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Gilbert Rohde

(1894—1944)


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(1894–1944)

Rohde was one of the first generation of American industrial designers, establishing his reputation in the 1920s and 1930s. Although most widely recognized for furniture design, Rohde also designed lighting, radios, and other products and was an articulate writer on design matters. Born into a cabinet‐maker's family, he trained at the Arts Students League and the Grand Central Galleries in New York. After working as a freelance political cartoonist and illustrator for advertising, fashion design, and interiors, he went on to work for leading New York stores such as R. H. Macy and W. & J. Sloane in the early 1920s. His design outlook changed following a visit to Europe in 1926 where he experienced Art Deco and Modernism at first hand in France and Germany. As a result he began designing furniture that acknowledged both Deco and Modernist traits, using bakelite and chrome, fashionable materials of the time, and in 1927–8 designed interiors for the Avedon fashion stores. His furniture designs became increasingly widely known, especially his 1930 bentwood chair for the Heywood‐Wakefield Company, which sold widely (and was taken up by other companies) in the 1930s. He was subsequently appointed as chief designer for the Herman Miller Company in 1931, modernising the company's aesthetic through a series of his own designs. Other firms for which he designed included Thonet. He also designed appliances for General Electric in the 1930s and was profiled in an article in the trade periodical Modern Plastics entitled ‘Planning Ahead with Gilbert Rohde’ in mid‐1935. His designs were also widely seen at the growing number of exhibitions devoted to design. Such shows included the 1932 Design for the Machine exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the 1934 Machine Art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Contemporary Industrial Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, also held in 1934. Rohde designs were also seen at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–4 and the New York World's Fair (NYWF) of 1939–40. The former contained examples of Rohde's bedroom furniture for Herman Miller whilst the latter included Rohde's displays in the Petroleum Industry Exhibit and the Focal Exhibit in the Community Interests Zone. However, the Focal Exhibit was changed for the 1940 season. Rohde also had some involvement in design education, having been appointed director of the Design Laboratory in New York. This federally‐funded design school was supported by a grant from the Works Progress Administration with a number of well‐known industrial designers on its Board, including Henry Dreyfuss and Walter Dorwin Teague. However, after a year government funding ceased, soon leading to the institution's closure. He was also head of industrial design at the New York University School of Architecture from 1939–43. Rohde was a member of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC).

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art — Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.


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