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Edward J Wormley papers

 Collection
Identifier: KA-0048-01

Overview

Edward Wormley (1907-1995) is often cited as one of the top 20th century designers of American modernist furniture. Beginning at the Dunbar Furniture Company at the age of 23, Wormley eventually became sole designer for the company and maintained a partnership Dunbar for more than three decades. In the 1950s, many of his designs received Good Design designations at the annual Chicago Merchandise Mart/Museum of Modern Art exhibition. Wormley taught at Parsons School of Design between 1952 and 1970. The collection includes photographs, slides, biographical materials, news clippings, technical drawings, Dunbar catalogs, and several original sketches.

Dates

  • circa 1908-1991

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu 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: archivist@newschool.edu.

Biographical note

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.

Upon his return, Wormley was introduced to Homer Neiderhauser, president of the Indiana-based Dunbar Furniture Company, who was looking for a new designer to upgrade the production quality of Dunbar's furniture. Wormley, only 23 years old, was given the position. Eventually he became Dunbar’s sole designer, a partnership that would last for nearly forty years. During World War II, Wormley left Dunbar to hold a government position with the Furniture Unit of the Office of Price Administration. He returned to Dunbar in 1944, this time as an independent consultant, an arrangement that enabled him to move to New York City and establish his own design studio. For the next decade, Wormley designed carpets, textiles, cabinets, and other products for a roster of clients, all the while continuing as head designer for Dunbar. Wormley and Dunbar continued to gain recognition in the design world, and in 1954 Wormley signed exclusively with Dunbar.

Wormley is often cited as one the most influential designers of mid-20th century, modern American furniture. A number of his designs were featured in the 1950, 1951 and 1952 “Good Design” exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, one of several museums to hold Wormley furniture in their collections. A 1961 article in Playboy magazine places Wormley alongside leading designers Charles Eames, George Nelson and Eero Saarinen. The article quotes Wormley on Modernism: “Modernism means freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good." In 1967, after receiving numerous awards and accolades and still at the height of his career, Wormley retired from design and moved to Weston, Connecticut with his partner, Edward Crouse.

Although retired, Wormley continued to lecture and serve as a visiting critic at Parsons School of Design until the late 1960s, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the school in 1984. Wormley and Crouse traveled extensively, their last trip together occurring in 1975, the year of Crouse's death from cancer. Edward J Wormley died in Connecticut on November 3, 1995 at the age of 86.

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Selected sources:

Gura, Judith, Chris Kennedy, Larry Weinberg, eds. Edward Wormley: The Other Face of Modernism. North Hampton, MA: DESIGNbase, Lin-Weinberg Gallery, 1997.

Kaufmann, Edgar, Jr. The Dunbar Book of Contemporary Furniture. Berne, IN: Dunbar Corporation, 1956.

Streett, Sara. "Guide to the Edward J Wormley and Edward Crouse papers, 1831-1997 (bulk 1907-1997)." Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 2003. Accessed January 2, 2011, http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/ead/htmldocs/RMM07684.html.

Extent

4.3 Cubic Feet (6 boxes, 3 tubes, 8 oversize folders, glass plates)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Contents of Collection

The Edward J Wormley papers include awards, biographical materials, drawings and sketches, photographic materials, plans, printed materials, and typescripts. The papers are divided into two series based upon whether materials are of a personal or a professional nature, with professional materials comprising a larger percentage of the collection.

The Personal series includes a Wormley family tree, numerous family photographs, a pencil sketch of Wormley by an unidentified artist, and floor plans of his East Ontario Street, Chicago and Campanile [East 52nd Street, New York] apartments. Many of the photographs are annotated, and include pets as well as humans. Two photographs of houses belonging to the Wormley family are also present. Although the earliest photograph dates from approximately 1908, many other family photographs are undated and may be older.

The Professional series is divided between materials produced by or for the Dunbar furniture company and professional materials either created independently of Wormley's affiliation with Dunbar, or of unclear provenance. This latter sub-series includes awards and citations; blueprints and design drawings dating to 1928 when Wormley was employed by Marshall Fields department store as well as plans for furnishings for textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen made in the 1980s; a small number of furniture sketches; two original interior design renderings, one signed by Wormley; photographs of furniture as well as portraits created for publicity purposes; and writings on design. Writings, which predominantly date from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, primarily consist of typed lecture notes, many with editorial markings, and articles for professional and arts-related organizations and publications. Of note are several drafts and notecards for a presentation titled "Let's Explore Inner Space" (1961) in which Wormley applies Freudian theory to the activity of collecting. Other materials include a program for a dinner honoring Ludwig Mies van der Rohe shorty after he immigrated to the United States.

The Dunbar sub-series is primarily comprised of photographs depicting residential and office furniture; bound sales catalogs and publications; portfolios of Dunbar furniture collections; and materials related to Dunbar's publicity activities, including clippings, a portfolio of magazine advertisements, a press release, and sheet music for a 1930 song, "March Dunbar."

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 2 series: I. Personal, circa 1908-1991; II. Professional, 1929-1984

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the Edward J Wormley papers, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/KA0048.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Hans Kaufman, executor of Wormley's estate, and by Braswell Galleries, in 1996; additional materials acquired in 2004 from David Rago Auction House.

Related Materials

Cornell University holds the Edward J Wormley and Edward Crouse Papers, 1831-1997 (bulk 1907-1997). The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Archives holds a large photographic archive amassed by Wormley.
Title
Guide to the Edward J Wormley papers
Status
Completed
Author
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Date
January 12, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English