University of Illinois at Chicago
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Accumulating Things: Folk Art and Modern Design in the Postwar American Projects of Alexander H. Girard

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posted on 2015-10-21, 00:00 authored by Monica M. Obniski
This dissertation examines several projects by Alexander H. Girard (1907-1993) to add complexity to the discourse of postwar architecture and design in the United States. Girard’s design approach across multiple media included articulating a modern structure (whether architectural or typographic) onto which playful or whimsical interludes were layered. He was a modern designer who began collecting worldwide folk art in the late 1930s. For Girard, modern design could not exist without folk art. Organized into five chapters chronologically by themes and media, this dissertation considers the artistic practice of designing domestic interiors by investigating Girard’s Detroit (1948) and Santa Fe (1953) interior alongside the Miller House (1955) of Columbus, Indiana; Girard’s contribution to postwar museum exhibitions about contemporary design with the Detroit Institute of Art’s For Modern Living (1949); his showroom designs that explicated the business of selling modern design and folk art for Herman Miller with the San Francisco showroom (1958) and the Textiles and Objects Shop (1961) in New York City; the importance of corporate identity in the postwar as Girard overhauled the design of facilities, equipment, and graphics to create an image of modernity and luxury mixed with an unexpected dose of handcrafted, exotic folk art for Braniff Airlines (1964); and for the 1968 World’s Fair held in San Antonio, Texas, Girard composed narrative scenes using his folk art in order to explore an underlying theme of humanism in The Magic of a People pavilion (1968). This project demonstrates that objects and a love of things were integral to Girard’s spaces because his artistic practice incorporated a dense layering and accumulating of folk art.



Bruegmann, Robert


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Dean, Penelope Kirkham, Pat Lausen, Marcia Mekinda, Jonathan Schuldenfrei, Robin

Submitted date



  • en

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