California’s Designing Women: 1896–1986

The Autry Museum

August 10, 2012 through January 6, 2013

Curated by Bill Stern


This exhibition is "a landmark of cultural legacy with the potential to inspire."
-- Jeffrey Head, Modern Magazine,          Fall, 2012.


Exhibition (detail): furniture by Dorothy Schindele (center), c. 1952. Exhibition design by Alan Konishi and Patrick Frederickson.  Photo by Larry Underhill.



This unprecedented exhibition focuses on the work of 46 of the many exceptional women who, working state-wide from San Francisco to San Diego, helped make California a preeminent center of American commercial design and fine craft. Among them are: Esther Bruton, Edith Heath, Dorothy C. Thorpe, Gertrud Natzler, Beatrice Wood, Ray Eames, Marilyn Kay Austin, Jade Snow Wong, Gere Kavanaugh, Deborah Sussman, Judith Hendler and April Greiman.

The combination of California’s climate of innovation, freedom from restrictive traditions and a highly competitive business climate provided creative and business opportunities for women designers which most likely would not have been available to them elsewhere. In California they helped transform the stereotypically female vocation of decorative arts into the gender-neutral realm of design with its frequent ties to industrial production and commerce.

The utilitarian and decorative objects in this exhibition reflect developments in an array of technologies from hand-cut wood block prints to computer-aided graphics and in materials from wood, metal, clay, paper, cloth and enamel to fiberglass and acrylics and in all the major aesthetic movements of the 20th century, from Art Nouveau to Mid-century Modern and beyond.

The exhibition is dedicated to the Museum's late board member Alan Jaffe.

"California's Designing Women: From Turn-of-the-Century Pioneers to Mid-Century Modernists", an article by Museum of California Design executive director Bill Stern, was featured in the catalogue of Palm Springs Modernism 2012. Read it here.


DW-title wall DW-Arts and Crafts DW-Screen
Exhibition wall, Autry National Center.

Photo: Steve Aldana

Florence Lundborg
United States 1871–1949
Worked in San Francisco
Poster, The Lark November 1896,
Woodcut print
Publisher: William Doxey, San Francisco
Elizabeth Eaton Burton (1869–1937)
Worked in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles
Document chest
Circa 1910
Walnut, copper and abaloneDesk lamps
Circa 1910
Copper and shellPair of candleholders
Circa 1910
CopperPhoto: Museum of California Design
Esther Bruton (1896–1992)
Worked in San Francisco and Santa Fe, NM
Rabbit Hunt Floor screen Gold and silver leaf on wood
Circa 1929Photo: Museum of California DesignEsther Bruton was an artist, muralist, and advertising illustrator. Born in California and educated in New York and Paris, she returned to California to work as a fashion illustrator for the I. Magnin department store in San Francisco. She painted this screen while in Taos, New Mexico, in 1929. It was shown in an exhibition of work by Esther Bruton and her two sisters, Helen and Margaret, at Bullock’s Wilshire Gallery in Los Angeles in 1930 and at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1932. This is its first museum showing.
May Hamilton (1887–1976) and Vieve Hamilton 1886–1971
Worked in Pasadena and Culver City
Head With Hair Earthenware, circa 1936
Manufactured by Vernon Kilns Photo: Museum of California Design
Jane Bennison (1913–2001)
Worked in Los Angeles
Bowls and rectangular vases
Earthenware, circa 1936
Manufactured by Vernon Kilns Photo: Museum of California Design
Ray Eames (1912–1988)
Worked in Los Angeles
Splint sculpture
Molded plywood, circa 1943Photo: Museum of California DesignRay Eames, a native of California, collaborated with her husband on the design of some of the most widely used and influential designs of the twentieth century, including their revolutionary fiberglass and molded plywood chairs. But Ray also produced significant works under her own name. In the early 1940s she turned several of the Navy splints she and her husband designed into abstract sculptures.
Wilmer James (1917–1999)
Worked in Los Angeles
2 cache pots, 1 vase, earthenware, circa 1950Photo: Museum of California DesignWilmer James, one of California’s first African-American designers of commercial ceramics, learned the technique of producing crackle glazes while working for Barbara Willis in North Hollywood. After the importation of inexpensive European and Japanese ceramics, -- which had stopped during World War II, -- rebounded in the late 1950s, many California ceramics manufacturers, including James, went out of business. She went on to become a printmaker, a commercial artist and a prominent arts educator.
Ellamarie Woolley (1913-1976)
Worked in San Diego
Twice Over
Wall plaque, enamel on copper, circa 1972Photo: Courtesy Museum of California DesignThis two-dimensional piece produces the optical illusion of 3-dimensionality with the help of subtle color differences that produce the impression of shadowing.
Furniture by Muriel Coleman (1917–2003)
Worked in OaklandThe room-divider/shelf unit was made of surplus rebar and local redwood.
Photo: Steve Aldana
Cher Pendarvis, born 1950
Works in San Diego
Surfboard Fiberglass, polyurethane foam, circa 1976
Manufactured by Channin Surfboards and Mike CaseyPhoto: Museum of California Design

Middle two:
Mary Ann DeWeese (1913–1993)
Worked in Los Angeles
c. 1932, c. 1965

Right two:
Margit Fellegi (1903–1975)
Worked in Los Angeles
c. 1965, 1965.

Photo: Museum of California Design

Ceramics made by Gertrud Natzler (1908–1971)
Worked in Vienna, Austria, and Los Angeles
(glazes by Otto Natzler)Right:
Furniture by Dorothy Schindele (1915–2004)
Manufactured by Modern Colro, INc.Photo: Museum of California Design
Center: Furniture by Greta Magnusson Grossman (1906–1999)

Photo: Bill Dow

Dorothy Thorpe
Worked in Glendale
Umbrella stand/vase
Circa 1972
Manufactured by
Dorothy C. Thorpe Inc.
(Sun Valley, California)
Monterrey creamer,
Santa Barbara compote,
Brocade cup
earthenware, circa 1965
Manufactured by
Crown Lynn Potteries (New Zealand)
Silver Band decoration for glass table wares
silver dipped, circa 1970
Manufactured by Dorothy C. Thorpe Inc. (Sun Valley, California)Pepper mill, glass and steel, circa 1968
Manufactured by Dorothy C. Thorpe Inc. (Sun Valley, California) Photo: Museum of California Design
DW-Arlene DW-Sussman DW-Kavanaugh
Arline Fisch, born 1931
Works in San DiegoHalter, Sterling silver, 1968Shoulder ornament, fine and sterling silver, 1986. Photo: Museum of California Design
Deborah Sussman, (1931-2014)
Worked in Los Angeles
Supergraphic, circa 1986Recreation of the original installation in Joseph Magnin, San Jose, California. Photo: Museum of California Design
Gere Kavanaugh at the opening of CALIFORNIA'S DESIGNING WOMEN1896-1986 at the Autry National Center. Photo: Bill Dow