European immigrant designers and North American Art Deco

Authored by: Laura McGuire

The Routledge Companion to Art Deco

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781472485144
eBook ISBN: 9780429032165
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429032165-4

 

Abstract

In the years leading up to World War I, and in the decade and a half following it, many Central European designers and architects emigrated to North America. These men and women played key roles in furthering the development of contemporary design languages in North America prior to the influx of European designers forced into exile by the Nazis in the mid-1930s. Yet, in contrast to the more extensive literature on emigrants and exiles who fled Nazi Europe (such as former members of the Bauhaus), we still know comparatively little about this earlier generation of foreign-born designers who helped to shape the many architectural and decorative forms of the modern (Clarke and Shapira 2017; Barron, Eckmann, and Affron 1997; Boeckl 1995). In order to interpret the popularization of modern styles through the interwar period, and especially how we interrogate the interwar style commonly known as Art Deco, design historians must expand our understanding of these immigrants’ training, professional networks, and their work before and after they immigrated into North America. Moreover, a body of recent and growing scholarship on these men and women, including many founding members of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC)—likely the first professional industrial design organization in the US—significantly complicates the assumption that their work can be categorized as a product of an American Art Deco style.

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European immigrant designers and North American Art Deco

In the years leading up to World War I, and in the decade and a half following it, many Central European designers and architects emigrated to North America. These men and women played key roles in furthering the development of contemporary design languages in North America prior to the influx of European designers forced into exile by the Nazis in the mid-1930s. Yet, in contrast to the more extensive literature on emigrants and exiles who fled Nazi Europe (such as former members of the Bauhaus), we still know comparatively little about this earlier generation of foreign-born designers who helped to shape the many architectural and decorative forms of the modern (Clarke and Shapira 2017; Barron, Eckmann, and Affron 1997; Boeckl 1995). In order to interpret the popularization of modern styles through the interwar period, and especially how we interrogate the interwar style commonly known as Art Deco, design historians must expand our understanding of these immigrants’ training, professional networks, and their work before and after they immigrated into North America. Moreover, a body of recent and growing scholarship on these men and women, including many founding members of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC)—likely the first professional industrial design organization in the US—significantly complicates the assumption that their work can be categorized as a product of an American Art Deco style.

The interior designs created by the German immigrant architect, Jock Peters, for the famed Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles offer a useful case study. During World War I, Peters worked for the German architect Peter Behrens. He then worked as a design professor in Altona until he immigrated to the US in late 1922, at the age of 32, where he worked for several years as a freelancer and as a Hollywood set designer. By 1927, he left the studios and opened a design firm with his brother, Peters Brothers Modern American Design (Flint 1932, 31–32). On Bullocks Wilshire, he worked under Feil & Paradise Architects, collaborating with the young Bullocks store designer Eleanor Le Maire, creating a series of eclectic designs that drew on many sources. The double-height Toiletries Department, adorned with golden marble panels, expressed the austere and strongly vertical Classicism favored earlier by Behrens. The Accessories Department also quoted Central European vocabularies in its use of over-scaled and wood veneered columns (Figure 3.1). His other rooms demonstrated his keen knowledge of both European and American developments in modernism, including constructivism and tubular steel furniture, as well as materials and geometries undoubtedly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Lloyd Wright’s concrete block houses in Los Angeles. Even a pronounced nod to machined Neue Sachlichkeit rationalism appeared in a number of his sales counter and display furnishings (Figure 3.2).

Jock Peters, Accessories Department, Bullock’s Wilshire, Los Angeles, California, 1929. Source: Jock Peters Papers, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design and Architecture Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara.

Figure 3.1   Jock Peters, Accessories Department, Bullock’s Wilshire, Los Angeles, California, 1929. Source: Jock Peters Papers, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design and Architecture Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara.

Jock Peters, Lingerie Department, Bullocks Wilshire Los Angeles, California, 1929. Source: Jock Peters Paper, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design and Architecture Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara.

Figure 3.2   Jock Peters, Lingerie Department, Bullocks Wilshire Los Angeles, California, 1929. Source: Jock Peters Paper, Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design and Architecture Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara.

Many other artists and designers participated in the Bullocks projects, including John Weber, David Collins, Gjura Stojano, Herman Sachs, Eugene Maier-Krieg, George de Winter, Jallot, Laursat, and Sonia Delauney. Taken as a whole, the store was a collage of modern form languages and materials, created with both hand and machine fabrication, which occasionally gave way to more overtly historicist interiors. The exterior of the building, designed by Parkinson & Parkinson, added another layer of stylistic complexity. Inspired by Donald Parkinson’s visit to the Paris International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925, the structure rose in a vertical mass of abstracted pilasters clad in beige cast stone, interrupted by rows of narrow windows, which were accented with decorative copper spandrels. An extruded cupola that echoed the vigorous geometry of Louis Sullivan’s nineteenth-century mausoleums surmounted the building’s tall central tower.

Bullocks Wilshire is often cited as a masterpiece of Art Deco design, and the architecture and interiors clearly embodied a variety of impulses toward the modern, the mobile, the mechanical, the eclectic, and the primitive—all more or less accepted characteristics of Art Deco (Benton and Benton 2003; Windover 2012). Yet, when examined individually, many of these spaces and forms actually look quite different from one another. The French-inspired building, for example, seems somehow at odds with the Central European and American elements that Peters highlighted in his spaces. If we fail to acknowledge and interrogate these differences—and the geographical sources for these designs—we risk overlooking the rich diversity of North American modernism.

