I visited the Oswego Township Cemetery last week, and in between several Wormley family stones, I found this one. Simple, and elegant … and eye-catching. I was curious, so I did a little research. As it turns out, he was one of the foremost designers of the 20th century.
There’s a page about him on the site for the Industrial Designers Society of America, which has a nice photo, and this: “…U.S. designer of contemporary furniture in the 1950s and 1960s. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1920s before specializing in furniture design in the 1930s, when he began a long-lasting relationship with the Dunbar furniture company of Berne, Ind. After World War Two, Wormley set up a private practice in interior and furniture design with Dunbar as his primary client. He used wood and upholstery in a tailored way that seemed comfortable to an audience not totally ready for the austerity of International Style design.
Wormley often called his designs transitional, and he did no hesitate to use forms as those of the ancient Greek klismos chair. His Dunbar furniture was included in a number of “Good Design” exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. He was president of the American Designers Institute in 1941 (ADI in 1951 became the Industrial Designers Institute—IDI) and Wormley was awarded IDI Fellowship, which was honored by IDSA when it was formed in 1965 by IDI and other organizations.”
The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas has his archive, and part of that page includes this information: “John R. Eckel, Jr. (1951–2009), a Houston businessman and collector who was drawn to modern American art and design, purchased Wormley’s archive in 2006 from Wright auction house in Chicago. Eckel was extremely fond of Wormley’s work, and in addition to the slide archive, Eckel collected some 40 pieces by the designer.
The more than 3,000 glass and film slides picture Wormley’s mid-20th-century furniture, designs, exhibitions, and showroom installations, as well as print advertising of the period that featured his work. Additionally, the collection contains 1.5 linear feet of photographic prints and 5.5 linear feet of textual records comprised of catalogues, ephemera, correspondence, planning materials, scrapbooks, press releases, news clippings, and other promotional materials.”
The above image is from the Museum’s slide show on their page about his archives. The slide show also includes a cool photo of Mr. Wormley with Salvador Dali.
Dunbar Furniture has the Edward Wormley collection, and you may click HERE to view their page and the catalog.
The New School Libraries and Archives has his papers, and they have some biographical information (I’m including a bit here): “Furniture designer and interior decorator, Edward J Wormley, was born to Edith and M. J. Wormley in Oswego, Illinois in 1907. After graduating from high school in 1926, Wormley attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but left school after three terms to begin his professional career at Marshall Fields Design Studios and their quality furniture supplier Berkey & Gay in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1931, when Depression-era cutbacks left Wormley unemployed, he traveled to Europe, where he developed a lifelong love for traveling and self-study.”
Finally, I’m including here a link to his Obituary in the New York Times. I like how the obituary includes this detail about Wormley’s work with the Dunbar Company: “From 1931 until 1970, when the company was sold, Mr. Wormley designed about 150 pieces a year for the company, combining a knowledge of woodworking, an understanding of the past and a feeling for what makes a chair comfortable for an American.” Interestingly, the obituary also includes this bit about him: “Born in Oswego, Ill., Mr. Wormley had polio as a small child and did not walk until he was 5; he limped for the rest of his life. After completing high school in Rochelle, Ill., he studied design for two years at the Art Institute of Chicago. His first job was in the design studio at Marshall Field & Company in Chicago.”
I find it touching that there is a marker for him here, in this cemetery, where his family is buried. At the time he died, he didn’t apparently have any immediate family members living. This cemetery isn’t huge, and it’s in a quiet area. His stone is flat, and as you can see, simple and elegant — so I’m sure many people wouldn’t even notice it. Which is a shame, now that I’ve learned so much about him.
I have to admit, while my house is not furnished in this style, I do like a lot of his designs. They have clean, modern yet classic lines to them. The more I look at his designs, the more I like imagining re-doing a room in my house (or wonderful, imaginary house) which includes some of his furniture, and completely styled with his designs in mind.