebrates the birth of a granddaughter to prominent Philadelphians.
  • The stool is something to sit on and its visual references to African royalty make it a status symbol.
  • The Bullies wallpaper is actual wallpaper and it raises the troubling issue of school bullying.

Although these objects have different functions, their decorative aspects share some intriguing similarities. They all have intricate, allover designs and required technical skill, intelligence, and patience to create. Three contain complex designs based on natural shapes, two display dynamic radial designs, and two feature animals associated with rulers. What other connections can you find?

In addition to being useful and communicating vital aspects of life, the detailed patterns, expensive materials, and rich colors delight our senses and provide sheer pleasure.

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