Bullocks Wilshire was Peters’ attempt, as a relatively recent immigrant, to propose new design languages specific to the needs of an established retailer during a critical period of economic and urban growth in Los Angeles. As Christopher Long (2014) has shown in the case of Peters’ friend, the German immigrant designer Kem Weber, sometimes designers’ most commercially successful form languages were arrived piecemeal, through trial and error. The Bullocks Wilshire department store was a singular example of this sort of experimentation, and we can characterize Peters’ work as a veritable “everything-and-the-kitchen-sink” approach to developing a contemporary and regionally appropriate vision for modern American design. And somehow, the building’s stylistic disparities—and the vision of unadulterated popular consumption produced by such a collage of idioms—proved to be a remarkable commercial and critical success. Not only did the store attract the consuming public, Peters’ and Le Maire’s adventurous interiors were praised by professional design publications including California Arts & Architecture and Architectural Record (Schindler 1930, 23–25; “Bullock’s Wilshire” 1930, 51–64). A historical interpretation of Bullocks invites Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s suggestion that twentieth-century modernism did not constitute a “style,” but rather an expansive discourse encompassing, as she writes, “a heterogeneous array of individual positions and formal practices within a loosely structured field” (Goldhagen 2005, 145). Following this position, we could better understand the many formal idioms at Bullocks—as well as the work of immigrant designers discussed later in this chapter—not as an example of Art Deco style, but as a colorful discourse on modernism of the interwar period.

Art Deco or modernism?

Bullocks Wilshire provides a poignant instance where an immigrant designer’s contribution reveals some of the limitations of Art Deco for categorizing popular modernist idioms after World War I in North America. Debates over whether or not the term is appropriate to describe this complex milieu of interwar architecture and design have percolated in scholarly literature for the past three decades. Rosemarie Haag Bletter brought early attention to this “gray area” of interwar modern design, pointing to the falsity of a polarized schematic of orthodox Modernist design on one side, historicist Beaux-Arts on the other, and Art Deco pinned uncomfortably somewhere in between (Haag Bletter 1995, 50–51). Bridget Elliott has recently questioned whether there was indeed a distinctive and measurable difference between the “moderne,” the “modernist,” and the “modernistic” (Elliott 2009, 143). She points to substantial overlaps in the manufacture, forms, and markets for modern-styled buildings and commodities, which make ideological differences on the part of their creators difficult to discern from the objects themselves. These differences were also not necessarily apparent to consumers and critics at the time. Although the “modernistic” was derided by some in the modernist avant-garde as being a superficial, commercial, and fashion-driven variant of modernism, critics and writers in the US press frequently used “modernistic” simply as an alternative to (and perhaps a chic-sounding variant of) the word “modern.”

In their important catalog for the 2003 Art Deco 1910–1939 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Charlotte and Tim Benton argue that despite its invention in the 1960s, the term Art Deco has now become a legitimate descriptor for a pervasive and popular global modern style of the 1920s and 1930s (Benton and Benton 2003, 19, 22). The Bentons contend that Art Deco artifacts employ common elements in their visual language, as well as common cultural and technological themes. On the one hand, they argue that the Art Deco style is a formal one, characterized by abstracted and simplified forms, both based in history and the contemporary avant-garde, as well as in the imagination. On the other, it is a style based on intention: In contrast to the utopian aims of the modernists, they argue that Art Deco designers were more pragmatic and their products spoke more to the doctrine of consumerism than to the “utopian and emancipatory” experimentalism of the avant-garde. At the same time, they suggest that many of the designs produced by the avant-garde should still be included within the Art Deco canon because they embody formal progressivism and contemporary rhetoric, which elevated the machine as an aesthetic object (Benton and Benton 2003, 14, 16, 20–22). They thus propose that Art Deco was a contradictory and heterogeneous style that embodied discussions about the present and future of modern design. Art Deco therefore somehow simultaneously represents formalism and intentionality. Yet the Bentons also contend that through “knowledge and judgment” one can establish “what is and is not Art Deco” and that the style is “by no means resistant to conventional methods of categorization and interpretation, despite the difficulties posed by its formal eclecticism and the variety of genres it encompassed” (Benton and Benton 2003, 20, 27). In this, their thesis veers uncomfortably close to connoisseurship.

More recently, Michael Windover has persuasively argued that Art Deco is not a “total style,” but rather a “mode of mobility,” with formal attributes that spoke to the increasing globalism and global capitalism of the first half of the twentieth century (Windover 2012, 12–13, 16). Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that the use of a stylistic label, which operates primarily to categorize the physical attributes of objects, remains problematic with regard to American interwar design idioms. Indeed, “Art Deco” risks obscuring important variations in the formal, material, and social intentions of designers: Is there an extent to which the work of one designer could be considered more Art Deco than that of another, even if the two operated from similar (or even opposing) design principles? On what precise basis should a particular work be judged as conforming to the style? More importantly, we would have to question when the period of Art Deco officially ended, since aesthetic responses to globalism continued in full force during the postwar period, when far-flung cultures and economies became even more enmeshed.

These questions are particularly relevant in the methods through which we understand the motivations and professional work of immigrant designers—people who were literally mobile and overtly (or inadvertently) creating bridges between global locations and design practice. We could see immigrant designers, who in various ways attempted to reconcile design ideologies and cultures toward a commercial acceptance of modern form languages and production methods, to be perfect embodiments of Windover’s argument that Art Deco is a “mode of mobility.” Yet at the same time, the lens of Art Deco as a “style-based paradigm” may also prove to be a less-than-satisfactory way to understand the objects of immigrant-produced interwar architecture and design (Goldhagen 2005, 144). As Goldhagen has suggested, the complexity of modern design might be better framed through a paradigm of discourse.

It is for these reasons that when we describe the work of immigrants in the decades leading up to World War II in North America, the inclusive term modernism may be more useful than Art Deco. In its most direct sense, modernism constituted the engagement of ideas about modernity through design and architecture. This engagement could address a multitude of issues, from the hard realities of changes in modern technology and production to regional and global economics or the modern social condition with its diverse problems of individual alienation and urbanization. Modernism might also include seemingly conservative reactions to contemporary trends, such as the entrenchment of craft and historicism as a bulwark in the face of change or objects that incorporate some aspects of contemporary technology or art, but shy away from others. At the same time, any designer’s involvement with discourses about modernity in design practice or its products was to engage simultaneously in the cultural production of modernism, in its many forms. We might therefore speak of modernisms as a critical category of North American—and even global—interwar architecture and design.

