California's Designing Women, 1896-1986
Autry Museum, Los Angeles, CA

Quick, name a woman designer. If you said Ray Eames… and then stopped — stumped, scrolling through a mental list of furniture, home, textile and accessory designers hoping to come up with a name — you're not alone. Many women designers toiled in obscurity, overshadowed by their male counterparts. Guest curator Bill Stern hopes to change that with his new exhibit at the Autry, California's Designing Women 1896-1986, which runs through January 6.

Women, although long recognized as skilled in the decorative arts, yielded the floor to men when it came to putting a marketable twist on those skills. With the rise of the Arts & Crafts movement, however, which put an emphasis on small-scale production and objects with a handcrafted look, the stage was set to launch women into a more commercial arena. In California, where, due to a small population, mass production had not yet gained a strong foothold, opportunity abounded. Stir in the exotic influences at play here (Chinese, Japanese, Spanish Mission-era and Native American), World War II (which left women to take up the jobs left by men who were away fighting) and the economic boom of the post-war era, and it's no surprise women designers flourished here.

Here, in the exhibit, you'll find some pieces you'll know but, perhaps, never realized were designed by a woman (I had no idea that Edith Heath was the potter behind the covetable ceramics that bear her name!). Other pieces are from names you'll recognize. Oh yes, you'll say to yourself, that's right, as you come across names like Gertrud Natzler and Beatrice Wood. And, then, the happy surprise, the pieces from designers — Greta Magnusson Grossman's clean-lined furniture, Gere Kavanaugh's droll textiles, Mary Kay Austin's vases for Architectural Pottery — that you'll be adding to your "want" list.

For more info, check out the museum's website here.

(Images: Images 1-4 by Abigail Stone: pottery by Barbara Willis, textiles by Gere Kavanaugh, Dorothy Sussman in front of one of her graphics, Marilyn Kay Austin & her floor vase for Architectural Pottery; Image 5 by Susan Einstein: Marilyn Kay Austin's floor vase close up)

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