The earliest women to gain prominence in design in the 20th century entered through traditionally domestic portals such as textiles, fashion, jewelry, and interior design. Then, with access to educational opportunities and the changes wrought by a world war, women began to expand their skills to architecture, industrial design, and manufacturing.
Many of these women are lost to the traditional narrative apart from a few “design heroines,” notes design historian and curator Elizabeth Lay. Often these women received public recognition and celebrity during their lives, only to be obscured by history. Join Lay for a two-part course in which she focuses on women working as skilled design professionals in the modern era—some of whom you might know, and others whose work you may recognize and associate it with a man.
Lay begins with a look at how the shift in the design world took place, providing an opportunity for the first women to gain ground during the new century. These women were masters of their craft, building their skills through grit and apprenticeships. In fashion, the names include Jeanne Lanvin, and Madeleine Vionnet, and as educational opportunities opened, Clara Driscoll of Tiffany lamps, jewelry designer Suzanne Belperron, and women of the Bauhaus textile department. Others like Coco Chanel and Jeanne Toussaint of Cartier were able to begin their careers through the generosity of lovers.
Lay focuses on the second generation of professional designers. Many of these women were architects, including Florence Knoll, Charlotte Perriand, and Eileen Gray, while others were part of dynamic design teams with their husbands, such as Mary and Russell Wright and Ray and Charles Eames. Still others were overshadowed by their partner and lost to design history, as is the case with Lily Reich and Mies van der Rohe. Lay examines how these women were both aided and limited by their partners, as well as how this blossoming of newfound creativity began to fade in the 1950s.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.