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Pathmakers

The Museum of Art and Design honors women in the modern movement

On view through September 30, The Museum of Art and Design’s (MAD) Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today reconsiders the contributions of women to the post-war visual landscape of the 1950s and '60s. The work of two Knoll designers, Anni Albers and Sheila Hicks, is exhibited among hundreds of other pieces created by a cadre of more than forty female designers, including Ruth Asawa, Edith Heath, Karen Karnes, Dorothy Liebes, Alice Kagawa, Parrott, Toshiko Takaezu and Lenore Tawney.

Sheila Hicks at Pathmakers, The Museum of Art and Design | Knoll Inspiration

Left: Sheila Hicks, Right: Foray, 2015 by Sheila Hicks on view at Pathmakers

Pathmakers focuses on the technical and material innovations made in clay, fibre and metal materials by this group of women. European émigrés Anni Albers and Maija Grotell are highlighted within the exhibition for their role as de facto leaders, advocating for craft-based practices as a pathway to modernist innovation.

Anni Albers at Pathmakers, The Museum of Art and Design | Knoll Inspiration

Left: Anni Albers, Right: Tikal Rug, 1958 by Anni Albers on view at Pathmakers

The second half of the exhibition honors the legacy of these two designers through a presentation of contemporary Scandinavian artists and designers—Rut Bryk, Vuokko Nurmesniemi and Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, among others—who expand upon the work of their predecessors in the present day. Of the past and present parallels, the exhibition’s Chief Curator Jennifer Scanlan explains, “Our aim was to expand on the historical view of the post-war period, to showcase important artists and designers, and to introduce names that have been overlooked.”

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today, The Museum of Art and Design | Knoll Inspiration

“Our aim was to expand on the historical view of the post-war period, to showcase important artists and designers, and to introduce names that have been overlooked.”

—Jennifer Scanlan

Installation view of Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today. Photograph by Butcher Walsh. Courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Design.

Mid-century, few female designers were able to further their careers without strategically partnering with men (as Charlotte Perriand and Lilly Reich did with Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, respectively). Living in a patriarchal society and effectively barred from architecture, fine art and sculpture, many women turned to neglected, material-based crafts including textiles, ceramics and metalsmithing, in which they worked to advance the concerns of modernism independent of male oversight. However, the resulting body of work has been largely overlooked in design literature and surveys, either on account of their gender or choice of materials. Pathmakers seeks to rectify this narrative oversight by repositioning the work of these female designers alongside the more well-known hallmarks of twentieth century design.

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today, The Museum of Art and Design | Knoll Inspiration

Still from DE_SIGN (video) by Gabriel A. Maher, 2015. Courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Design.

The Museum of Art and Design has a vested interest in revisiting this particular moment in history, as the careers of these women developed concurrently with the museum itself. Opened in 1956 as a venue for the then-burgeoning American Craft movement, The Museum of Art and Design was instrumental in providing a forum for female designers to exhibit, share and discuss their work. Thus, the current exhibition can be seen as reprising the institute’s role as a locus for considering the innumerable contributions women have made to the modernist movement. In a statement, Glenn Adamson, the Nanette L. Laitman Director of The Museum of Art and Design, reiterated the museum's commitment to showcasing the work of those historically marginalized by the design community, “Founded by a woman and with half of its collection representing works by female artists, The Museum of Art and Design continues to champion the inclusion of women in the narrative of art and design history, along with other groups that have traditionally been marginalized.”

For more information, visit The Museum of Art and Design’s website.

The exhibition will be on view at The National Museum of Women in the Arts from October 30, through February 28.

Project Credits:

Curation: Jennifer Scanlan
Photography: Butcher Walsh

All photographs are by Butcher Walsh and courtesy of The Museum of Art and Design.