Although we should not disregard the fact that architecture and design historians have typically used “modernism” to refer more exclusively to avant-garde architecture and design, it is useful to broaden the definition of the term to be more inclusive. It has been well established, for example, that many European avant-garde designers of the 1920s and 1930s, including a number of famed Bauhaus designers, were interested in their own professional success as much—if not sometimes more—than in political or spiritual ideals (Hahn 1997, 215–218). Increasingly, scholars of early twentieth-century design have highlighted the fact that the work of many avant-gardists and their students also crossed over into “popular” design, such as in consumer products and department store display, and vice versa. (McGuire 2016;Witkovsky and Ash 2011; Bernstein 1997, 265; Schleif 2004, 44–46). Modernism need not explicitly denote an aesthetic style or a single attitude, but rather it speaks to a collection of diverse concerns about what it meant to be modern and what those concerns meant for architecture and design. An inclusive view of modernism is compelling because it is more reflective of the very complex historical record. Moreover, there is no reason to continue to reiterate the collective desire of the interwar avant-garde and their critical supporters that modern or modernism held some privileged intellectual and formal position over the moderne, the modernistic, or the Art Deco, when the situation was substantially less clear cut.

Immigrant designers before and after Paris 1925

The foundations of modernism in North America were partly laid by a small number of Austro-Hungarian and German immigrants who arrived in the US just prior to World War I, and who often supported one another based on common ethnicity and design interests. Many of these designers trained in progressive schools of craft and architecture and worked for prominent early modern designers in their home countries, where they were attuned to radical design discourses before the onset of the war. Central European and German emigrants, such as Paul T. Frankl, Kem Weber, Wolfgang Hoffmann, Ilonka Karasz, Joseph Binder, and others, for example, would have been well-familiar with the early call of Adolf Loos to reject modern ornament (Binder 1936). Similarly, they would have been familiar with the handicraft ethic of the Wiener Werkstätte and their (somewhat paradoxical) efforts to invent geometrical form languages that represented modern conditions of production and urban life. A number of immigrants either knew or trained with members of Deutscher Werkbund, an organization of German designers that sought to strengthen relationships between art and industry, and favored the production of standardized and machined forms over handicraft.

The circumstances guiding the decisions of architects and designers to emigrate ran from the personal to professional and political. These are historically significant, as are their ties to their original homelands. Of potentially even greater interest to the design historian is to understand what happened to these practitioners and their work after they had arrived in their new countries as immigrants. How did they adjust their attitudes to new circumstances? Did they assimilate—both in terms of culture and design practice—or not?

Before coming to the US, many of these immigrants had experimented extensively with some of the most adventurous forms of European modern design. The Jewish Austrian émigré, Frederick Kiesler, who will be discussed later in this chapter, had personal ties to avant-garde groups, including De Stijl and the Berlin-based G Group formed by Hans Richter, Werner Graeff, and El Lissitzky. His early work in the US consisted both of commercial commissions, as well as efforts to introduce Americans to the cutting edge of the European avant-garde. Immigrant designers also acted as conduits for contemporary fashion across the Atlantic. Although geographically isolated from their homelands, many kept abreast of design developments through subscriptions to European periodicals, letters and visits from friends, and occasional trips back to Europe.

The Austrian architect and designer Paul T. Frankl, for example, traveled to the US in 1914 to soak up American artistic culture and to chronicle the Panama-Pacific International Exposition that was scheduled to open in San Francisco in 1915. When war broke out in August of 1914, Frankl was unable to return to Vienna or Germany. While he waited out the conflict (which most believed would be brief), Frankl found a position in New York City with the International Art Service, an advertising and package design firm established by German and Austrian artists, Arthur Wiener, Willy Sesser, and Harry Weissberger (Long 2007b, 23–27). Frankl made contacts with many other European artists and designers who had either been working in New York or had come to flee the war. He opened his own interior design shop (a relatively novel concept in the American design scene) on Park Avenue in 1915. There he exhibited furnishings and designs drawn from the Vienna Secession and traditional Japanese design, as well as recent historicist trends in Germany and Austria that embraced the neo-Baroque, neo-Rococo, and neo-Biedermeier styles. Unfortunately, Frankl encountered difficulties in communicating his design ideas to New Yorkers. Rising anti-German sentiment in the wake of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 made professional life increasingly difficult for Frankl and the handful of other progressive galleries and studios owned by German-speaking designers in the city (Long 2007b, 30). 1 Instead, Frankl found his initial success in stage design for the experimental Washington Square Players, which increased his visibility to upper-middle-class clients, who like him, were German-speakers (Long 2007b, 33).

A small group of other recent Central European immigrants also practiced in New York. The Hungarian-born Ilonka Karasz, together with the German-born designer Winold Reiss, established the Society for Modern Art in 1914, “to advance the cause of the new art and graphic design” (Glassgold 1928, 225). They published a magazine, Modern Art Collector, which was intended to “encourage the development of the Modern Movement” in the US by providing information and suggestions on modern art and design (Society for Modern Art 1915, n.p.). Its most frequent contributors were other immigrants (Callahan 2003, 24). During the wartime years, Joseph Urban, a successful Viennese architect, created otherworldly settings for Ziegfeld Follies and for William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service, which evidenced his ongoing interest in Austrian Jugendstil languages. Urban’s efforts introduced many Americans, some no doubt for the first time, to contemporary Central European decorative design ideas (Aronson 2000; Carter and Cole 1992, 71–97).

The young German architect, Kem Weber, also found himself stranded in the US by the war. An employee of the Berlin-based architect Bruno Paul, Weber had been sent to San Francisco to prepare the installations for the German exhibits at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Here he created a combination of the Jugendstil and Neoclassical form languages for which Paul had become known (Harrod 2005, 41–43). Weber would use his exile as an opportunity to open a small interior decoration business in San Francisco, designing accoutrements for parties and balls held by predominantly German-speaking expatriates. But after the US entered the war and anti-German sentiment increased exponentially, Weber’s business was crippled. By 1918, he and his ailing wife were virtually destitute and resorted to agricultural labor. It was not until the war ended in 1919 that he could slowly resume his design teaching and practice (Long 2014, 20–32).

Yet even in the years immediately following the war, Frankl, Weber, and other Central European immigrants found Americans reluctant to experiment with modern ideas derived from contemporary European design—especially the radical abstraction of the growing avant-garde movements (Long 2007a, 33–34). An exception, perhaps, was in the field of textile design; Ilonka Karasz successfully sold many of her adventurously printed fabrics in New York during the late teens and early 1920s, many of them drawing upon American and European folk sources (Callahan 2003, 40–45). By and large, however, historical revivalism appealed to the conservative attitudes, which dominated in the US in the aftermath of war (Long 2007b, 46).

