Sarah Horne, University of Missouri-Columbia and John R. Blakinger, University of Southern California | Newberry

Sarah Horne, University of Missouri-Columbia and John R. Blakinger, University of Southern California

Friday, February 3, 2017

2 to 5pm

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

Reevaluating the Role of Women in Industrial Design: Helen Dryden and the 1936 Studebaker President

Sarah Horne

Women who managed to succeed in the male-dominated profession of industrial design in the interwar era are commonly considered exceptional, but women industrial designers at this time were less rare than textbooks suggest. This examination of the prolific career of commercial artist Helen Dryden, whose designs for Studebaker automobiles place her amongst the pioneers of industrial design, proposes places for locating forgotten women designers and explanations for their elimination from history. In the early years of the industrial design profession the limitations imposed on women designers contributed to the development of biased historical narratives that effectively erased the contributions of women. This case study demonstrates the banality of Dryden’s career path amongst canonical designers in order to disrupt the dominant historical narrative favoring designs by large firms led by male designers, in order to conceive of alternate narratives more appropriate to the nature of design work.

Darkness into Light: The Light Book

John R. Blakinger

This paper is the first examination of American artist, designer, and visual theorist Gyorgy Kepes’s “Light Book,” his unpublished magnum opus on light as a creative medium. The Light Book preoccupied Kepes for decades in the mid-twentieth century but only exists now as a vast archive of textual and visual fragments, including hundreds of pages of typescripts, thousands of black-and-white photographs, and countless preparatory notes. For Kepes, light manifested the profound anxieties over science and technology during the Cold War; it was poetry, but also politics. I argue that Kepes’s project was ultimately intended to transform light into a redemptive force.

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.