Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REMEMBRANCE: 5 iconic mid-century designers we lost in 2015

This year, it seemed as though nearly every time I picked up the New York Times,
I found an obituary for a luminary of mid-century design.
So many of these artists designed products that have become an integral part 
of our interior landscapes -- from Irving Harper, 99, designer of the iconic 
Marshmallow sofa, to prominent Modernist architect Michael Graves, 80, 
creator of the wildly popular Alessi bird-whistle tea kettle.

Five of these design greats are noted below.

Irving Harper
Harper designed for George Nelson Associates from 1947 to 1964.
He has been described as "the greatest American designer
most people have never heard of." Harper's many
behind-the-scenes creations were exhibitions at the 1939 and 1964
World's Fairs in NY, department store interiors, furniture and clocks.

Harper's Marshmallow sofa and "atomistic" ball clock and
"hang-it-all rack", considered modern classics,
are included in the design collections of MOMA/NY
and the Smithsonian.

For his own amusement, Harper designed fantastical paper and balsa wood
sculptures, which he would never sell.

“I had all the money I wanted. If I sold my pieces, I would have lost 
my sculptures and just had more money.”

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Sarah Little Turnbull, pictured at work in the late 1930s

An editor of House Beautiful from 1942 to 1958,
she was a design consultant to dozens of major American corporations
including Coca Cola, 3M, DuPont, Elizabeth Arden, Motorola and NASA.
She also taught industrial design at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. 
Ms. Little, as she liked to be called, traveled the world constantly, 
seeking inspiration from nature and anthropological studies; 
this inspiration led her to invent new designs for furniture, 
cookware, storage systems, packaging, car interiors, toys, 
              food and fabric. She died at the age of 97, 
after an illustrious 65-year career.
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Whenever I see a headline like

"Designer who Gave Soy Sauce its Graceful Curves Dies at 85"

I know there has to be an interesting backstory.

And so it is with Japanese industrial designer (and former monk) Kenji Ekuan.
He designed not only the ubiquitous dispenser bottle, but also the
the Komachi bullet train connecting Tokyo and northern Japan, 
and the Yamaha VMAS motorcycle.

photo of Ekuan taken in Tokyo, 2004

Ekuan's red-capped, teardrop-shaped soy sauce bottle is
the most widely distributed Japanese design item in the world.
It is included in MOMA's 20th century design collection.

Komachi bullet train

                                                                                                 Yamaha VMAS motocycle

"Design to me has always meant making people happy. 
Happy in the sense of creating items that provide comfort, convenience, 
function, aesthetics and ethics."

Here's an NPR interview about Kenji Ekuan with 
MOMA design and architecture curator Paola Antonelli

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Industrial designer Jacob Jensen, 89,
employed a sleek, minimalist approach that came to exemplify
the Danish modern style. He is best known for creating stereo systems --
turntables, amplifiers, tuners and speakers --
and other electronic equipment for the Bang & Olufson company.

1973 Bang & Olufson turntable

Jensen's streamlined, highly stylish designs in brushed stainless steel
created a whole new aesthetic for home entertainment systems.
MOMA/NY devoted an entire exhibition to his work in 1978,
and a dozen of his designs remain in the museum's permanent collection.

                                                                                                         The classic Jensen wristwatch

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Michael Graves, one of the most storied and prolific American architects 
of the late 20th century, designed more than 350 exuberant buildings around the world,
including many for the Disney company, numerous private residences, veterans' housing, libraries, museums, schools and hospitals.
He was perhaps best-known, though, for the whimsical bird-whistle tea kettle 
he created in 1985 as part of a line of housewares for Target.

The tea kettle that charmed the world

Graves was associated with the New York Five, a group of prominent Modernist architects who achieved cult-like success in the 1970s. He loved working with color, and
became an advocate for using more of it in the design of hospitals and
health centers. "It's not there to get you well, but to make you smile and 
think life is not as bad as that operation you had," he said. 

     The Portland Municipal Building, Oregon, 1982

St. Coletta of Greater Washington, D.C.
A school for students with multiple disabilities and autism

Coffee pot with built-in night light

For a revealing Washington Post article about Michael Graves,
link here.
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  1. Thanks, Mad For Mod, for this informative, if sad, posting.

    1. Thanks, Anon. It was sad to realize how many of these luminaries died in 2015, but ultimately uplifting to learn more about all the beauty and joy they had brought into he world.