Monica Obniski, Milwaukee Art Museum
Chair Alexander Girard, manufactured by Herman Miller Armchair, from Braniff VIP Lounge, c. 1968 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Floral Alexander Girard, manufactured by American Art Textile Printing Company, distributed by Herman Miller April, 1960 SFMOMA
The Girard Family with folk art objects, 1952
Charles Eames, unknown woman, Edgar Kaufmann jr, Ray Eames, Susan Girard and Alexander Girard Vitra Design Museum, Alexander Girard Estate
Over 600 textile samples (from Richard Gorecki, traveling salesman for Herman Miller) Photo courtesy of Wright Auctions Milwaukee Art Museum
Trained as an architect, Alexander Girard (1907–1993) infused exuberant color and whimsy into his designs for exhibitions, domestic and office interiors, furniture, graphics, textiles and other objects. His demonstrated talents and his working relationships with other, leading designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson made him a natural choice to organize the “Good Design” Home Furnishings Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. His innovative mid-20th century projects included La Fonda del Sol Restaurant in New York and the Herman Miller Showplace: Textiles & Objects, where he was the textile director for two decades. His work for Braniff International Airways ranged from the colors of the “jelly bean” fleet of airplanes to ticket offices and customer lounges, down to the sugar packets – while Emilio Pucci designed the uniforms.
Girard’s work implicitly asserted that modern design could successfully incorporate vernacular perspectives through carefully curated folk art from around the world. Girard and his wife collected and eventually donated more than 100,000 folk art objects to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Alexander Girard broke the rules of modernism by embracing a carefully curated global world view. His iconoclasm tempered modernism’s austerity with warmth, color and personality. In the jargon of modernism, he used folk art to “work and play in the modern way.”
Monica Obniski graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in art history. The thesis for her master’s degree from the Bard Center focused on Gilbert Rohde. The relationship of folk art and modern design in Alexander Girard’s work was the dissertation topic for her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was a research assistant in the Department of Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming the Demmer Curator of 20th – and 21st-Century Design at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Dr. Obniski has co-edited and co-authored both Scandinavian Design and the United States (2020) and Serious Play: Design in Mid-Century America (2018). She also co-authored For Kith and Kin: The Folk Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago (2012). For The Magazine Antiques (December 2006), she co-authored “In Harmony with Nature: Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Daffodil Terrace for Laurelton Hall.”