Tag: Niels Diffrient

In Memoriam: Niels Diffrient

Niels Diffrient

Niels Diffrient, photo by Helena Hernmarck

browngrotta arts lost a close friend and the world an influential designer last month, with the passing of Niels Diffrient. With an academic foundation in design and architecture and a degree from Cranbrook Academy, Diffrient channeled his knowledge of engineering, architecture and human factors into the creation of highly functional and aesthetically timeless designs, including the Freedom, Liberty and World chairs for the company Humanscale. His three-volume reference work, Humanscale 1/2/3, Humanscale 4/5/6, and Humanscale 7/8/9 explored the relationship of spine to chair and contributed to the quest for the totally comfortable place to sit down. In 2002, he told TED audiences about his early design inspirations — aircraft and aviators in the 1930s — and much more. You can watch him at:

Diffrient’s was an interesting personal story, which he covered in a memoir last year, Confessions of a Generalist.  He was refreshingly forthright, in a way that those of us from the Midwest recognize and appreciate. Born on a farm in Star, Mississippi in 1928, his family moved to Detroit in search of work. Diffrient attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Wayne State University and completed a BFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield, Michigan. At Cranbrook, he worked with Eero Saarinen on contemporary chairs for Knoll. After graduation, traveled to Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1954 and worked on the award-winning Borletti sewing machine. Returning to the US, he joined Henry Dreyfuss Associates and worked on products for, among others, John Deere, Polaroid and Bell Telephone. He taught at UCLA and Yale. He moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut with his wife, textile artist, Helena Hernmarck, in the early 80s and founded Niels Diffrient Product Design, where the couple shared a design and tapestry studio until his death. Diffrient spoke to Martin C. Pedersen of Metropolis in February about linkage in his life, work and philosophy http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/June-2013/Niels-Diffrient-A-Tribute-in-Conversation. “Your new book seems like a different thing. It’s part memoir, part philosophy of design,” Pedersen observed. “I can’t separate those things,” Diffrient responded. “I don’t go to work and become a different person. I live exactly what I preach. My own life is guided by the same principles. So I can’t separate them. I didn’t really think about it, but in a way it helps to make this sort of thing personal. I think it gives it life.” He will be greatly missed.

Books Make Great Gifts 2013 – Part II

More book recommendations from artists and us.

“There are a series of books, journals, Daybook, Turn, and Prospect, by Anne Truitt, the minimalist sculptor,” Mary Merkel-Hess writes, “that were important to me when I was a young artist. In a marvelously lucid way, Anne Truitt wrote about her life in the studio, her marriage, children, and making a living at art. Particularly interesting to me was her discussion, in her first book, about turning away from a life of doing ‘good’ in the world (she studied clinical psychology and worked as a nurse) to become an artist.”

Nancy Moore Bess, recommends The World of Donald Evans by Willy Eisenhart. “I had purchased some bookmarks with his watercolor ‘stamps’ and was excited to see a book about him. His work is visually so rich and really reflects his life…which tragically ended in a fire at his studio in 1977. If you ever find a copy, curl up with it yourself.”

For Heidrun Schimmel, Documenta 13, was one of the best ‘documenta’ exhibitions and the publications — there are three — give a great deal of information about the art scene, the questions and problems of our world. Documenta 13’s Artistic Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev described the 2012 festival as “choreographing many different kinds of materials, methodologies and forms of knowledge.” One of the three publications, Documenta 13: The Book of Books reproduces the entire 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts series of publications (either as facsimiles or with entirely new layouts), and is supplemented by essays from Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Chus Martínez, Franco Berardi and others, plus statements by some of the festival’s agents and advisors. Heidrun also recommends Ends of the Earth, Art of the Land to 1974, by Philipp Kaiser, Miwon Kwon, Tom Holert and Julian Meyers. The companion exhibition is at Haus der Kunst, Prinzregentenstraße 1 in Munich,
Germany through January 20, 2013. “I think this exhibition is very important for anyone who is working with ‘material as matter,’ perhaps especially for artists of my generation who remember this revolution in art history.”

I am thoroughly enjoying Confessions of a Generalist, by Niels Diffrient, as I have a few moments to read amidst holiday prep and end-of-year items. Niels is a friend, the spouse of tapestry artist Helena Hernmarck and designer of the Freedom, Liberty and World ergonomic chairs. His is a remarkable journey — from a Mississippi farm to Cranbrook to Italy, to work with Eero Saarinen, Buckminister Fuller, Henry Dreyfuss and for Edwin Land, on every every type of equipment, as well as computers, exhibits, trucks, airplane interiors and corporate identity programs. The book is lavishly illustrated and captioned and Niels succeeds in his aim of creating a “communication product,” that closely relates words and pictures, both physically and intellectually, and approximates “the way we experience reality with both our intellect and senses.”

Art Within Reach: Mary Giles and Sue Lawty in the Latest DWR Catalog

photo by Carter Grotta, courtesy of cbgimages.com

November DWR catalog

The November Design Within Reach catalog, a primary source for modernist classics like the Freedom Task Chair by our friend Niels Differient and the Jen Chair by another friend, Jens Risom, was partially photographed in our house last August.

photo by Carter Grotta, courtesy of cbgimages.com

photo by Tom Grotta

Mary Giles‘ work Multiplicity and Sue Lawty’sLead III made it into the catalog — check out pages 34-35, 38 and 92 http://s7d3.scene7.com/

photo by Tom Grotta

photo by Carter Grotta, courtesy of cbgimages.com

Watching the shoot was a treat for Tom and Carter, our then-soon-to-be photomajor.  Here’s a glimpse of the catalog and their behind-the-scenes shots.