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Donald Deskey

Blue Earth 1894 - Vero Bach 1989


Donald Deskey was, along with Henry Dreyfuss, Walter Dorwin Teague, Norman Bel Geddes, Russel Wright, and Raymond Loewy one of the pioneers of American industrial design. Born in Blue Earth, Minnesota, in 1894, Donald Deskey studied architecture at the University of California Berkeley and then painting at the California School of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Art Students League in New York. While still a student in Chicago and New York, Donald Deskey began to work as a commercial artist for advertizing agencies. Between 1920 and 1922 he continued his studies in Paris, retunring to the United States in 1922 to teach at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. In 1925 Donald Deskey visited the "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes" in Paris, which would play such a seminal role in the spread of the Art déco style. Much impressed by the Paris trade fair, Deskey started to work as a designer and furniture designer, soon ranking as a leading exponent of American Art déco.
From 1926 Donald Deskey designed furniture and lighting for the Paul Frankl Gallery. Frankl was known primarily for his Art déco designs inspired by skyscraper architecture. Donald Deskey also designed wall screens, which were used as window decoration at Saks Fifth Avenue and Franklin Simon & Co. Between 1927 and 1931 Donald Deskey had a joint studio with the designer Phillip Vollmer (Deskey-Vollmer).
In 1928 Donald Deskey was a co-founder of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC). In the late 1920s Donald Deskey developed Weldtex, a decorative material made of laminated wood, and also used metal and cork in the furniture he designed. Donald Deskey designed several apartments for upper-crust New Yorkers, including John D. Rockefeller. This must certainly have been a useful contact for he won the competition to design the Radio City Music Hall in the Rockefeller Center in 1930.
Donald Deskey worked on this important commission from 1931 to 1934. In 1939 Donald Deskey showed work at the New York World's Fair. In the early 1940s he founded Donald Deskey Associates and in 1944 was a founder-member of the American Society of Industrial Designers. Donald Deskey was by then active as a packaging designer, designing a great deal of packaging for large firms such as Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, designs which would shape the look of American everyday living for years to come. The tube Donald Deskey designed for Crest Toothpaste is still used by Proctor & Gamble.


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