Female Californian designers celebrated in new R & Company exhibition

R & Company presents ‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’, highlighting work often under-represented in design history

Table and tapestry by California Women Designers
From ‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’ at R&Company, Dining table in walnut and formica, by Greta Magnusson Grossman for Glenn of California, 1952. ‘Launch Pad’ tapestry in wool (on wall), by Evelyn Ackerman, hand-woven in Mexico, by Era Industries, Los Angeles, 1970. Dual-head table lamp in brass and enamelled aluminium, by Greta Grossman, made by Ralph O Smith, Los Angeles, circa 1948. Model for crown in brass, made by Merry Renk, USA, c. 1960s. ‘Lineal’ tapestry in hand-woven wool (on table), made by Evelyn Ackerman for Era Industries, Los Angeles, 1966
(Image credit: Courtesy R&Company)

A new show at New York design gallery R & Company (4 November 2022 – 27 January 2023) explores the work of a group of women designers who have lived, worked, studied and taught in California, and who were inspired by the state. 

The works of Evelyn Ackerman, Ray Eames, Claire Falkenstein, Arline Fisch, Trude Guermonprez, Greta Magnusson Grossman, Wendy Maruyama, Merry Renk, Cheryl Riley, June Schwarcz, Kay Sekimachi, Pamela Weir-Quiton, Jade Snow Wong, and Marguerite Wildenhain will form the exhibition, all masters in objects making of all scales. 

‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’

Two anthropomorphous chairs, part of california women designers exhibition

Left, ‘Mickey Mackintosh’ chair, in Zolotone and maple, designed and made by Wendy Maruyama. Designed in 1981. This example is # 21 from the edition of 25 produced in 2022. Right, ‘Georgie girl’ chest of drawers and chair in various woods, such as walnut, birch, and ebony. Designed and made by Pamela Weir-Quiton, 1968

(Image credit: Tiffany Smith Studio, courtesy R&Company)

The works on show range vastly in breadth of use – from jewellery to furniture and tapestries – and materiality, which includes ceramics, glass, wood, textiles, and metals. But what these female designers have in common is an ability to infuse pragmatism with beauty, to decorate not for cosmetic effect but rather to integrate or elicit beauty as an integral part of the work.

Highlights include jewellery by nonagenarian Arline Fisch, born in Brooklyn and now San Diego-based, including her ‘floating square’ 18ct gold brooch (1987), while equally precious is Cheryl R Riley’s ‘Brush Strokes Cigarette Table 1 (Gold)’ (2000) in wood, gesso and paint. 

Metal objects by Merry Renck, part of show on California Women Designers

Three objects by Merry Renck that are part of the exhibition. From left, model for crown in brass, c. 1960s; unique object in torch-cut sheet bronze coloured blue with ammonia that became oxidised bronze; and unique hanging sculpture in hammered and soldered copper wire with balled tips, 1976

(Image credit: Joe Kramm, courtesy R&Company)

The expressive and characterful tapestries of Evelyn Ackerman, who has been making textile works since the 1950s, and the hanging fibre works of Kay Sekimachi, show the breath of textile works alone – a material that has in the past been levied as a lesser ‘feminine’ artform. Pamela Weir-Quiton’s anthropomorphic chest of drawers and animal rockers are as joyful as they are masterful, and showcase the talents of her 60-year woodworking career. 

Swedish designer and architect Greta Magnusson Grossman was one of the female anomalies to gain international recognition for her work in the post-war years. Grossman, who had established her own studio in Stockholm in the 1930s, left for Los Angeles during the Second World War and set up shop with her husband on Rodeo Drive. Her 1952 walnut and formica dining table, which features in the exhibition, is indicative of her formal Scandinavian training, recalibrated through the lens of California’s cool, long lines and casual restraint. 

Ceramics by Jade Snow Wong

Two unique glazed ceramic vessels by Jade Snow Wong

(Image credit: Joe Kramm, courtesy R&Company)

The show aims to call attention to the decades-long careers of these women artists who have often gone under-represented in the history of design. The name of the show is borrowed from Jade Snow Wong’s bestselling memoir, Fifth Chinese Daughter, in which she resists an arranged marriage, and in doing so challenges the preconceptions that society has laid out for her. 

The exhibition was co-curated by Evan Snyderman, R & Company principal, and James Zemaitis, director of museum relations. Says Snyderman: ‘Since 2000, R & Company has committed significant resources to organising exhibitions that support the rediscovery of  groundbreaking objects and the pioneering but sometimes unsung talents that made them.’ 

‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’ is on view until 27 January 2023

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‘Cat and Bird’ tapestry in wool by Evelyn Ackerman, part of california women designers exhibition

‘Cat and Bird’ tapestry in wool. Designed by Evelyn Ackerman and hand-woven in Mexico, by Era Industries Los Angeles, 1962

(Image credit: R&Company)

Weavings from Kay Sekimachi Marugawa series

Pieces from the series ‘Marugawa’ by Kay Sekimachi

(Image credit: Courtesy R&Company)

Tilly is a British writer, editor and digital consultant based in New York, covering luxury fashion, jewellery, design, culture, art, travel, wellness and more. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she is Contributing Editor for Wallpaper* and has interviewed a cross section of design legends including Sir David Adjaye, Samuel Ross, Pamela Shamshiri and Piet Oudolf for the magazine.