California's Designing Women: 1896-1986

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by Bill Stern

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 Esther Bruton, Edith Heath, Dorothy 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 probably 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.

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