Ebony & Life. Bates & Eames.

Kristina Wilson, Ph.D. professor of art history at Clark University and author of the recently published Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power in Design, discusses rewriting narratives of design history.

In this talk, Kristina covers the career of noted mid-century African American designer Addison Bates, whose work has been overshadowed by white counterparts such as Charles Eames. Using Life and Ebony as a window into the consumer marketplace of the 1950s more broadly, she explores how modern design circulated through the editorial landscapes of both magazines and how mid-century modernism influenced—and was influenced by—racial identities of the period.

“​​Mr. Bates is significant in the history of design because he played a key role in Black artistic networks in New York City in the middle decades of the 20th century,” Wilson writes, adding that “design historians tend to privilege the stories of those who could claim to be designing for the masses — but the industry connections to achieve such large-scale work were often limited to white men.”

Clark alumnus, and American history enthusiast, Chris Bransfield, leads the moderated discussion in the second half, to discuss ideas from Wilson’s book.

By AIGA Boston
Published February 25, 2022