A retrospective of a designer whose textiles and interior spaces engaged the senses and embraced the decorative is on view now in Santa Fe.
Alexander Girard is one of the most important protagonists of mid-century American design, an outstanding textile designer, graphic designer, and interior designer. ... For today’s maker culture, he could be regarded as an early pioneer,” says Dr. Jochen Eisenbrand, chief curator of Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the originating venue of the retrospective exhibition Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, now on view at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.
The show explores Girard’s creative universe, breaking down his influential designs into early work, textiles, and architectural interiors, and demonstrating his belief that design should be beautiful as well as functional. “His textiles and interior spaces engaged the senses and embraced the decorative,” says Laura Addison, Museum of International Folk Art curator of North American and European folk art.
Born in New York and raised in Florence, Italy, Girard began imagining entire societies at a young age. Between 10 and 17, he designed “the Republic of Fife,” working out every creative detail from its stamps, currency, and games to its symbols, dress, and living spaces. It hinted at the grand vision that was to come. “A Designer’s Universe is a perfect summation of his life’s project: to create a world with his own unique visual language and logic,” Addison says.
At age 16, Girard received a 19th-century Italian Nativity scene from his grandfather; the gift fueled what would become a lifelong fascination with folk art. He studied architecture in London and spent time in New York and Michigan, finally settling in Santa Fe. Active from the early 1920s to the late 1970s, Girard did groundbreaking work in textiles as well as interior, corporate, and furniture design.
“His work is colorful, playful, ornamental, and opulent,” Eisenbrand says, “but there is also a sense of order to it, which is why it never becomes overpowering. ... The fact that a lot of his own design work was inspired by his interest in folk art and his search for archetypical symbols, forms, and patterns may be one reason why his work appears so timeless.”
Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe is on view through October 27 at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, where some of his collection of 100,000-plus folk art objects is on permanent display in the museum’s Girard Wing. A Designer’s Universe will travel to the Palm Springs Museum of Art November 23, 2019 – January 3, 2020. internationalfolkart.org
Photography: Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, Balthazar Korab/Courtesy Library Of Congress