Welcome to the Object of the Week blog. This March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, each Monday a new post will highlight women designers in the collection.
This wallpaper called Transportation traces the history of the railroad from 1830 to about 1938. The designer, Mary Louise Leake, was inspired to create this design after visiting the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, with its “Wings of a Century” pageant highlighting two new streamlined trains, the M-10000 by the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Zephyr of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The Zephyr had recently completed a record-breaking dawn to dusk run from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago, Illinois, in thirteen hours and five minutes. The oldest engine featured in the wallpaper is the Rocket, which won a design competition in England in 1829, and was widely regarded as the world’s first modern steam locomotive. The Rocket could reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour. In comparison, the diesel-powered Zephyr, the newest model locomotive on the wallpaper, averaged 78 miles per hour on its historic run with a maximum speed of 112.5 miles per hour.
I have been unable to find any information on Mary Louise Leake, but interior decorator Lorraine Yerkes seems to have been a more public figure. Based in Chicago, Yerkes was a member of the American Institute of Decorators, and her earliest mention was in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1936, which noted her leasing a space with two other women decorators. By 1938, she was designing and printing wallpapers, including Transportation. In 1941, she curated an exhibition of wallpapers produced by her company, at the Art Institute of Chicago. This included her own designs along with those of seven other designers, five women among them. Transportation was one of the papers exhibited. By 1953, Yerkes had relocated herself and her decorating business to Palm Beach, Florida.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings.