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George Nelson


George Nelson (1908–1986) was an American industrial designer, and one of the founders of American Modernism. While Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company both Nelson, and his design studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc., designed much of the 20th century's most iconic modernist furniture.

George Nelson graduated from Hartford Public High school in 1924, thereafter attending Yale University. Nelson did not originally set out to become an architect. He happened upon the architecture school at Yale because of a rain storm, ducking into the building in order to get out of the rain. Walking through the building, he came upon an exhibit of students' works entitled "A Cemetery Gateway". Nelson met with some early recognition while still an undergraduate, being published in Pencil Points and Architecture magazine. He graduated with a degree in architecture in 1928. During his final year at Yale Nelson was hired by the architecture firm Adams and Prentice as a drafter.
 
Based in Rome, Nelson traveled through Europe, where he met a number of the modernist pioneers, whom he interviewed for articles for Pencil Points magazine. While interviewing Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe Van Der Rohe asked about Frank Lloyd Wright whom Nelson was embarrassed to say, he did not know much about. Years later he would work with Wright on a special issue of Architectural Forum which would come to be Wright's comeback from relative obscurity. While in Rome Nelson married Frances Hollister. 

George Nelson retired with the closing of his studio in the mid-1980s. He died in New York City in 1986.
 
Influence
The George Nelson Associates, Inc. catalog, and exhibition designs for Herman Miller, made modernism the most important driving force in the company. From his start in the mid-forties until the mid-eighties George Nelson Associates, Inc. partnered with most of the modernist designers of the time. This was both the result of Nelson’s time as a magazine editor, and because of Nelson's writing. His skill as a writer helped legitimize and stimulate the field of industrial design by contributing to the creation of Industrial Design magazine in 1953. Nelson wrote extensively, published several books, and organized conferences like the Aspen design gatherings, where for more than 30 years he was the guiding force. In 1971, he received a grant from the Graham 
 
Foundation for his project "Hidden Cities". One of George Nelson's areas of interest was the reduction of pollution. Through his attempts to reduce all forms of pollution, including visual, audio, and chemical, Nelson pioneered the idea of the outdoor shopping mall, first using the idea in a proposal for the city plan of Austin, Texas, which was not used.
 
Controvery
In recent years it has become known that many of the designs George Nelson accepted credit for were actually the work of other designers employed at his studios. Examples of this include the Marshmallow sofa, Nelson Bench, which was actually designed by Irving Harper, and the Action Office, for which 
Nelson won the prestigious Alcoa Award, neglecting to mention that it was largely designed by Robert Propst. John Pile, a designer who worked for Nelson in the 1950s, commented about this practice; "George's attitude was that it was okay for individual designers to be given credit in trade publications, but for the consumer world, the credit should always be to the firm, not the individual. He didn't always follow through on that policy though."
 
In an interview in Metropolis in 2001, Irving Harper also commented on this practice: "...there always had to be one name associated with the work. We couldn't just spread it around… that's fine. I'm grateful to George for what he did for me. While he was alive, I made no demands whatsoever, but now that he's gone, whenever the Marshmallow Sofa is referred to as a 'George Nelson design', it sort of gets to me. I don't go out of my way to set things right, but if anybody asks me who designed it, I'm perfectly happy to tell them."
 
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