Our Mission

The Center for Design and Material Culture is the primary destination for the multi-disciplinary study of material culture and design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Center focuses on the study of textiles, material culture, and design thinking and is a hub for innovative programs that engage local, national, and international audiences. The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, and the Dorothy O’Brien Innovation Lab support the work of the Center for Design and Material Culture.

Our Pillars of Study


Textiles are objects of design and the study of material culture. The networks of fibers felted, woven, or knitted into textiles are echoed in the networks of people that create and use textiles. Textiles are artifacts of the connection between the personal scale of human experience and the broader realms of artistic, economic, and civic values. Learn more about textiles.

Material Culture

Physical traces of the past can be uncovered through material culture. These may be things that humans have found, adapted, created, or shaped for their use. As an interdisciplinary set of methods, students study the material world through courses in history, design studies, art history, anthropology, art, literature, biology, and more. Learn more about material culture.

Design Thinking

This set of interdisciplinary methods takes an empathetic, human-centered approach to solving complex and persistent problems. Often moving from empathy to iteration, design thinking techniques enhance creative analysis and problem solving to address real-world issues within real-world constraints and technology. Learn more about design thinking.

Pioneers in Material Culture

More than a century ago, when most women never left their home towns, UW-Madison Professor Helen Louise Allen traveled the world, collecting its stories, textiles and technologies. A pioneer in her field, Professor Allen was an early adopter of historical and anthropological perspectives in the study of the textile arts, the foundation for material culture at UW-Madison.

In 1997 and through the generous support of Stanley and Polly Stone/The Chipstone Foundation, Dr. Ann Smart Martin was recruited to the department of Art History and named the inaugural Stanely and Polly Stone (Chipstone) Professor of American Decorative Arts and Material Culture.

Today, thanks in large part to the transformative support of The Chipstone Foundation and other donors, the Center for Design and Material Culture is home to a diverse community of scholars, undergraduate students and explorers, fueling discoveries into the next century.