Mind the gap: Women Designing for Transit

How did you travel to work or school today? How was your commute home? If you live in a large metropolitan area, it is likely that you used public transportation. New York City’s subway system moves more than 4.3 million people every day, and almost a third of Londoners take the Tube daily. Artists and designers are finding innovative opportunities to enhance the experience of these millions of commuters. From posters and mosaics to stylish seating and digital installations, elements of art and design entertain, educate, and provide comfort for a fast-moving public.

In celebration of Cooper Hewitt’s current exhibition, Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer, this dynamic discussion will trace the increasing impact of women in the design of the transit experience from the early 20th century to the present in London and New York. This panel will reflect on the stories of women hired to modernize the London Underground, including textile designer Marion Dorn, Kauffer’s frequent collaborator, who would later become his wife. Her geometric upholstery fabrics were used in train cars for decades, bringing modernism to the masses. Using Dorn’s pioneering career as inspiration, this talk will explore how and where women have transformed the London Underground and New York City Subway system with their creative talents.

Moderated by Emily M. Orr, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design at Cooper Hewitt, panelists will include Katherine Bradford, artist; Yaling Chen, Curator & Deputy Director at MTA Arts & Design; and Zorian Clayton, Assistant Curator of Prints at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Emily M. Orr (Moderator) is the Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She holds a Ph.D. in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum. Her exhibitions at Cooper Hewitt include Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer (2021-22), Botanical Expressions (2019-21), and Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s (2017). Orr was formerly the Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the American Decorative Arts Department at the Yale University Art Gallery (2009-12). She has written articles on a range of design history topics and is the author of Designing the Department Store: Display and Retail at the Turn of the Twentieth Century  (Bloomsbury, 2019).

Katherine Bradford is a New York-based artist whose paintings contain symbolic imagery such as swimmers and superheroes. She was recently commissioned to do five ceramic murals by the MTA Arts & Design, which are installed at the First Ave subway stop on the L line in New York City. The murals reflect Bradford’s iconic style and depict images of superheroes and costumed people in festive surroundings. Bradford has received several awards and fellowships including the Guggenheim Fellowship and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2012). Her work is in the collections of several museums nationwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Menil Collection in Houston, and the ICA in Boston.  

Yaling Chen is currently a Deputy Director for MTA Arts & Design (A&D),  and served as Project Manager and Curator for A&D from 2005 to 2017.  She has overseen public art projects from selection, fabrication to installation including the WTC-Cortlandt station at the World Trade Center site, four newly transformed elevated stations on the Astoria Line in Queens, 34 Street-Penn Station in Manhattan, Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan, and a new Bus Depot in Harlem, among others. She is also leading A&D’s awarding-winning Digital Art program. Chen received her MA is Art History from CUNY Queens College and attended the doctoral program in Art & Art Education at Columbia University Teachers College. 

Zorian Clayton is Assistant Curator of Prints at the Victoria & Albert Museum, specializing in 19th and 20th century posters and paper ephemera. He has been the co-chair of the V&A LGBTQ+ Working Group for the past eight years, programming numerous special events and research projects on queer art history. Recent publications include contributions to The Poster: A Visual History (Thames & Hudson, 2020) and Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism (Routledge 2020). He is also a consultant curator in Brussels for a House of European History exhibition, opening spring 2022, exploring 150 years of European identity through the medium of the poster. 


This free program will feature short presentations from each of our speakers, and a moderated panel discussion followed by an audience Q&A hosted through Zoom, with the option to dial in as well. Details will be emailed to you upon registration. This program includes closed captioning. It will be recorded and available on Cooper Hewitt’s YouTube channel. For general questions, or if we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation, please email CHEducation@si.edu or let us know when registering. 


Special Thanks

Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer is made possible with support from the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery Endowment Fund and the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund.