Ilonka Karasz (American, b. Hungary, 1896–1981) is an important yet overlooked figure in 20th-century design. During her long and prolific career, she worked in a wide variety of media, producing designs for wallcoverings, textiles, carpets, lighting, ceramics, metalwork, toys, and furniture. She is perhaps most well known for her popular cover illustrations for the New Yorker magazine. Through her ambitious creative output, Karasz helped popularize a modern aesthetic in the United States. In addition to highlighting the depth and breadth of Karasz’s creativity, this exhibition presents the museum’s recent acquisition of exquisite Karasz drawings and related wallpapers from the 1940s.

Karasz studied at the Royal School of Arts and Crafts in Budapest before arriving in New York in 1913 and immersing herself in the city’s avant-garde artistic community. Her prize-winning textile designs for the “Designed in America” campaign, sponsored by Women’s Wear Daily, propelled her career forward in the early 1920s. Turning to industrial design, Karasz created furnishings and metalwork for the high-profile exhibitions of American Designers’ Gallery in 1928 and 1929. She collaborated with notable designers such as Donald Deskey (American, 1894–1989), who frequently employed her textiles in his designs for interiors. From the 1940s–1960s, her wallpaper designs for the firm Katzenbach and Warren brought her national exposure, as she produced contemporary designs that deliberately called attention to the two-dimensional aspects of wallcoverings and referenced Asian art and Islamic architecture. Her scenic papers and graphic murals were printed using novel techniques that preserved the expressivity of her drawings. Into the early 1970s, she continued illustrating covers for books and magazines, many of which portrayed city scenes and life around her home in suburban Brewster, New York.

Highlights

Arches, Step in and Explore
Arches is from the first collection of murals Ilonka Karasz designed in 1948 for Katzenbach & Warren, the New York wallpaper firm for whom she designed almost exclusively. Like the majority of her murals it was printed in the blueprint process, her favorite reproduction process for murals as it captured all the nuances of her...
Simpler Times
The issue of The New Yorker dated August 19, 1944 had a curiously wholesome cover. A farmer, holding a lamb, and his wife, armed with a bucket, were surrounded by farm animals and flowers. They were faceless and a bit flat, but expressive nonetheless, with the appearance of having been cut from bright calico cottons...
A Charming Scene
Ilonka Karasz decorated this Buffalo China plate in about 1935, during the time that she worked as a designer for the company.[1] Founded by The Larkin Company, a soap factory, in 1901, Buffalo China produced soap dishes and other ceramics that were offered as premiums for purchasers of soap. The Larkin Company’s desirable premiums (including...
Image of Ashley Callahan presents a lecture about Ilonka Karasz at Cooper Hewitt
The Morse Historic Design Lecture | Ilonka Karasz: Elusive Modernist
The Morse Historic Design Lecture | Ilonka Karasz
Children Go Modern
From the time she arrived in the United States from Budapest in 1913, Ilonka Karasz was a force in New York City’s creative circles. Karasz’s oeuvre is diverse; over the course of her sixty-year career, she created furniture, textiles, silver, wallpapers, ceramics, and illustrations. Between 1925 and 1973, Karasz illustrated 186 covers for the New...