American Decorative Arts
Photo credit: Richard P. Goodbody, Inc.
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Designer: Gilbert Rohde, American, 1894 - 1944
Manufacturer: Herman Miller Clock Company, American, 1927 - 1937

Electric Clock, Model No. 4083 A


Glass and chromium-plated metal

26.988 x 24.765 x 8.89 cm (10 5/8 x 9 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.)
John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, B.A. 1959

Gilbert Rohde designed this “clock that personifies simplicity” in 1933 as part of a group manufactured by the Herman Miller Clock Company. The clock was first displayed in the Design for Living House at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where it was placed atop a cabinet in the living room. The following year, Philip Johnson included it in Machine Art, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Machine Art displayed some four hundred objects divided into six sections, ranging from industrial units to house furnishings. Although museums had long displayed decorative arts, this exhibition was one of the first in America to treat industrial objects with the same level of veneration. Springs, propeller blades, and ball bearings held equal weight as silverware and furniture in conveying the machine as the supreme inspiration for American design in the twentieth century.

Rohde’s clock embodied a number of the tenets that defined the exhibition. It had a machinelike “practical application of geometry” in its use of circles and rectangles. “Motion is an essential function of many machines,” Alfred H. Barr, Jr., wrote in the catalogue’s foreword, “and sometimes increases their aesthetic interest.” This holds true for Rohde’s design as the constant rotation of the rectangular hands enlivens the circular composition. Barr specifically referenced this clock in his discussion of art and the designer, noting that “the rôle [sic] of the artist in machine art is to choose… . He does not embellish or elaborate, but refines, simplifies and perfects.”

Manufactured in Zeeland, Michigan
20th century
On view

Phyllis Ross, Gilbert Rhode: Modern Design for Modern Living (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 91, 124, fig. 55.

John Stuart Gordon et al., A Modern World: American Design from the Yale University Art Gallery, 1920–1950 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2011), 624, no. 178.

“Acquisitions,” (accessed December 21, 2012).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.

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American Decorative Arts
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