Five previously unseen Alexander Girard prints get a new lease of life
As far as American design icons go, Alexander Girard is undoubtedly one of the greatest. Trained as an architect, but highly skilled in many other design disciplines, Girard was the founding director of Herman Miller’s textile division from 1952-1973, where he produced over 300 patterns from his base in Santa Fe, New Mexico that ultimately left a profound impact on 20th century visual culture.
Five of Girard’s unseen designs have been reissued this month by the textile maker Maharam, which has long been a champion of the designer with 27 reissued Girard patterns to date. The latest additions were unearthed from the archives of the Cooper Hewitt Museum during a visit that both Maharam and Girard Studio (run by Girard’s grandchildren Kori Girard and Aleishall Girard Maxon) took together in July 2016 – two of which were never realised during Girard’s lifetime.
The new designs are loving homages to his design signature. Two patterns, Plus (1960) and Steps (1960), were originally created as printed napkins for the restaurant La Fonda del Sol, that occupied the ground floor of the Time-Life Building in New York City. Girard conceived the entire environment of the restaurant, designing every detail from matchstick holders, ceramic tiles and uniforms to signage, sugar packets and menus.
La Fonda del Sol restaurant, featuring Girard’s napkin designs, 1960. Photography: Yale Joel
Amongst all of this was a simple cross and step geometric motif that features in Plus and Steps. Transformed as cotton dhurrie rugs – a first in Maharam’s ongoing collaboration with Girard Studio – the universal shapes are realised in classic duotone pairings from Girard’s chromatic signature. A third rug in a straightforward check pattern, which he originally designed for Georg Jensen in 1956 as a table setting, engagingly meanders between having a graphic and playful spirit.
On the textile front, Maharam and Girard Studio looked to a drawing of Circles (1952) and an untitled collage from 1962, which is now known as Edges, that were both uncovered in the museum archive. Less recognisably Girard, but embodying the same bold spirit and graphic sense all the same, these textiles showcase how basic geometric forms possess a powerful, enduring quality.
Steps, 1960, by Alexander Girard
With its miniature square and rectangular strips of matt and metallic paper, the unrealised sketch for Edges transforms a scattering of shapes into a captivating design with clever combinations of colour and metallic yarn. On the other hand, the optic quality of Circles speaks simply for itself in ultramarine on ivory and pink, yellow and tan on ecru. These contrasts of colours reflect Girard’s preference for contrast and saturation, rather than uniformity, which is even more relevant today.
The collaboration doesn’t end there: Maharam will sponsor the landmark retrospective, ‘Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe’, opening in May 2019. Organised by the Vitra Design Museum, the exhibition will be staged at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, where it will be presented through October 2019, alongside the permanent Girard exhibition, ‘Multiple Visions: A Common Bond’. §