Nevertheless, immigrants continued quietly to produce and sell objects and environments designed according to progressive principles. As anti-German sentiment became less virulent, an exhibition of German applied art was held at the Newark Museum in 1922. Joseph Urban inaugurated a new branch of the Wiener Werkstätte in New York that same year (Figure 3.3). Urban’s visionary venture, which was meant to aid Austrian designers suffering through the worst of the postwar economy, unfortunately met with little success. New Yorkers simply did not respond positively to Viennese avant-garde decorative design in sufficient numbers (Loring 2010, 37–42; Long 2007a, 34–40).

Joseph Urban, Showroom of the Wiener Werkstätte, New York City, c. 1922. Chairs and coffee set by Josef Hoffmann, ceramic figure by Michael Powolny, and lamps by Dagobert Peche. Source: Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Figure 3.3   Joseph Urban, Showroom of the Wiener Werkstätte, New York City, c. 1922. Chairs and coffee set by Josef Hoffmann, ceramic figure by Michael Powolny, and lamps by Dagobert Peche. Source: Joseph Urban Archive, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Although Urban struggled to introduce the Viennese products to America in his New York showroom, his efforts in Hollywood set design piqued a small, but growing national awareness of European design in the early 1920s (Figure 3.4). Americans proved more willing to accept radical design in their entertainment. Film set design would become, perhaps, the greatest avenue for familiarizing Americans with modern architecture and design. Unsurprisingly, a number of designers, including Kem Weber, Jock Peters, and the Viennese architect Arthur Grünberger, among others, would bring modern form languages to Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s (Albrecht 1986, 79; Tscholakov 2006; Maryška 1992, 17, 35, 47–48).

Joseph Urban, Setting for

Figure 3.4   Joseph Urban, Setting for Young Diana, 1922. Source: Josef Urban Archive, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Los Angeles and New York were cities where a majority of European immigrant designers formed creative communities as they attempted to make inroads for modern design. Immigrant designers in other regions have not been significantly documented, however, so there may indeed have been other areas penetrated by European idioms before 1925. After the war, another exodus of designers escaping the dismal postwar economic situation in Central Europe would soon join their compatriots in the US.

The number of professional designers who sought better fortunes in North America before and after the war is yet unknown. This is particularly true of Canada, where the impact of immigrants on modern design and architecture has been little examined. Alexandra Biriukova, a Russian-born architect who practiced in Toronto in the 1920s and early 1930s (and was the first female architect registered in Ontario), is one of the few Canadian immigrants whose Art Deco work has been noted to any extent (Adams and Tancred 2000, 16, 82; Dendy and Kilbourn 1986, 245; Myzelev 2016, ch. 7). In the US, scholars have thus far only examined those designers who found significant commercial success. Among the number of influential practitioners who came to work after the war were the Swiss architect William Lescaze, and metalsmiths Peter Mueller-Munk, Laurits Christian Eichner, Walter von Nessen, and Albert Feinauer (Braznell 2010). Furniture designers Alfons Bach and Wolfgang Hoffmann arrived in New York City in the early 1920s and would go on to produce some of the most distinctive streamlined American metal furnishings of the 1930s (Plate V). Hoffmann’s wife, Pola, would also become a significant textile designer.

Furnishings by Wolfgang Hoffmann for Howell Furniture Company, 1934. From:

Plate V   Furnishings by Wolfgang Hoffmann for Howell Furniture Company, 1934. From: Home Furnishing Arts (Fall-Winter 1934). Image courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.

On the west coast, Vienna-trained architect Rudolph M. Schindler came to Los Angeles in 1920 to assist Frank Lloyd Wright with the Maya-inspired, concrete block Aline Barnsdall house. Not long afterward in 1923, he would be joined by his friend Richard Neutra, who had also worked Wright. They would live together in Schindler’s innovative King’s Road House (1922), in which he eclectically merged Wright’s philosophies for planning and materials with Central European forms of Neue Sachlichkeit for the California climate. Kem Weber continued his practice in California alongside these new arrivals, completing interiors and furnishing in eclectic revivalist styles, while he privately sketched designs that assembled an inventive mix of California colonial haciendas, German Expressionism, Maya revival, Wright’s textile block houses, and glass curtain walls (Long 2014, 44–52).

Yet despite these designers’ search for a heterogeneous modernism that would appeal to US clients and consumers, the Paris Exposition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925 proved to be the seminal moment at which the North American public first recognized the multitude of modern design idioms already prevalent in Europe. 2 Although the US did not participate in the Exposition (owing to the fact that Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover falsely believed that American designers and manufacturers produced nothing that seemed modern enough), the impact of the event seeded the ground that immigrant designers had already been preparing in design, theater, and in film.

Importantly, the Central European influence on the Parisian presentations did not escape the notice of sophisticated American observers. Architectural sculptors Leon Solon and Leo Friedlander wrote that the design they had witnessed in Paris was primarily a “French ­interpretation” of earlier Austrian and German styles (Haag Bletter 1975, 59–60). The Austrian-American architect Ely Jacques Kahn, who was familiar with the work of Josef Hoffmann, and whose sister, Rena Rosenthal, owned the Austrian Workshop (an interiors gallery and shop that sold Viennese imports in New York City), observed that he had seen little that was new in the exposition (Haag Bletter 1995, 50; Kahn 1929, 885). Critics such as Sheldon Cheney, (who had close relationships with a number of Central European immigrant designers in New York) accused the French of being “adapters of the Viennese thing … toward the luxurious and grandiose … sweetened and popularized” (Cheney 1930, 29, 175). Central European immigrants who made the trip to Paris and those who examined the published dispatches back home would have quickly recognized many aspects of pre-war modern design reiterated anew. The extensive use of flat surface patterning and modernized-geometricized allusions to Classical forms, which appeared in many of the French exhibit buildings and products, strongly echoed the earlier experiments of the Vienna Secession, the Wiener Werkstätte, German Jugendstil, and Czech Cubism (Long 2007a; Liefkes 2003, 175–181; Crowley 2003, 191–195, 199–200). Indeed, in an outline for a course in design appreciation to be held at the Brooklyn Museum in conjunction with an exhibition by the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsman, Vienna was cited as the “most significant center” to have contributed to contemporary American modern design thus far (“Museum Course,” n.d.).

