Event—Tour

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

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

Sarah Horne

Darkness into Light: The Light Book

John R. Blakinger, University of Southern California

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This paper is the first examination of American artist, designer, and visual theorist Gyorgy Kepes's "Light Book," his unpublished magnum opus on light as a creative medium.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.