BATH, England — The colors — blue, green, yellow, pink, purple — are bright enough to trounce the spring daffodils. And that is just referring to the vivid knitting that dresses up the garden lamps and the madcap decoration of multicolored pompoms dangling from an ancient tree.
The entrance to “The Colorful World of Kaffe Fassett,” on display at the American Museum in Britain until Nov. 2, is an explosion of joyful hues on a green hillside outside Bath.
Inside, it is even more dramatic: the deep blue of Turkish tiles inspiring a patchwork rug; a glazed blood-red Chinese vase alongside Mr. Fassett’s scarlet craft works, and patterns of green vegetables woven on cushions or printed digitally onto a plastic floor covering.
“Hopefully this will banish the fear of color,” says the artist. “People are dressing in gray and beige but they will come here and see that there is mileage to be had from absolutely passionate pools of color.” Mr. Fassett’s wild and wondrous shades penetrate everything from berets made of buttons to a buttercup-yellow patchwork evoking Gustav Klimt’s glints of gold.
In the 50 years since the artistic young man from the Californian coast first came to England to do portraits of the period rooms at the American Museum, the designer has become a King of Color.
“It’s about textile art,” said Laura Beresford, who curated the exhibition — although it actually has been a four-way collaboration involving her, Mr. Fassett, his partner Brandon Mably and the designer Johan Engels, known for his opera sets.
Mr. Fassett, 76, spends much of each year traveling with Mr. Mably — most recently in Australia — to give lectures and workshops on craft. The show highlights both his current passion for patchwork and his fashion explorations in the 1970s.
Those include his work with the British designer Bill Gibb, such as the dramatic knitted bodice and skirt with dotted butterfly-wing sleeves shown in the exhibition.
Mr. Fassett’s craft story began when he went to Scotland for a Gibb event, bought some colorful skeins of wool, and tapped the expertise of a fellow passenger to teach him how to knit during the long train ride home, a skill he refuses to see as “an exclusively female activity.” Hence, the exhibition has Mr. Fassett’s dramatic, full-sleeved knitted coat, inspired by seeing the ballet star Rudolf Nureyev in “Romeo and Juliet.”
There also are walls of hand-knitted sweaters, which were developed by Mr. Mably with the exquisite textures of silk and alpaca.
Mr. Mably, discussing his partner’s enthusiasm in front of the eye-popping mockup of their London studio, refers to a famous Fassett statement: “My motto is always: When in doubt — add 20 more colors.”
Some of Mr. Fassett’s other bon mots appear as posters on a multicolored wall: “Every good bit of decoration is like a piece of music. It has an emotional impact.” and “The importance that some purists draw between art and craft doesn’t exist for me. I always try and make my textiles as beautiful as I can manage, imbuing them with all the efforts of a work of art.”
A Kaffe Fassett world without color also can be seen in the museum. In honoring him with this exhibition, the museum’s director, Dr. Richard Wendorf, took the opportunity to show Mr. Fassett’s pen-and-ink drawings from 1964, which hang in the museum’s 17th-century period room.
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The American Museum was founded in 1961 by two dedicated collectors as a way of showing American arts and crafts. Inside the 19th-century Claverton Manor, there are rooms created with wood panels and filled with furniture shipped from old houses in Connecticut or Massachusetts, while other pieces come from as far as Mexico.
With a collection of more than 250 patchwork quilts, there was plenty of color in the neo-Classical manor even before the Fassett exhibition. Only the neutral and natural shades of the Shakers drew a veil of beige, although that too was offset by a room dedicated to patchworks, hung on rotating screens.
Dr. Wendorf even has allowed Mr. Fassett to fill a void over the grand, carved stairway with floating flags of color.
How will the museum stop visitors from running riot, stroking the point-stitched chair, the chunky knits, the silken threads and the woven images of vegetables, from artichokes through onions to cabbages and leeks?
Ms. Beresford says she feels that viewers — who are encouraged to touch a few specific pieces — will be respectful of this textile art.
They might, however, be driven mad by the deliberate lack of information on the walls or beside objects, which blend so perfectly that a tapestry of flowers Mr. Fassett designed for packaging for the British retailer Marks & Spencer sits alongside Venetian glass and Mexican hearts — “things that feed my imagination.”
“Cobalt blue, sizzling green and all these wonderful, intense, deep, dark, cold colors,” Mr. Fassett says. And it seems no wonder that his autobiography is titled “Dreaming in Color.”
The artist responds to banal queries about dates and details with an affable smile and the raising of shoulders in a multistriped shirt. A purple sweater is tied around his neck and his pants are grass-green corduroy.
Such vagueness about date and place is understandable from a designer who rejected black and white long ago and has stayed so faithful to his color credo.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/arts/design/Kaffe-Fassett-exhibition-king-of-color.html?ref=international&_r=0