The impact of Paris was rapidly apparent in New York City in 1926, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited examples of products from the exposition. That same year, the Austrian stage designer Frederick Kiesler, recruited from his successful displays at the Paris exposition, mounted the International Theatre Exhibition at the Steinway Building in New York City. The exhibition, which featured the most current and experimental examples of modern theatrical design, architecture, and art from across Europe, drew large numbers of curious visitors (McGuire 2014, 97). In the wake of Paris, and a growing awareness that many European practitioners had already taken a decided step away from revivalist historicism, a number of US institutions and retailers rushed to bring examples of modern design to the American public’s whetted appetite. The Gorham Manufacturing Company, a silver producer, brought Denmark designer Erik Magnussen to revitalize their various lines in modern styles, and Kem Weber was able to convince his employer, the Barker Brothers furniture company, that they should incorporate a special showroom for modern design into their flagship Los Angeles store (Stern 2005, 26; Long 2014, 62–63).

The year 1927 proved even more critical for the popularizing of modern design in the US, as American collaborators partnered with European immigrants to promote new fashions. Urban department stores interested in developing new tastes and new markets took the lead in these promotions: Macy’s Exposition of Art in Trade in New York featured the work of Frankl, Aline Bernstein, Jules Bouy, Paul Zimmerman, Georg Jensen, and Wiener Werkstätte products from Rena Rosenthal, among many other examples. Other stores, including Wanamaker’s Modern Art in a Department Store, and Lord & Taylor’s Exposition of Modern French Decorative Art, both of which featured predominantly French modern design, emulated Macy’s effort (Stern 2005, 56–57). In the spring of 1928, Macy’s followed up their successful show with another even larger presentation, An International Exposition of Art in Industry, which brought primarily non-French examples into the spotlight, including works by Central European and Italian designers, along with works by immigrants and American-born designers. Other New York stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, hired Frederick Kiesler and Paul T. Frankl to design adventurous show windows and interiors (McGuire 2016; Long 2007b, 83).

These watershed years boosted the careers of immigrant modernists. Frankl, for example, was able to expand his showroom and found increasing success in selling his expensive designs to wealthy and sophisticated clients; he was able to hire the young designer Donald Deskey to paint screens for the gallery (Long 2007b, 72–76). As the network of leading department stores introduced modern design to the rest of the country, Midwestern firms, such as Rose Iron Works in Cleveland lured new immigrants like the successful Hungarian metal designer Paul Fèher from Paul Kiss’s studio in Paris (Kahr 1998, 16).

On the west coast, the now well-entrenched group of Central European immigrant designers and architects continued to practice with increasing recognition, and would soon be joined by Frankl, along with many others who would develop a distinctive, regional southern California modernism through the 1930s (Long 2014, 180–186; Kaplan 2011; Long 2007b; 115–145; Hines 2005; Gebhard and Winter 1985, 13). Frankl and Weber became known for promoting a horizontal, streamlined aesthetic in furnishings and architecture during the 1930s and 1940s, which seemed to embody the glamorous, yet relaxed character of the Hollywood’s Golden Age and the expansive southern California landscape. Despite many setbacks, both designers embraced the idea that their designs were inspired by their local regions, as well as nationalist ethics of individualism and progress, and were therefore uniquely “American.” These designers’ invention of an American modern design identity seems to have been crucial element of their success and they were able to achieve legitimacy as assimilated immigrants. Nevertheless, the fact that so many of the early instigators of modern North American design were foreign-born and trained—and therefore always remained partly “outsiders” despite their commercial or critical accolades—also played a key role in their bold willingness to introduce sources outside of the American decorative and architectural mainstream.

The richness and variety of the modern idioms and their many sources across the mobile, multinational, and multicultural American landscape make it exceedingly difficult to generalize about what constituted an “American Art Deco” and what—if any—historical value this stylistic label might have (Haag Bletter 1975, 35–73; Haag Bletter 1995, 50–51). Karen Lucic has observed that part of what makes 1920s progressive American design so difficult to unravel is that style, manufacturing methods, and ideological eclecticism were all fundamental, but sometimes disparate elements: “influences from French art moderne, the Wiener Werkstätte, and German functionalism would converge in a single object; combinations of material, form, and manufacture could connote both luxury and utility, elitism and populism,” she writes (Lucic 1995, 52). Perhaps one of the only agreed upon goals of modernism, as it was conceived by American professionals at this time, was that it be commercially appealing and achieve wide acceptance across the marketplace. Commercial success was, of course, the primary goal for most immigrant designers and architects who were struggling to make a living.

In the wake of the Paris 1925 exposition, modern design in the US was primarily popularized in such commercial venues as the movies, advertising, and in department stores (Albrecht 1986; Friedman 2003). This was most overtly apparent in advertising. The boldly colored, sachlich visual schemes produced by immigrant designers, such as those of the German graphic and retail designer Lucian Bernhard or Viennese advertising artist Joseph Binder, were key examples of the vivid material fusion of modernism with commerce (Plate VI). A number of Central European immigrants, including Bernhard, were also instrumental in the production of the short-lived, but significant, New York magazine, Advertising Arts, which promoted modern design ideas for advertising, packaging, objects, and architecture, which ranged from the accessible to the avant-garde (Heller 1999, 60–61).

Joseph Binder, Official poster for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, “The World of Tomorrow.” Source: Prints and Photographs Division, The Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-11735.

Plate Vi   Joseph Binder, Official poster for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, “The World of Tomorrow.” Source: Prints and Photographs Division, The Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-11735.

Working in tandem with the commercial impulse was a rhetorical effort to reform design to suit modern methods of production, simplification, and efficiency—ideals which had been widely popularized in both commercial and domestic spheres by promoters of scientific management, such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and Christine Frederick during the teens and the 1920s (McGuire 2015, 209–210). Paul T. Frankl’s evocation of the idea that simplified forms and “elimination” best-embodied urbane culture and the experience of a technologically savvy populace, was rooted simultaneously in contemporary philosophies of workplace organization, in cosmopolitan commercial fashion, in European design reform movements of the pre-war period, and significantly, in the sense that consumers required a visual respite from the overwhelming complexity of contemporary life (MacMaster 1929, 17).

