American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939

Paul T. Frankl, designer, American, born Austria, 1887-1958, Warren Telechron Company, manufacturer, Ashland, Massachusetts, 1926-1992, Modernique Clock, 1928, Chromiun-plated and enameled metal, molded Bakelite, and brush-burnished silver, 7 3/4 x 6 x 3 1/2, Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, Gift of Michael Merson, 2010.0670, Courtesy of Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

The tumultuous 20-year period between World War I and the beginning of World War II featured many significant social, political and economic changes throughout the world. Petroleum-based energy production ushered in the Roaring Twenties, a time of upward mobility for the white middle class. Populations in the developed world enjoyed modern innovations such as automobiles, electric lighting and radio. Buildings got taller, skirts got shorter and jazz got hotter. Transformative design combined modern styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials. Many Americans enjoyed a general feeling of novelty and prosperity, which all came crashing down with the start of the Great Depression in 1929. It was in the midst of this dynamic upheaval from 1918 to 1939 that Art Deco was born.

Body designed by Dietrich, Inc., Made by Packard Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan 1899-1956, Packard Model 840 Dietrich Convertible Victoria, 1931, C. Richard & Evelyn Belger
Frank L. Ferrell, designer, American, 1878-1961, Roseville Pottery Company, manufacturer, Zanesville, Ohio 1890–1954, FUTURA / ARCHES (No. 411) 14″ Vase, 1928, Ceramic, 14 3/8 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in., Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, CG0445

American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939, traces the trajectory of this design movement, which represents modernity, glamour and exuberance, while exploring the socio-economic impact of these advancements during the Interwar period. The exhibition will be on view at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City July 9 through Jan. 8, 2023 and brings new attention to this important moment in 20th-century art and design. Technological innovations during this time period had an enormous impact on the creation and production of objects, but there were also economic and social realities that prevented everyone from enjoying them. American Art Deco investigates the aspirations, dreams and challenges of the 1920s and 1930s.

Art Deco, short for arts décoratifs, took its name from the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris. It celebrated a new style characterized by geometric ornament, symmetry, stylization and angularity. Primarily from Midwest collections, the 140-plus objects in the exhibition exemplify Art Deco style while underscoring significant themes of the era, including the changing profile of the modern woman, the roles of gender, race and wealth in consumption of the style, and the rise of middle-class consumer culture.

The exhibition was curated by Catherine Futter, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at the Brooklyn Museum (formerly Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Nelson-Atkins). American Art Deco was organized by the Nelson-Atkins and Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, and while the exhibition was on view at Joslyn, Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee, and Wichita Art Museum, there are many objects in the Nelson-Atkins exhibition not seen in those other venues.

Lurelle Van Arsdale Guild, designer, American, 1898-1985, Electrolux Corporation, manufacturer, Dover, Delaware, founded 1919, Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner (Model 30), designed 1937, Chrome-plated steel, aluminum, vinyl, rubber, 8 1/2 x 23 x 7 3/4 in., Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, 2004.3466, Courtesy of Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

Many of these only-in-Kansas City objects come from our own community. Dick and Evelyn Craft Belger loaned two pristine vintage automobiles, a 1930 Model A Ford and a 1931 Packard. Car enthusiast Marshall Miller loaned his 1931 Cabriolet convertible, along with a stunning collection of hood ornaments. Exquisite dresses and hats from the Art Deco period were generously loaned by the newly reopened Kansas City Museum.

The exhibition in Kansas City also benefits from the collaboration between the Nelson-Atkins and a community advisory group that, through conversations during its organization, provided valuable input on how to tell the story of Kansas City amidst the broader scope of the Art Deco period.

We invite you to discover Art Deco this summer at the Nelson-Atkins.

–William Keyse Rudolph, Deputy Director, Curatorial Affairs, and Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations

CategoriesArts Consortium

Leave a Reply