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Melvin Dwork papers

Identifier: KA-0034


Named one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers in 1990 and 2002, Melvin Dwork (1922-2016) attended Parsons School of Design in the 1940s, and later served on the Parsons Advisory Committee. The collection (1920-2012) includes student work, slides, photographs, plans, drawings, news clippings, press releases, brochures, showroom catalogs, personal correspondence and awards.


  • 1920-2012



7.1 Cubic Feet (11 boxes, 8 oversize folders)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents of Collection

The collection consists of clippings, correspondence, photographic materials, plans, and student work documenting the education and interior design career of Melvin Dwork.

Personal materials include family correspondence and photographs, in addition to certficates from the U.S. Navy and a set of sketches accompanied by an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem.

Professional work is divided between project-specific documentation and general publicity. Projects encompass commercial and residential interiors in addition to museum and gallery exhibitions and show houses. Commercial projects include the Aetna Life Insurance's executive offices in Hartford, Connecticut and the Shearson Lehman Hutton executive dining room in New York. Residential projects include properties belonging to Gene Moore of Tiffany & Company, Robert Sarnoff and Anna Moffo, film director Milos Forman, and the choreographer John Butler. Also present are materials about Dwork's own Manhattan apartments and offices, as well as vacation homes on Fire Island and Shelter Island. Approximately a hundred stereo slides of commercial and residential projects and a working stereo slide viewer are included in this series.

Most projects featured in the collection are located in Manhattan, Long Island, Florida, and Dwork's birthplace of Kansas City, Missouri. A number of projects are located in the Village of Kings Point, part of Great Neck, Long Island. Files may contain magazine and newspaper clippings about specific projects, negatives, photographs, slides, and transparencies. Some files only contain professionally photographed images of finished projects, many by Jaime Ardiles-Arce and Peter Vitale. The bulk of the projects date from 1970 onwards, following Dwork's departure from Yale R. Burge Associates, although substantial documentation for certain clients, such as Dwork's long relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Cohen, is present. The collection is noteworthy for documenting how Dwork integrated his clients' art collections into commercial and residential spaces, as well as showing how modern works of art have been privately displayed. Pieces by American Abstract Impressionist Joseph Glasco can be seen throughout the files documenting Dwork's own residences.

Publicity includes advertisements for Dwork's firms, clippings featuring profiles and interviews with Dwork, and other materials that do not pertain to a particular identified project. It also includes materials relating to Dwork's induction into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

Student work consists of drawings, renderings, and sketchbooks created during high school and college courses at the Kansas City Art Institute and Parsons School of Design. It also includes report cards, awards, and correspondence from Van Day Truex, who was president of Parsons from 1942 until 1952. Much of the student design work is undated and unlabeled. Some items feature the penciled notation "KC" indicating they were executed in Kansas City, before Dwork moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design. Drawings and renderings are executed in ink, pencil, and watercolor, and feature interiors, furniture, and decorative elements.

Following Dwork's death in 2016, the executor of his estate identified design records in Dwork's office for transfer to the New School Archives. These primarily consist of furniture design sketches, plans, and photographs. Other materials transferred at this time include two original renderings of interiors by J. Hyde Crawford and photographs of Melvin Dwork with James Maguire, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, and as a young boy. These items decorated the walls of Dwork's office area.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact:

Biographical note

Melvin Dwork was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 9, 1922. After graduating from Southeast High School in 1939, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute for two years before moving to New York City, where he enrolled in Interior Architecture and Decoration classes at Parsons School of Design. Dwork served in the U.S. Navy's Hospital Corps beginning in 1943, but he was labeled "undesirable" and dishonorably discharged in 1944 after it was discovered he was involved in a homosexual relationship. Dwork returned to Parsons with the assistance of the school's president, Van Day Truex, and commenced a personal campaign to have his veteran's status changed. In a landmark 2011 decision, the Board for Corrections of Naval Records formally altered his status to "honorable."

In 1946, Dwork was hired as an assistant for designer James Pendleton, his first interior design position in New York. Three years later, he obtained a job as a decorator for Edward Garratt, Inc., a position he held for six months before starting his own business, Melvin Dwork Interiors, in 1950, sharing office space with friend and Parsons alumnus Sheridan Kettering. His first commission as head of his own company was completed in 1951 -- a penthouse apartment in the Hotel Lexington belonging to a former Parsons classmate, Gorda Klein, and her husband, Harold. In 1953, the Herbert Charles Company invited Dwork to design a model apartment for a co-operative across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1025 Fifth Avenue. His designs for the apartment garnered him national visibility, as well as several new clients.

In 1956, Dwork closed his business and started working with Irving M. Altman. Later that same year, Altman and Dwork initiated a partnership that included an antiques store and interior design firm located on East 57th Street. This partnership lasted for three years before Dwork joined Yale R. Burge Associates (later Burge-Donghia, Inc.) in 1960. He remained there until 1970, when he re-launched his own business. From 1979 until 1982, Dwork partnered with James Maguire, a Parsons graduate, to form Dwork-Maguire. In 1993, Dwork was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. Corporate clients included Aetna Life Insurance and Shearson Lehman Hutton. Dwork designed interiors for numerous executives and artistic figures. By 2011, he was semi-retired.

While managing his design business, Dwork also served on the Advisory Committee at Parsons School of Design from 1992 to 1995. In 1997, he established the John Butler Foundation to promote the work of his former partner, a choreographer, who died in 1993.

Melvin Dwork died on June 14, 2016 in New York City.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 3 series: 1. Personal; 2. Professional work; 3. Student work.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Initial donation by Melvin Dwork, 2006. Additional records donated in 2012, 2013. The New School Archives received a final accretion from the executor of Dwork's estate following Dwork's death in 2016.

Processing Information

Information shared by Melvin Dwork with New School archivists upon donation of these materials has been added to scope and content notes for individual files.

Guide to the Melvin Dwork papers
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
February 27, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note