The interdependence of modernism and commercialism was certainly not an exceptional characteristic of interwar American design. Indeed, the commercial orientation of modern design protagonists in Europe was already firmly in place at the onset of World War I. Professional design organizations formed in Central Europe prior to World War I, such as the Deutscher Werkbund and the Österreichischer Werkbund, partnered designers and architects with industry in order to create products and buildings that embraced machine production as a crucial basis of new forms. Werkbund members sought to improve the quality, durability, and commercial appeal of goods for both domestic and international markets. Peter Behrens’ many products for the AEG corporation, as well as Bruno Paul’s Typenmöbel, exemplify these early efforts. Their work, in particular, promoted a purified historicism while they also developed standardized types with broad appeal (Harrod 2002, 33; Schwartz 1996, 121–146; Liefkes 2003, 175). Even craft-based organizations like the Weiner Werkstätte developed aesthetic forms that embraced pre-war avant-garde decorative form languages, such as strong geometries, abstraction, bold color, and the machined look of the straight line. Although they were by no means inexpensive (nor in many cases mass-produced), the Wiener Werkstätte’s products appealed to the educated bourgeoisie of Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, and constituted an early popular marketing of modern design.

Like their Central European counterparts, immigrant designers of the 1920s showed divergent and eclectic attitudes about making objects. Even though many designers extolled the virtues of machine production, particularly in the early 1930s as exemplified by AUDAC members’ publications, many examples of immigrant-produced, interwar modern design in America were still handmade (Leonard and Glassgold, 1931; Lucic 1995, 57–58). Almost paradoxically Paul T. Frankl’s famed skyscraper bookshelves, which were inspired by the standardized construction of urban skyscrapers and celebrated by Good Furniture magazine for their urban character as “American and New Yorkish as Fifth Avenue itself,” were assembled and finished by hand (“American Modernist” 1927, 119) (Figure 3.5). But they were made with straight lines, new materials, and bold colors, and possessed an aesthetic vigor that stated if they were not yet machine produced, they soon would be.

Paul T. Frankl, Skyscraper Bookcase, c. 1927. From: Paul T. Frankl,

Figure 3.5   Paul T. Frankl, Skyscraper Bookcase, c. 1927. From: Paul T. Frankl, New Dimensions: The Decorative Arts of Today in Words and Pictures, New York: Payson & Clarke, 1928.

As we interrogate examples of immigrant-produced modern design, we might consider that processes of hand fabrication were just as instrumental as the machined-like forms that resulted. In their early careers, many of these designers lacked any access to industrial production facilities and executed key projects in their own homes and studios. Exploring the availability of manufacturing resources and designers’ attitudes toward materials and construction might thus yield intriguing questions beyond a traditional analysis of an object’s final form and decoration. This seems especially crucial in the 1920s, when Arts and Crafts design principles still lingered in decorative arts and design circles in both Europe and North America, even at a time when the efficiencies of machine production were sought with increasing fervor. These necessarily eclectic methods of manufacture, rhetoric, and design are another framework in which we might question the reading of these immigrant-produced objects and other projects in terms of an Art Deco style.

Studying immigrant designers

As the previous section makes clear, immigrant designers played significant and varied roles in modern design culture in the US. When their works are categorized as “Art Deco,” something of their diversity is lost. As recent biographical studies of Frankl, Urban, and others have shown, explorations of their careers, as well as their social and professional networks, reveal a more nuanced the picture of modern design in the interwar years in North America (Clarke and Shapira 2017; 2014; Loring 2010; Long 2007b; Innes 2005; Falino 2005; Stern 2005; Callahan 2003; Boeckl 1995). Although biography can run the risk of hagiography, it is a useful methodology within the context of immigrant studies because the challenges of cultural assimilation are often best told through individual experience. There is something especially compelling about the story of the immigrant, who struggles through periods of discrimination, adversity, and clashes of taste, to discover forms, materials, and sales rhetoric, which both find commercial appeal and simultaneously redefine what “modern” approaches to design meant within regional American contexts. In the section that follows, I investigate AUDAC as a crucial professional network for immigrant designers before turning to a case study of one of its members, Frederick Kiesler.

AUDAC was one of the earliest examples of a professional organization for decorative and industrial designers established in the US. It was a relatively short-lived organization, which folded during the Depression, but was historically significant for its activities in exhibition, publication, and education, and in the forging of personal and professional ties between its members. AUDAC was born in New York City in 1925 in Paul T. Frankl’s gallery as an informal association of New York designers. In its earliest years, the meetings were sometimes held in German, because the majority of its members were of Central European origin (Long 2007, 90). AUDAC’s initial mission appears to have been similar to the industrial design and craft associations formed in Germany and Austria before the war. It promoted the cause of modern-styled design in order to advance the careers of its members by finding opportunities to partner with manufacturers, businesses, and other public organizations. AUDAC also sought to fight design piracy and was an active promoter of the Vestal bill, which sought to create a stringent law protecting design copyrights. Eventually, its membership included an influential cadre of Central European immigrants and American-born sympathizers across the US, including most of the designers referenced earlier in this essay, along with numerous other notable figures, such as Hugo Gnam, Jules Bouy, Joseph Sinel, Donald Deskey, Eugene Schoen, and Frank Lloyd Wright. All told, the work of AUDAC’s members defies stylistic generalizations like Art Deco, simply due to the number of colorful personalities involved.

For two years, AUDAC’s profile remained low, but by 1928, they released a public statement that their working goal was to “direct the so-called modern art movement in this country along more intelligent lines,” and they began to hold regular public meetings (“Union of Artists” 1928). The organization’s major debut to the public was a series of five complete rooms designed by Donald Deskey, Willis S. Harrison, Frederick Kiesler, Wolfgang and Pola Hoffmann, and the Russian immigrant designer Alexander Kachinsky, for the 1930 Home Show in New York City.

