The Neutrogena Textile Collection

This major installation can be viewed in Santa Fe

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The Neutrogena Collection Wing at the Museum of International Folk Art was inaugurated in 1998. This collection consists of close to 3000 textiles and objects collected by Mr. Lloyd Cotsen for his own pleasure and that of the employees of the Neutrogena Corporation. An intense curiosity about the varied and fascinating ways in which people express themselves has been the admitted driving force behind his collecting activities. He assembled a collection that vibrates with color and creativity, putting all the pieces together in a humorous and provocative manner. Mr. Cotsen says that all the objects that he collected had one thing in common: "they strike an emotional bell with me."

Mr. Cotsen never refers to the material he gathered for the Neutrogena offices as a collection; he prefers the word "assemblage". There was never a conscious attempt to focus the collecting by type or area, culture or time period. In some areas this has happened in spite of the lack of intent and because of his preference for a particular type of material or the fact he continued to collect it over many years. After decades of following his curiosity and his eye, he recognizes certain themes that run through his acquisitions: patterns and abstract designs, texture, color sensibility, an interest in shape, a fascination with technique, and an affection for what he calls the "humanness" of the object.


His early years in the Navy first brought him into contact with Japanese folk garments. Over the years these Japanese workers' clothing became one of the largest sections of the collection. Some of them were made from layers of used fabric dyed with indigo. These have been precisely stitched together with white threads to form simple contrasting geometric patterns. Others are woven from a white papery yarn made of wisteria vines. Some are actually made of paper that has been twisted together into yearn and woven into fabric. Mr. Cotsen was particularly attracted to work clothes made out of reused cut-up scraps that resulted in a blending of tones and colors. These garments were woven from remnants of old garments. The overall effect he says, "is not just of a work vest, but of an expression of love and beauty where age is respected both in the society and in the material. Each garment represents a passage of time . . . and its users, something akin to a time line of rural life. The patina of age imparts to these coats an extra dimension of human continuity."

Neutrogena: Jacket (Haori)

Jacket (Haori)
Yamagata Prefecture, Japan 1875–1900
Woven from recycled cotton
and silk garments

Neutrogena: Panel of Raffia

Ceremonial Panel
of raffia, cut pile and linear embroidery
Shoona People, Kuba Group
Western Kansai Province
Congo 1910–1930

His time in Japan led him to collect textiles from Africa. This development comes from a sensitivity to pattern that he had discovered in Japanese raked sand gardens. Many years later he found related patterns in the raffia pile cloths of the Kuba peoples of the Congo. He admits that, "it would have been difficult to collect Japanese sand gardens, so these textiles seemed like the next best thing." Part of his liking for abstract designs grows from what they reveal of the artist's thought process. Abstracts dominate the Collection's more than two hundred textiles from the Congo's Kuba people. The Kuba present a pattern at the edge of a textile, then develop it in variations much like a fugue as they work towards the center. They conceptualize their world as having an underlying structure which is constantly evolving with twists and turns. They are, in fact, embroidered on a grid formed by the cloth's woven structure, therefore the shapes are composed of straight lines.

One thing that both of these groups of textiles have in common is texture. The raffia pile of the Kuba cloth feels like velvet, while the undulating mounds of stitched layers of recycled Japanese fabric feel rough and random to the fingers. The tactile satisfactions and the textures of materials attracted Mr. Cotsen to the vast world of textiles. Touch is one of the obvious and basic pleasures of collecting. To feel the fluidity of an Indonesian silk or the sturdiness of a Peruvian studded leather belt, the weight of a Mexican clay toy and the lack of weight of a Chinese bowl

are all part of the learning experience. In addition, a dish, a toy or a garment absorbs the life of its users. In exchange, its life may be shortened, but it acquires character which sometimes changes its textile qualities. In order to share these sensations, visitors to the Neutrogena wing will be invited to take the elevator down beneath the gallery to see how the collection is kept and to share Mr. Cotsen's excitement for collecting and learning. Some examples from the collection have been chosen to help educate our fingers. Of course, he knows that handling textiles can leave smudges and wear, but he believes that touching is an essential form of communication with an object or a textile. "Communication," he says, "has its element of risk."

The appeal of the textiles of ancient Peru, which are significantly represented in the collection, lies in their technical intricacies. Peruvian material can be deceptive. A piece may appear simple, but when you begin to analyze it, you are plunged into the complex thinking of an artisan who lived a thousand or more years ago. The intricate techniques used to make and decorate them carried symbolic meaning, with a vast array of weaving techniques derived for specific garments and signaling particular symbolism. The essence of these techniques was fundamental to a culture that valued and stressed verity over visual deception. What this meant in terms of these sophisticated garments was that design and construction were unified. They were to their contemporaries, "like a flag to be worn for the world to see . . . their significance understood by all." Today they leave us amazed and in awe.

Deeply interested in the relationship between culture and the individual, Mr. Cotsen says, "No-name art carries more vitality for me. I think all artists produce work of their own vision, but traditional folk artists work more within their cultural confines. The stronger the culture, the more rules and regulations. And even though there is a recognizable form of expression, the artist's individuality comes through to charm us with fantasy and humor."

Neutrogena: Dance Costume

Appliqué dance costume
of the Northwestern Igbo People
Nigeria, 20th Century

The Collection spans the centuries from Pharaonic Egypt to recent Japanese kites. They come from every continent and scores of islands. In the Neutrogena Gallery, they will reveal their variety and the skills of many cultures and many ages.

You can visit the Museum of International Folk Art remote for more information.

Thanks to Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, who has worked with Mr. Cotsen as curator since 1980. She is the Writer/Editor of the book, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Textiles and Objects from the Collections of Lloyd Cotsen and the Neutrogena Corporation, and was curator of the inaugural exhibition in collaboration with Mr. Cotsen.
In Santa Fe she is also co-owner of TAI Gallery remote in Santa Fe.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos - Volume 12

Related Pages

The History of an Ancient Human Symbol article
Textiles as Art article

The Thread of New Mexico article
Vallero Star Blankets article

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