The NYSID and Me
Judith Gura, who teaches design history and theory at the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID), is an old friend, so when she asked if her Scandinavian design history class could visit my gallery for a show-and-tell, I readily agreed. The class visited today, a dozen of them, and I think the exchange went well. Unfortunately, I am not powered up on Scandinavian design right now-back on Wooster Street, I couldn't spin around without knocking over a Scandinavian ceramic. Still, I had a plan, which was that they take away a sense of how influential Scandinavian design was on American mid-century design. This we would do by pointing to Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, and Jens Risom, Eero Saarinen, and Elias Svedberg at Knoll.
I started off, however, by asking the students to find the Scandinavian pieces in the gallery, a sort of scavenger hunt for objects in plain sight. Of the first five things they selected, three were American and one was Japanese-the American pieces included Allan Gould's compass chair and Henry Glass's prototype stacking chairs, both pictured here. This pretty much made my point-American and Scandinavian design can be hard to differentiate without a scorecard, and while the lines of influence operated in both directions (Eames influenced post war Europe), I can't name any Americans who worked and taught in Scandinavia, while a fair number of Scandinavians wound up working and teaching here. Add to this the impact of the Danish entrepot Illums Bolighus, and local emporiums Tanier and Jensen, and you have a significant presence of Nordic modernism in the American home. FYI, two right answers would have been the Eric Hoglund and Just Andersen candlesticks, shown here.
Prior to the arrival of the class, I laid out a smorgasbord (sic) of Scandinavian design books, catalogs, and ephemera, much of it quite rare, for group browsing and edification. This occupied the students for a few minutes, enough time for me to get my camera ready for a group shot. Then it was my turn to ask questions. Since they represent a generation faced with enormous design and fiscal challenges, I was interested in where they were coming from and where they hoped to go. It turns out they come from all over: Pennsylvania, Holland, China, Peru, Korea, Australia, NYC, and Iceland (two of them, though they first met here, go figure). As to their plans, also diverse: furniture design, hospitality design, corporate design. The only things uniting them are a commitment to sustainability, and sketchy job prospects. Ecological sensitivity is being hard-wired into their generation, hopefully in time. Per the recession, most of them realized that this is a good time to be in school, and a good time for creative and innovative thinking. It is also a good time for patience and perseverance; hopefully they will have both.
I passed along to them this tangible advice: don't take Finnish as a second language. The Swedes don't understand Finnish; I'm not sure the Finns understand Finnish. Also, look into Norwegian design-it is under-represented in historical discourse and in the marketplace. I didn't tell them to use two hands when opening old and fragile paperbound magazines, but I should have. Kids.