Designers were given the individual liberty to execute their own rooms and stylistic consistency was not the goal of the AUDAC presentation. Instead, the dominant thread uniting the exhibit was that diversity and individuality could be achieved through formal and material simplification and color. Kiesler was responsible for the overall exhibition plan, which consisted of a row of rooms surmounted by a wide panel with the letters A-U-D-A-C positioned one over each of the five rooms (Figure 3.6). The lettering was repeated below in chrome to function as decorative guardrails for the displays. Kiesler’s own model office was the only room that visitors could actually enter. It featured a series of furnishings, which he drew from European avant-garde precedents in tubular steel, but mitigated with a material richness in wood, glass, and Bakelite. His seemingly weightless “Flying Desk,” boxy armchairs, and other furnishings emphasized smooth, reflective surfaces and pure geometries in a manner that was gaining some vogue among those on the cutting edge of American modern design. Kiesler’s room was the most radical of the five, while Kachinsky’s bedroom expressed an easier comfort through patterned textiles. The Hoffmanns’ breakfast room conveyed modernized rusticity with its simple, almost delicate, wooden furnishings.

Frederick Kiesler, Office room for the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsman, Home Show Exhibition, New York City, 1930. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

Figure 3.6   Frederick Kiesler, Office room for the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsman, Home Show Exhibition, New York City, 1930. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

As a companion to the exhibit, AUDAC published a compendium of its members’ designs, the Annual of American Design 1931. To drive home the significance of their recent accomplishments, they made particular note of the fact that the US had declined to participate in the 1925 Paris Exposition (Leonard and Glassgold 1931, 133). The volume’s collected essays express AUDAC’s strong reformist attitude and echoed the objectives of the European avant-garde immediately after the war in important ways. Paul T. Frankl, for example, called for a new flexibility in design that would respond to the rapid pace of change in society. Kem Weber related contemporary retail design to the ideals of broader efficiency and economy in public life, and Lee Simonson insisted that new technologies, materials, and manufacturing methods were at the heart of modernism. Other American-born authors, including Lewis Mumford, Hugh Ferris, Norman Bel Geddes, Richard Bach, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, emphasized that the abstract qualities of modern design were a part of the natural evolution of mankind’s taste and were uniquely suited to America’s business-driven economy. Simplification, abstraction, and smoothed surfaces would not lead to monotony, they argued, but would rather generate environments and products that were in pace with contemporary and cosmopolitan urban life. The writers’ apparent debt to Adolf Loos’s famed polemic “Ornament and Crime” was not accidental. Indeed, AUDAC’s members were well familiar with Loos’s ideas, and member Frederick Kiesler not only considered him a mentor but would also give an illustrated public talk on Loos’ essay at the Brooklyn Museum as a part of a lecture series by AUDAC members in 1932 (“Baubles Women Wear” 1932).

When we consider the varied levels of commercial and critical success for AUDAC’s immigrant members, we are also afforded an opportunity to understand what types of modern design appealed to the American public during the early years of the Depression. Keeping in mind that the market for modernism was still a relatively niche phenomenon in the late 1920s and early 1930s, designers including Winold Reiss, Paul T. Frankl, Walter von Nessen, Erik Magnussen, Wolfgang and Pola Hoffmann, Ilonka Karasz, Kem Weber, and others, were nevertheless able to achieve significant success with their work in major urban centers. Although the appearance and manufacturing methods of their designs varied widely, many seemed to recognize that Americans responded less to interiors and furnishings expressing machined austerity and more to “liveable” design which balanced modernism with a measure of apparent luxury and comfort (Wilson 2004, 19–22). Although wealthy consumers still desired the expensive, handcrafted items sold by Frankl and others, rich-looking materials such as wood veneer, chrome, glass, Bakelite, and colorful upholstery relieved modernist minimalism at more accessible prices. Wolfgang Hoffmann’s popular 1930s designs for Howell Furniture, and the work of German-born Alfons Bach for the Lloyd Manufacturing Company, for example, combined tubular steel with comfortable upholstery and splashes of vivid color.

The work of some immigrants, however, was less successful. Steeped in European avant-garde idealism, Frederick Kiesler extolled a reformist vision for American modernism, believing that simple, often mechanically adjustable, designs for houses and furniture would emancipate the residents of American homes to live in an almost utopian state of spiritual balance and comfort. His first commercial notoriety had come from a series of show windows that he completed for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, a commission that had probably come to him through his friendship with Paul T. Frankl and membership in AUDAC. (Frankl maintained a close relationship with Saks’ owner, Adam Gimbel.)

Since he had arrived in New York two years earlier, Kiesler had struggled to find work of any kind and relied primarily on the largess of friends in order to make ends meet. Measuring less than five feet tall, with an Eastern European-tinged German accent, and unapologetically utopian notions about modernism’s ability to transform American society, he failed to be understood or to be taken seriously as an architect. Entrenched anti-Semitism also undoubtedly impacted his professional marketability in the Beaux-Arts trained culture of New York architecture, which, like other white-collar professions, was not known for felicity toward socialist Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe (Dinnerstein 1994, 88–90). His ethnicity proved less of a hindrance in the world of 1920s New York department stores, whose owners, including Gimbel, were often Jewish themselves.

Kiesler’s Saks windows ranged from experimental ensembles of floating planes derived from German Expressionism to more recently familiar idioms derived from Vienna Secessionsstil or even, perhaps, French art moderne (McGuire 2016) (Figure 3.7). They brought him some notoriety, and the opportunity to design the experimental Film Arts Guild Cinema in Greenwich Village in 1929. The cinema was a radically simplified, black and white De Stijl-inspired composition with a circular screen, in which he sought to isolate viewers from their actual location in a cinema and create a transcendental experience of the self in time and space through means of the projected image (McGuire 2007, 70–71).

