American Decorative Arts
Photo credit: Richard P. Goodbody, Inc.
Designer: Gilbert Rohde, American, 1894–1944
Manufacturer: Rohm and Haas Company, Inc., American, founded 1909

Side Chair

1939

Stainless steel, Plexiglas, and rubber

32 1/4 x 17 5/8 x 21 3/4 in. (81.915 x 44.768 x 55.245 cm)
John C. Waddell Collection, Gift of John C. Waddell, B.A. 1959
2011.223.1

Plexiglas is the trade name for polymethyl methacrylate, a transparent, acrylic thermoplastic. Röhm and Haas Company, Inc., a German chemical company founded in 1907 with an American offshoot established in 1909, discovered the optically clear polymer in 1932 while researching glass laminates. This new plastic came in sheet form and could be heated, molded, and twisted without losing its clarity or strength. In 1936 Röhm and Haas began marketing the product in the United States under the name Plexiglas. About the same time, DuPont introduced a similar material called Pontalite, later renamed Lucite.

Röhm and Haas hired industrial designer Gilbert Rohde to plan their exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Housed in the Hall of Industrial Science, the exhibit educated visitors on the technical properties of Plexiglas and displayed applications of the material, including this chair. A minimal structural frame of tubular steel supports a smooth, curving sheet of Plexiglas that melds Rohde’s interests in ergonomics with the production capabilities of the material. A contemporary reviewer marveled at the “adventurous” design: “The sheet [of plastic] is not only curved one way, but is depressed to conform to body curves and easy posture.” 

This chair is one of the first known examples of compound-molded plastic furniture, a fabrication method that would not gain wide acceptance until the late 1940s. Rohde’s plan for a full line of Plexiglas furniture was stalled by the requisition of plastics for the war effort; only two of these chairs are known to have been made.

Culture: 
American
Period: 
20th century
Classification: 
Furniture
Geography: 
Designed in New York, New York
Manufactured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Status: 
On view
Provenance: 

Commissioned by Röhm and Haas Company, Inc., for its exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, 1939–40; transferred to the offices of Gilbert Rohde, New York, 1940–55; transferred to Peggy Ann Kruelski Rhode, New York, then Alameda, Calif., 1955–56; probably inherited by Frances Kruelski Harry, Queens, New York, 1956–1999; transferred to the Estate of Frances Kruelski Harry, 1999; purchased by Sandi Berman, New York, 1999; purchased by Gansevoort Gallery, New York, 1999; purchased by John C. Waddell, New York, 2000

Bibliography: 

Carl Greenleaf Beede, “Plastics Share Qualities of Glass and Metal,” Christian Science Monitor (October 31, 1939).

Material Pleasures: Furniture for a Postmodern Age, exh. cat. (Flushing, N.Y.: Queens County Art and Cultural Center, 1985), 8.

Phyllis Ross, Gilbert Rhode: Modern Design for Modern Living (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 193-95, fig. 156.

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), 95–96, no. 53.

“Acquisitions,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Pub_Bull_acquisitions_2012.pdf (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.