Harry Smith: String Figures

Harry Smith: String Figures

Cabinet Magazine

Photo Jon Palmer. Courtesy Harry Smith Archives.

September 12, 2012

Harry Smith
String Figures

19 September–3 November 2012

Opening: Wednesday, 19 September, 7–9pm

300 Nevins Street
Brooklyn, New York


Organized by Terry Winters

Cabinet is pleased to present Harry Smith: String Figures, an exhibition drawn from the collection of John Cohen. Organized by painter Terry Winters, the show features twenty-two string figures created by Smith (1923–1991), the legendary artist, filmmaker, and ethnomusicologist.

Though perhaps best known to the general public for his groundbreaking research into early twentieth-century American folk music—and the seminal six-album compilation he produced for the Smithsonian Institution in 1952—Smith was also active as an artist and filmmaker in both San Francisco and New York, where he lived from the early 1950s until his death.

A widely curious polymath, Smith was an avid collector of artifacts ranging from Seminole textiles to Ukrainian Easter eggs; he also amassed the world’s largest known collection of paper airplanes, which he later donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. He also was an avid student of string figures. First described in Western anthropological literature by Franz Boas in 1888, these patterns—made by looping or weaving lengths of string into geometric forms or shapes that often evoke familiar objects—have been produced throughout history, both as a secular pastime and as a spiritual practice. When he died, Smith left an unfinished thousand-page manuscript on string figures, along with an extensive collection of figures that he had created.

Cabinet’s exhibition brings together a selection of these artifacts, along with a facsimile of portions of Smith’s unpublished manuscript and an accompanying video program.

Also on view will be a limited edition print by Terry Winters published on the occasion of the exhibition. Proceeds from sales of the edition will support Cabinet’s activities.

Related Programs
Thursday, 11 October 2012, 7pm: “Patchworks and String Bands”: A program of film and live music by John Cohen and The Downhill Strugglers.
Thursday, 25 October 2012, 7pm: “Knots and Unknots”: A presentation by mathematician Philip Ording on topology, string figures, and art, followed by discussion between Ording and Terry Winters.

Thanks to John Cohen and to the Harry Smith Archives at the Getty Research Institute Special Collections, Los Angeles.

About Cabinet
Featuring exhibitions of both contemporary art and historical materials, as well as an eclectic schedule of talks, screenings, and events, Cabinet’s space was inaugurated in the fall of 2008 to extend the magazine’s engagement with art and culture into the public realm. Cabinet’s space is open Wednesday to Saturday 12–6pm and is fully wheelchair-accessible. For further information, contact Cabinet at press@cabinetmagazine.org.



Harry Smith: String Figures at Cabinet, New York
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September 12, 2012

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