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Parsons School of Design Centenary oral history project

Identifier: PC-07-01-01


The Parsons School of Design Centenary Oral History Project consists of recorded sound interviews with twelve individuals as well as two audio monologues by the project's manager, Martica Sawin. The interviews, recorded in 1994, cover the history of different academic departments and design disciplines over the course of the twentieth century as experienced by former and then-current instructors and administrators. Recordings are all in English.


  • 1994



13 1/4 inch Audio Cassette (19:20:24 duration; 15 PDF transcripts )

Scope and Contents

Martica Sawin of Parsons School of Design's Liberal Studies Department conducted this series of interviews as part of an organized, documentation gathering effort in preparation for the centennial anniversary of Parsons' founding. According to a planning document (Charles S. Olton records, Committees and Meeting Minutes, Council of Chairs, 1994 Mar 1), the purpose of the project was to "provide an archive through taped interviews that will contain material for an informal history of Parsons School of Design."

"We are trying to develop not just an anecdotal history of Parsons, but to collect comments and observations that reflect a philosophy of art and design education and which record as well the stupendous changes within disciplines taught at Parsons over the past thirty years and the ways the school has met the challenge of these changes."

Departmental chairs were asked to suggest names of potential interview subjects consisting of "significant alumni" and "present or former faculty who should be interviewed." It is unclear from the records how much assistance chairs provided to Sawin in this endeavor. The intention was for the taped interviews to become part of Parsons School of Design's library.

Thirteen audiocassettes comprise the collection, totaling over nineteen hours of audio. Most of the interviews are approximately forty-five minutes to one hour in duration, although interviews with Stanley Barrows and David C. Levy are substantially longer. Several recordings begin or end abruptly, and it is unclear whether this is due to an error in the original recording, or additional tapes once existed and were never transferred onto the audiocassettes that comprise the Archives' collection.

In 2010, the New School Archives financed the professional digitization of the analog audiocassettes and transcription of all interviews. Archives staff members edited all transcripts for clarity and to identify personal names and organizations that the transcriber could not identify. Neither recordings nor transcripts have been edited for content.

Language of Materials

All recordings and associated transcripts are in English.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Researchers must use digital access copies. Access to audiocassettes is restricted for reasons of preservation.

Use Restrictions

To publish all or part of any recording or transcription from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical/Historical note

Parsons The New School for Design (formerly Parsons School of Design) was founded in 1896 as the Chase School of Art by the painter William Merritt Chase. In 1994, the school's leadership began compiling historical documentation in anticipation of commemorative activities marking the hundreth anniversary of the school's founding. Martica Sawin, an art historian and faculty member of the Liberal Studies program, undertook a project to identify and interview key participants in Parsons' history. The following individuals consented to a recorded interview:

Stanley Barrows, Interior Design Department faculty, 1946-1968, and Parsons alumnus. Suzanne Cole, Chair, Illustration Department, 1969-1982. Mildred Constantine, Art History faculty, 1972-1983. Benedict J. Fernandez, Chair, Photography Department, 1981-1994. Albert Greenberg, Chair, Communication Design Department. 1983-1994. Alan Gussow, Chair, Fashion Illustration Department, 1960-1969. David C. Levy, Dean of Parsons, 1970-1989, and Director of Admissions, xxxx-xxxx. Paul Resika, founding Chair, Master of Fine Arts Department, 1978-1991. Frank Rizzo, Chair, Fashion Design Department, 1982-1996, and Parsons alumnus. Martica Sawin, Faculty, Liberal Studies, began teaching Art History at Parsons in 1967. Stuart Shedletsky, Faculty, Fine Arts Department, 1969-2002. Allen Tate, Chair, Environmental Design Department, 1969-1982. Irwin Touster, Chair, Fine Arts Department, 1974-1992.

Parsons School of Design was established in 1896 as the Chase School of Art. While founded as a school of fine arts instruction, it soon added courses in "applied arts," which became the primary focus under the direction of Frank Alvah Parsons. The name of the school changed several times, to the New York School of Art in 1902, then to the New York School of Fine and Applied Art in 1909. In 1940, the Board of Trustees voted to change the school's name to Parsons School of Design in recognition of Frank Alvah Parsons' leadership and to differentiate it from other, similarly named institutions.

In 1921, Parsons' European School opened with headquarters in France called the Paris Ateliers. The Ateliers closed in 1939 due to the escalation of World War Two, and never reopened in its pre-war form. Parsons' summer study tours of Europe resumed in the late 1940s. When Parsons affiliated with the New School for Social Research in 1970, students could for the first time earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the New School (before the merger, students earned either a certificate for a three-year program of study at Parsons, or a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree granted by New York University, by taking courses at both schools). A more robust, year-round overseas program resumed at Parsons in the late 1970s under the leadership of Dean David C. Levy. The 1970s also saw the growth of continuing education programs at Parsons, and the introduction of an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree track. In the 1980s, Parsons developed a number of partnerships with international schools, and merged with the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. The first Parsons graduate program was established at Parsons in 1978, in Fine Arts, with masters programs in other areas added in subsequent years, including a Master of Architecture program begun in 1989.

In 1994, the school's leadership began compiling historical documentation in anticipation of commemorative activities marking the hundreth anniversary of Parsons' founding. Martica Sawin, an art historian and faculty member of the Liberal Studies program, undertook a project to identify and interview key participants in Parsons' history.

Organization and Arrangement

Recordings are arranged alphabetically by name of interviewee.

Custodial History

According to documents in the Charles S. Olton records, these recordings were intended to be housed in the library of Parsons School of Design, which was the Adam and Sophie Gimbel Art and Design Library at the time of the recordings. The immediate source of acquisition is presently unknown.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the New School Archives from Parsons School of Design's Adam and Sophie Gimbel Design Library.

Existence and Location of Copies

All recordings comprising this project have been converted to digital files (34 files in total) for researcher access. Digital transcripts (PDF file format) for each interview are also available for research use.

Related Materials

The Charles S. Olton records (PC.01.07.01) document the preparations undertaken by the Parsons School of Design administration in anticipation of the institution's centennial in 1996, including this oral history project.

Guide to the Parsons School of Design Centenary oral history project
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
September 13, 2016
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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