Jewish Designers' Influence on Midcentury Modernism

From furniture to interiors, Jewish designers made their mark on modernist American design in the postwar years.
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An exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum explores the influential role that Jewish architects and designers played in the formation of the midcentury modernist aesthetic in the U.S. "The arena of modern design in particular offered an unprecedented flourishing of opportunities for and acceptance of Jews," writes guest curator Donald Albrecht. "For most postwar modern designers and their patrons, religion was a nonissue." 

Vienna–born architect Richard Neutra designed the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs in 1947 for Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., the Jewish owner of a trendsetting Pittsburgh department store. Jewish architectural photographer Julius Schulman captured the striking home in this image.

FoIlowing the fall of the Nazi rule, Jewish designers had a chance to enter the mainstream of American design—and they did so in a flourish, influencing the worlds of furniture, architecture, interiors, graphics, and textiles. Here, Dwell takes a peak at some of the notable works by Jewish makers on view in the exhibition, from George Nelson's Marhmallow sofa for Herman Miller to architect Richard Neutra's Schiff House in San Francisco.

Neutra also designed the modern Schiff duplex for a Jewish couple that relocated to San Francisco after being forced out of Nazi Germany in 1935. The couple decorated the home with furniture by Jewish designer Harry Rosenthal that they had shipped from Europe. Photo by Julius Shulman. Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust.

Dwell is the proud media sponsor of "Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism," on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum through Oct. 6, 2014. Find out more about the exhibition here.

German designer Ernest Sohn created household products such as lazy Susan trays, candlesticks, and fruit bowls after emigrating to New York in 1936. The “Esquire” coffee pot set and casserole dishes from 1963 feature matte-black exteriors and shiny white interiors and lids. Photo by John Halpern.

Graphic designer Alvin Lustig, known for designing more than 70 book covers in his lifetime, ventured into furniture and interiors later in his career. Upholstered chair for Paramount Furniture, 1949. Photo by Conner/Healy.

George Nelson's Marshmallow sofa for Herman Miller, 1956. In 1945, Nelson was appointed director of design for Herman Miller, where he helped design everything from furniture to the brand's logo. Photo courtesy Contemporary Jewish Museum.

After fleeing Germany and settling in Detroit, Ruth Adler Schnee worked for industrial designer Raymond Loewy, studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and started to produce her own textiles. Cuneiforms textile, 1947-1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Art Museum.


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