PHYLLIS ODESSEY

glove compartments and department stores

Shellhorn_thumb

Ruth Shellhorn

We can’t all be famous.  Some people remain fairly unknown until a pioneering researcher discovers their work.  I would wager this happens to women more than men.  My friend, Paula Panich, who often asks me if I’ve read a certain book or heard of a certain person and I usually answer in the negative: sent me a link,   Ruth Shellhorn written by Kelly Comras. You might consider, Shellborn (1909-2006) a minor player, but aren’t we all.  A book like this amplifies our understanding about the gardens we make and the aesthetics that have, perhaps unknowingly, shaped our thinking.

Shellhorn was a landscape architect, who contributed to shaping California’s modernist commercial and residential spaces.  She was part of a movement that blurred the distinction between inside and outside.  Shellhorn’s big break was designing the spaces outside Bullocks Department Store in Pasadena.  People treated these outdoor spaces as a park: coming on Sunday when the store was closed just to enjoy the gardens.

The utube video, http://lalh.org/films/ruth-shellhorn-midcentury-landscape-design-in-southern-california/ is short and a great introduction to Shellhorn’s life and work. She married a bank manager, who left his career to work with her; learned Spanish in order to manage their construction crew; took drafting classes and had no college education.
shellhornemail2My favorite part of the video:  If contractors called her “honey” she said “you’re fired.”

Suzanne Vanderbilt demonstrating an early car phoned built-in-memo pad - custom features for her 1958 exhibition model Cadillac Eldorado Seville. Courtesy Gneral Motors Design Archive and Special Ecollections.

Suzanne Vanderbilt demonstrating an early car phoned built-in-memo pad – custom features for her 1958 exhibition model Cadillac Eldorado Seville. Courtesy Gneral Motors Design Archive and Special Ecollections.

Another woman who stayed the course was Suzanne Vanderbilt, who for 23 years designed interiors for GM, at a time when there were almost no women in the design department.  Rebecca Veit was interviewed by John Hockenberry on WNYC  [http://www.wnyc.org/story/gms-all-female-design-team/].  The topic:  Damsels of Design:  The Women Who Changed Automotive History. According to Viet, “The Damsels” introduced the first retractable seat belt, glove compartments and light up mirrors.”  

Peggy Sauer redesigned an Oldsmobile Fiesta Carousel station wagon for the 1958 exhibition. Courtesy General Motors Design Archive and Special Collections.

Peggy Sauer redesigned an Oldsmobile Fiesta Carousel station wagon for the 1958 exhibition. Courtesy General Motors Design Archive and Special Collections.

“Not too long ago, management gave the women designers at GM Styling the opportunity to express our viewpoints on cars designed especially for the woman. But I think the most significant thing about this program is that the designs were as appealing to the men who saw them as the women. It was a designer’s paradise, and we particularly enjoyed proving to our male counterparts that we are not in the business to add lace doilies to seat backs or rhinestones to the carpets, but to make the automobile just as usable and attractive to both men and women as we possibly can.” Suzanne Vanderbilt.

At a time, our time, when women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, I am buoyed at least emotionally, if not financially by their achievements.

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