Through his work across the fields of architecture, interior design, textiles, and graphic design, Alexander Girard became one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. Even today, Girard’s work with color, texture, decoration, and handmade details are regarded as touchstones of classic modernism. He is widely regarded as the greatest colorist and textile designer of the mid century era.
Alexander Girard was born in 1907 in New York City and raised in Florence, Italy where he was immersed in the art and design culture. After training at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London and the Royal School of Architecture in Rome, he moved to New York City in 1932. It was in New York that he began his career as a designer. He moved to Michigan in 1937 where he established a design office and retail space in Grosse Pointe. Even though he moved to New Mexico in 1953, Girard kept his Michigan ties strong by heading the textile and fabric division of Herman Miller, headquartered in Zeeland, Michigan.
His collaborations with designers and architects such as Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and George Nelson, among others influenced a wide range of art and design fields including furniture, textiles, graphics, architecture, and sculpture. For instance, his For Modern Living exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1949 included the first public display of Charles and Ray Eames’ molded plywood chairs. His collaborations helped to popularize mid century modern design and make it a sought-after style.
His most influential work was probably when he served as director of design for Herman Miller’s textile division. During his 20 years there, Girard created more than 300 fabric and wallpaper designs. Many of these vibrant designs were inspired by his international travels and expansive folk art collection. Girard’s vibrantly-colored and folk-art-inspired textiles helped to energize the furniture designed by his Herman Miller colleagues. He was the first designer to see textiles as more than just functional. He saw that the color and pattern of the textile could emphasize the clean forms of mid century design.
While Girard died in 1993, we continue to be inspired by his vibrant work. If you’re interested in seeing his comprehensive work, you’re in luck! The Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany is in possession of Girard’s personal estate which includes many drawings, sketches, photographs, textiles, folk art objects, and furnishings. Pieces from the Vitra collection as well as items from Girard's folk art collection on loan from the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe are featured in the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition, “Alexander Girard. A Designer’s Universe,” and it’s currently on tour. Learn more about the exhibition including upcoming tour dates and locations here.
All photos: Cranbrook Art Museum
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