R & Company narrates the stories of women designers who inspire change
Wendy Maruyama’s ‘Mickey Mackintosh’ and Pamela Weir-Quiton’s ‘Georgie Girl’ on display at the gallery
Photo Credit: Courtesy of R & Company
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R & Company narrates the stories of women designers who inspire change

‘Born Too Tall’ at New York gallery R & Company presents the works of 12 women designers who lived, worked and derived inspiration from the Californian landscape.

by Almas Sadique
Published on : Nov 17, 2022

Despite the innumerable emancipatory discourses and protests held by feminists from across the globe over the past many decades, the path of recognition for women’s contributions to any and every sector is fraught with obstacles. Every event and initiative aimed at overturning this long-standing system that disadvantages women is a welcome sight at a time when female bodies continue to be scrutinised—sometimes to further political agendas, other times to stigmatise and criminalise religious bodies or disadvantaged tribes or communities. The latest exhibition at New York-based design gallery R & Company, similarly, explores the works of 12 women designers who redefined the conventions of object making and product design and inspired a change in the design industry. The exhibition Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern, is on display at the American gallery from November 4, 2022 to January 27, 2023.

The featured creatives at the gallery include women designers who engaged with California, the region’s natural beauty and its role as the foci of technological advancements. The showcase is made up of works by Evelyn Ackerman, Ray Eames, Claire Falkenstein, Arline Fisch, Trude Guermonprez, Greta Magnusson Grossman, Wendy Maruyama, Merry Renk, Cheryl R. Riley, June Schwarcz, Kay Sekimachi, Pamela Weir-Quiton, Jade Snow Wong, and Marguerite Wildenhain.

Exhibition view of ‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’
Exhibition view of ‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’Image: Courtesy of R & Company
Weir-Quiton’s ‘Georgie Girl’ and Kay Sekimachi’s ‘Marugawa I-V’ on display at the gallery
Weir-Quiton’s ‘Georgie Girl’ and Kay Sekimachi’s ‘Marugawa I-V’ on display at the galleryImage: Courtesy of R & Company

“Since 2000, R & Company has committed significant resources to organising exhibitions that support the re-discovery of groundbreaking objects and the pioneering but sometimes unsung talents that made them. Born Too Tall provides another opportunity to highlight a group of visionary women designers, many of whom were included in the original Objects: USA exhibition in 1969, who are responsible for many breakthrough moments in the history of design and for making the field more vital, dynamic, and complex. We are thrilled to share their work and to bring greater scholarly and public recognition to their significant contributions,” says Evan Snyderman, Principal, who curated the exhibition with James Zemaitis, Director of Museum Relations.

Objects on display at R & CompanyImage: Courtesy of R & Company
Merry Renk’s bronze sculptures on display
Merry Renk’s bronze sculptures on displayImage: Courtesy of R & Company

An array of 25 objects, spread across the space of the New York gallery, present the experiments, conceptualisation, and technical and material innovations undertaken by the designers. Each of these creatives undertook novel approaches to push the boundaries of metal, fibre, wood, glass, and ceramics. The result is a retinue of unconventional designs that reflect their visions, unique processes, and inspirations. A panel discussion at R & Company will further shine a light on their works, their styles and the role their visions and creations played in shaping the narrative and history of the design industry.

Unique vessels in glazed ceramic. Made by Marguerite Wildenhain, 1940-2.Image: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.
Unique vessels in glazed ceramic. Made by Jade Snow WongImage: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.

The exhibition derives its name from a chapter in Fifth Chinese Daughter, a memoir by Chinese-American ceramic artist and writer Snow Wong. It recalls the time when Wong, as a young woman, resisted her parents’ attempt to introduce her to a marriage suitor. Later in the chapter, Wong’s mother says that the union would never have worked out because, compared to him, she was ‘born too tall’. While Wong’s mother vocalised these sentiments specifically to one young man, the expression also serves as a metaphor for the artist’s desire for independence and the struggles she undertook to attain it. The gallery draws parallels between the words written by Wong and the stories of all women who regularly grapple against conventional gendered roles set up by society in order to achieve extraordinary feats. It is, therefore, also a fitting title for the works displayed at the gallery.

(Centre) Unique object in torch-cut sheet bronze colored blue with ammonia that became oxidised bronze. Made by Merry Renk. (Right) Unique hanging sculpture in hammered and soldered copper wire with balled tips. Made by Merry Renk, 1976. (Left) Model for Crown in brass. Made by Merry Renk, c. 1960sImage: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.
“Launch Pad” tapestry in wool Designed by Evelyn Ackerman, 1970. Dining table in walnut and formica. Designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman, 1952. Dual-head table lamp in brass and enamelled aluminium. Designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman, circa 1948. Model for Crown in brass. Made by Merry Renk, c. 1960s. "Lineal" tapestry in hand-woven wool. Made by Evelyn Ackerman, 1966Image: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.

Comprising archival objects from R & Company’s extensive collection as well as items from the Collection of Forrest L. Merrill, one of the most comprehensive and significant private collections of craft and design from California, the exhibition is rich in historical narratives around design and products. R & Company also worked with Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman Archives to present her tapestries; designed in Los Angeles and handwoven in Mexico.

(Left) ‘Georgie girl’, a chest of drawers and chairs of various woods such as walnut, birch, and ebony. Designed and made by Pamela Weir- Quiton, 1968. (Right) Chocolate Moose rocker in maple and walnut. Designed and made by Pamela Weir-Quiton, 1971Image: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.
"Cat and Bird" tapestry in wool. Designed by Evelyn Ackerman, 1962. Dining table in walnut and formica. Designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman, 1952. Dual-head table lamp in brass and enamelled aluminium. Designed by Greta Grossman, circa 1948. Model for Crown in brass. Made by Merry Renk, c. 1960s. "Lineal" tapestry in hand-woven wool. Made by Evelyn Ackerman for Era Industries, Los Angeles, USA, 1966.Image: Joe Kramm. Courtesy R & Company.

Another iconic work displayed at the gallery includes artist, furniture designer and educator Wendy Maruyama’s Mickey Mackintosh chair, an icon of postmodernism. It encapsulates the designer's experiments with form and paint, and is one of the most recognisable examples of American furniture design from the 1980s. The chair design combines varied styles and themes such as classical elements, kitsch, pop culture, and humour. A few other showcases at the exhibition include animal-inspired wood rockers Georgie Girl by wood artist Pamela Weir-Quiton, works by jeweller and metalsmith Arline Fisch’s, and furniture and lamps by Swedish designer Greta Magnusson Grossman.

‘Born Too Tall: California Women Designers, Postwar to Postmodern’ is on display from November 4, 2022 to January 27, 2023 at R & Company, 64 White Street, New York.

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