In celebration of Women’s History Month, Cooper Hewitt is dedicating select Object of the Day entries to the work of women designers in our collection.
This sidewall was designed by Marion Dorn Kauffer who is perhaps best remembered for the inspired batik textiles, rugs and interiors she created during the interwar years. Born in San Francisco, Dorn graduated from Stanford University in 1916 with a BA in graphic design. Several years later she moved to New York City with her first husband, artist Henry Barnum Poor, and began to experiment with the process of batik. For better or worse, Dorn and Poor were not meant to be as a couple, and in 1923 she fell in love with American graphic designer Edward McKnight Kauffer. The feeling was mutual, and both parties left their respective spouses to start a life together in the UK, eventually marrying. Kauffer already had an established career in England, and with his introductions the work of the talented and charismatic Dorn quickly gained attention. In 1934, she established her own company, Marion Dorn, Ltd., and furnished textiles for everything from the London Passenger Transport Board to the Queen Mary. In 1940 with a German invasion seeming eminent, the American government encouraged all United States citizens living in England to return to their home country. Dorn and Kauffer reluctantly agreed, and though both continued to have moderately successful careers back in America, neither would achieve the same level of prestige they had enjoyed abroad.
That being said, New York wallpaper manufacturers Katzenbach and Warren actively sought out cutting-edge designers, and were doubtless quite glad to add pieces by Dorn to their repertoire. This sidewall, titled “Master Drawings,” features tromp l’oeil images of antique Italian drawings pinned against a gray background. The edges of the drawings curl up and cast shadows, adding to the illusion of three-dimensionality. It’s a clever update of a nineteenth-century print room paper, and a sits nicely alongside Dorn’s portfolio of elegant, avant-garde textiles.
Anna Rasche is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.
Mendes, Valerie. 1978. “Marion Dorn, Textile Designer”. The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, no. 2. The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present: 24–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41806207.