This Book Highlights the Badass Women of the Midcentury Modern Era

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While we love predicting the design trends that will come next year (and the ones that will stay in 2020), there's also a lot of power in looking back at history. After all, plenty of designers have paved the way to modern decor and interiors as we know them today. One era especially stands out: midcentury modern.


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Mid-Century Modern Women in the Visual Arts by Ellen Surrey and Gloria Fowler highlights 25 women in the fields of furniture design, fine art, illustration, textile design, and more.

The volume is actually a reissue of a previously published book (the previous edition is no longer available), proof that midcentury modern makers continue to inspire us today.

"It's interesting from our perspective today in 2020 to look back at some of the foremost female pioneers in the visual arts from the mid-twentieth century and see how much they have influenced us aesthetically and culturally," Fowler tells Hunker. "This book is really a homage to these women and also an opportunity to realize how far we we still have to go for equity and diversity in the arts."

Each illustration is paired with wise words from the makers. "What I would rather do is to paint something beautiful," declares Alma Thomas, an artist that Fowler says especially had to overcome obstacles in her career.

"In 1924 she became the first graduate of the art department from Howard University, a historically Black university, and then devoted herself to a career spent teaching art in a junior high school until she retired in 1960," says Fowler. "It was not until then, already in her late sixties, that was she able to solely focus on creating her beautifully colorful, abstract expressionist paintings up until her death in 1978. In 2016, under President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Alma Thomas became the first Black female artist to have her artwork featured in the White House."


Other significant names include Ruth Asawa, Yayoi Kusama, Greta Magnusson Grossman, Edith Heath, and Ray Eames.

"Good design is good business," the book quotes, with an illustration of Florence Knoll. Many of these women are inspirations not only for their artistic output but also their business smarts and innovative approaches to a design world that was predominantly male-dominated. It's a great gift for anyone looking for more inspiration as they go on their own creative journey.

At the end of the book, you can read short biographies about these figures to learn more about their journeys. It's just another reminder of the women who have made an impact on design and visual art as we know it today.