Frederick Kiesler, Window Display for Saks Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1928. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

Figure 3.7   Frederick Kiesler, Window Display for Saks Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1928. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

Kiesler continued to labor over his radical architectural and interior design ideas through the 1930s, but with little professional success, as he struggled to find a viable market for his mechanical furniture and plans for mass-produced housing. In 1932, he met with Sears Roebuck officials to market his ideas for an expandable, modern-styled, mail-order “Nucleus House” to no avail. In 1933, he received his first significant commission in almost four years for another store display. Martin Feinman, the owner of the Modernage Furniture Corporation asked Kiesler to design the interiors for its new headquarters on East 33rd Street. Although Kiesler had probably been acquainted with Feinman for at least two years, the job may ultimately have been offered through the intervention of a fellow AUDAC member, the New York design critic Alfred Auerbach. Modernage had been an early pioneer and manufacturer of “practical” modern furnishings in the US that were advertised as “progressive, yet not radical,” as well as “mindful of average needs and budgets” (“Modern Furnishings” 1931; “Exhibition of Modern” 1933). Feinman proved an enthusiastic collaborator, and the ­centerpiece of Kiesler’s display was an expensive, full-scale mockup of a modern house for furniture display (Figure 3.8). The Space House, as Kiesler and Feinman together called it, was an open plan house with a second floor that appeared to be hovering over the glass and chrome wall below it. Kiesler intended it as a partial demonstration of an experimental, die cast house with mechanical interior partitions and electronic doorways, but the practical realities of the installation meant that it primarily served the more mundane purpose of providing model rooms for furniture in a fashionably modern setting.

Frederick Kiesler, Interior of the Space House at the Modernage Furniture Corporation, New York City, 1933. From: “One Living Space Convertible into Many Rooms,”

Figure 3.8   Frederick Kiesler, Interior of the Space House at the Modernage Furniture Corporation, New York City, 1933. From: “One Living Space Convertible into Many Rooms,” House Beautiful and Home and Field (January 1934): 32–33.

Descriptions of the design were published in a number of national newspapers, and this minor degree of recognition, along with his ongoing association with AUDAC, soon brought Kiesler another commission to design a series of “Modern Line” lamps for the Rembrandt Lamp Corporation (“Spring Showings Significant” 1933) (Figure 3.9). His prototypes emphasized his interest in adjustable metal furniture, and they were highly simplified forms with points of tactile interaction and range of motion expressed through changes in material and thickness. Although Rembrandt’s advertisements billed Kiesler as “probably the greatest living figure in modern design,” the lamps proved somewhat too radical for the average consumer and were never manufactured in any significant numbers (“An Announcement” 1933). Although Kiesler continued to market his work through the 1930s and 1940s, he ultimately failed to locate an interested manufacturer for his designs. Instead, he found marginally more success in exhibition and theatrical design, and as a significant theorist of architecture.

Frederick Kiesler, Lamp for the Rembrandt Corporation, 1933. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

Figure 3.9   Frederick Kiesler, Lamp for the Rembrandt Corporation, 1933. Source: Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Austria.

The examples of Frederick Kiesler, Paul T. Frankl, and other AUDAC members suggest that a direction for future scholarship on immigrant designers and architects would be a more thorough examination of the specific challenges, successes, and failures that faced these immigrants and the organizations with which they were affiliated. Such studies would give us a richer picture of the reception and development of imported and indigenous modernism during the critical interwar years, as well as windows into the relationships between design and increasingly global cultures of intellectual and material exchange among significant players on the North American design scene. The formation of organizations like AUDAC also present an opportunity to examine immigrant designers in terms of the social and professional networks they forged, the discussions they promoted, and the designs they produced, exhibited, and built.

Conclusion

While studies of emigration, immigration, and networks formed in early twentieth-century North American immigrant communities have been rich areas of inquiry for quite some time, the study of designers who emigrated before the rise of Hitler is a relatively new topic in design scholarship. The narrative of modernism, promoted by immigrant Bauhaus designers and their supporters, such as Walter Gropius and Sigfried Giedeon, argued that modernism had developed in Europe and was later imported to the Americas by exiles. In contrast, earlier immigrants already working in popular modern idioms were largely ignored. Yet numerous historical studies of immigration politics and identity and immigrant communities have already recognized the important contributions made by immigrants to North American culture during the first half of the twentieth century in other art historical fields (for example, Barron and Eckmann 1997, 37; Granatir Alexander 2009; Helmer 2009; DiMaggio and Fernández-Kelly 2010; Bayou Bend Collection 2014). This chapter contributes to this work in reassessing the pre-World War II place of immigrant designers in North America not as producers of an Art Deco style, but as active agents in the modern design discourse.

The notion of Art Deco as a total style may limit our historical understanding of the diverse circumstances and motivations through which architects, designers, and professional design organizations conceptualized and promoted modern design in North America in the interwar period. Indeed, what we may find in an examination of the work of immigrant designers and their professional organizations is that immigrants promoted diverse form languages in modern design, which were dependent on their individual philosophical outlooks, the regions in which they settled, their personal resources and networks, and an unpredictable consumer market. These situations resulted in designs and design discourses that combined the unlikely mixtures of idealism with pragmatism, avant-garde art, and elite museum display with commercialism, and the sometimes simultaneous embrace of machine aesthetics and handicraft. A better accounting of migration and design therefore presents an interesting challenge to earlier understandings of the development of modernism in North America, and the injection of this complexity adds to its richness. A more thorough examination of immigrant designers’ professional careers and networks of influence could also push historians to expand their work beyond analyses of the objects of design and to provide a better understanding of cultures of migration in North America at a broader level.

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a Craft Research Fund Grant from the Center for Craft Creativity and Design.

Notes

Professional struggle and failure offer a rich area of historical inquiry. Socio-political environments undoubtedly played a role in designers’ abilities to practice and to sell their work to the public; and scholars have only begun to explore the extent to which immigrant designers, as a professional class, were affected by these challenges (Long 2007b, 24–55; Long 2014, 18–38). Immigrants to North America of many ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and professions found themselves caught in the fulcrums of ethnic tension and political anxiety. During World War I, and for some time afterwards, anti-German feelings raged across the US, resulting in discrimination and sometimes, outright violence. A series of laws restricting immigration and naturalization were passed in both the US and Canada from 1910 through the 1930s, which primarily affected Eastern and Southern Europeans, Asians, Jews, and left-wing sympathizers of many nationalities.

Although the importance of travel to the 1925 Paris exposition among architects and designers is widely acknowledged, the impact of travel on North American modernism in the years leading up to it is worthy of further historical consideration (Alofsin 1994; Lenz 2005, 32–33).

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