The Birth of American Art Deco


When the United States was invited to participate in the 1925 Paris Exposition,  Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, declined, saying:  "America has no modern design.".   Luckily, a commission of 102 representatives was formed to go to Paris and visit the 1925 "Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industrielles Modernes".   At that time, the term "Art Deco" had not been coined yet...the style was called "Moderne".   Also, 400 items were chosen from the Exposition and toured 8 museums in the United States and by 1928 the "Modern" style had taken the United States by Storm.

 We have an invitation sent out by Bonwit's for a show of the "Paris Mode" in 1925 with the image of the Robert Bonfils poster that typified the 1925 America took notice!   The Chrysler Building was started in 1928 and used stainless steel in its construction.  The Empire State Building's construction began in 1930 and was finished in 1931.  But American Art Deco is derived more from the Bauhaus and the Wiener Werkstatte designs as many of their members came to the United States fleeing the Nazi Regime which frowned upon anything Modernistic.  Joseph Urban, Paul Frankl, Wolfgang Hoffmann, Mies Van Der Rohe, Frederic Kiessler, KEM Weber...all are names linked to American Art Deco design.  (By the way, the term "Art Deco" was coined in a book published by Bevis Hillier in 1971 and it's a shortening of the "Arts Decoratifs" portion of the title of the Exhibition.  

Ric Emmett, in his book, American Art Deco Furniture, describes much of what went on in the design community and talks about the "pioneers" who resurrected American Art Deco in the late 1970's and 1980's, saving the rich legacy of the designers from Europe and the "home grown" ones such as Donald Deskey and Gilbert Rohde.  

The book then illustrates several pieces of furniture designed by the "greats" including period documentation of their designs and then continues to talk about some "Anonymous" designers and manufacturers.  The last pages of the book have images of the various marks and labels used by each designer.