Erica came to the United States in 1954, invited by Margaret Parshall (Mrs. Daryl Parshall) to teach at her embroidery school in Millbrook, New York, just north of New York City. She soon started to teach on her own and went on to create a thriving business encompassing all kinds of needlework.
Erica loved owls, seeing in them a foil for both texture and expression. She was renowned for her use of color, but she also appreciated monochromatic and geometric designs with varied textures and stitch techniques.
Courtesy of the Family of Erica Wilson
This owl became Erica’s most well-known owl design, perhaps because it reflected the bright colors Erica often used. Erica adapted this composition in needlework from a design by her student, Mimi Housepian, with her permission.
Gift of the Family of Erica Wilson 2015.0047.028
Original airdate: January 11, 1972
Erica Wilson’s private life and her business were closely intertwined. Her homes served as showrooms of lifestyle rather than product and were regularly featured in newspapers and magazines. All of her children served as models in her many books; the sets of her television programs were idealized living rooms; and she gave interviews from her kitchens.
This rocking chair was designed by Vladimir Kagan and the upholstery cover by Erica Wilson. It was displayed in Erica’s shop in New York, and when that closed, the rocker featured in newspaper reports and photographs showcasing the couple’s Park Avenue apartment. The owl was one of two chair designs that Erica created for these rockers.
Photograph by The Selby, September 8, 2010
Erica met her husband, the award-winning furniture designer Vladimir (known as Vladi) Kagan, at a costume party at the Architectural League in New York—she was dressed as a poodle. She worked on this blackwork waistcoat intending for Vladi to wear it at their wedding, but she never finished it. Instead, this half-panel appeared in Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book in 1973.
Gift of the Family of Erica Wilson 2015.0047.007
Erica and Vladi had 3 children, Jessica (Kagan Cushman), Vanessa (Kagan Diserio), and Illya Kagan. The children were often featured as models in her books and sometimes travelled with Erica and Vladi.
Erica Wilson, Erica Wilson’s Christmas World (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980), 6.
Vladi and Erica were invited to spend their summers on Nantucket by Edith (Edie) Lynch (later Bouriez) and Mary Anne Beinecke. Both encouraged Erica to teach on Nantucket, where many of her pupils spent the summers. Nantucket’s landmarks, flowers, and sailboats appeared in her designs; she created this image of the Nantucket harbor. Edie continued to work closely with Erica for twenty years.
Gift of the Family of Erica Wilson 2015.0047.013
Erica loved sailing her little Sunfish sailboat off the beach in Nantucket. She depicted it here as just a striped triangle. Around the box edge of this pillow, Erica quoted Vladi’s frequent refrain: “Sorry I’m late . . . It’s Erica’s fault.” Erica was notorious for having no sense of time; she and Vladi would often arrive hours late for parties. The couple kept this cushion, dated 1971, in their apartment in New York City.
Gift of the Family of Erica Wilson 2015.0047.046