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MODERN TIMES

Jens Quistgaard 1919–2008

Jens Harald Quistgaard, the man whose timeless tabletop designs for Dansk were must-haves for three generations of Americans, died at his home in Vordingborg, Denmark, on January 4. He was 88. While Quistgaard’s only formal training was at the hands of his sculptor father and a short apprenticeship at Georg Jensen, his work was appreciated the world over, winning the prestigious Lunning Prize for design excellence and six gold medals at the Milan Triennale.

Suave and timeless, Quistgaard’s designs for Dansk were hugely influential from the moment they were brought to the United States by American entrepeneur Ted Nierenberg, beginning in 1954. The company’s first offering was a teakwood-handled flatware pattern called Fjord, an instant best-seller that remained in the line for 30 years.

Next came Købenstyle, a line of brightly colored cook-and-serve ware that took enameled steel out of Grandma’s kitchen and dressed it up for the dining room. Beautifully shaped, with cross-handled lids that doubled as trivets, Købenstyle’s fluid grace was achieved by enameling its surface so thickly that the enamel flowed into every crevice, giving its separately-applied handles the illusion of being all one piece with the cookware’s body.

In 1958, Quistgaard designed a line of teakwood objects using a new process he termed “staving,” after the construction method used for barrels: laminating strips of teak together with newly available epoxy glues. This produced a more attractive grain pattern and less waste of expensive teak than turning a single piece of wood with a lathe. The line included a tall teak ice bucket shaped like a conga drum, a dramatically flared salad bowl, and a “serving grid” with glass relish dishes whose square feet locked into the tray.

Quistgaard designed for Dansk into the 1980s, having great success with his “Designs with Light” collection of candleholders in cast iron, silverplate, brass and crystal. The candleholder line revealed Quistgaard’s flair for merchandising; most of the designs used a very slender candle called a Tiny Taper, requiring the consumer to return to Dansk for refills.

Jens Quistgaard was more than a designer and entrepeneur; he was also an excellent engineer. His working drawings for Dansk showed not only how his objects should look, but exactly how they were to be manufactured. His work is seen today at the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art, the Louisiana, in Denmark, and in countless homes of people who bought their Dansk new years ago, or who are collecting it today for the first time. 
-Sandy McLendon


Viktor Schreckengost 1906–2008

Viktor Schreckengost, who died on January 26 at the age of 101, was one of the most versatile designers of the 20th century. A mere list of his products is Whitmanesque: baby walkers, ball gowns and bicycles; cabinets, calendars, casseroles and chain guards; flashlights, fans, frying pans and furniture; lenses, lighting fixtures and luggage carriers; stage sets, stoves and streetlights; tea cups, tombstones, trays and tricycles. Nearly all his products were fantastically successful. “If we sold 400,000 of something,” he once commented, “I thought I was on the right track.”

Schreckengost was born in Sebring, Ohio, the son of an industrial potter. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, then in Vienna with potter Michael Powolny and Wiener Werkstätte founder Josef Hoffmann. On his return to the United States in 1930, he took a teaching job at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he founded the industrial design department. In 1931, he produced a punch bowl for Eleanor Roosevelt at Cowan Pottery. Marketed in a limited quantity for $50, the Jazz Bowl is now considered a signature example of American Art Deco; one recently sold at auction for $225,000.

Schreckengost’s industrial design innovations in the 1930s at Murray Ohio included producing the first inexpensive children’s pedal cars by using a single piece of metal, and halving the cost of making a bicycle by automating the welding. Over 40 years, Murray made more than 50 million Schreckengost-designed bicycles, becoming the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world. Among Schreckengost’s many accomplishments in product safety were industrial paper cutters that necessitated pushing a button with each hand before the blade would descend, a simple trick that surely saved many fingers. His advances in efficiency included tucking truck engines underneath the cab, increasing hauling room, and introducing electronic controls to high-speed printing presses. He also changed the appearance of everyday products: his 1930s Flower Shop dinnerware was the first modern mass-produced china in America, and his “Kooky Bikes” of the early ‘70s looked so outrageous that kids fell in love with them at first sight. One of his more inventive design methods was shaping the seat of a 1941 lawn chair by having colleagues sit one-by-one on a mound of soft clay covered with plastic. In the Navy in World War II, he developed the first radar recognition manuals, techniques for producing maps from aerial photography and artificial limbs based on ergonomic studies. Along the way, he also produced paintings, pottery and massive ceramic sculptures.

Schreckengost was the subject of a popular retrospective at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1999. In 2006, he received the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest cultural award.

Beloved as “Uncle Vik” in the Cleveland neighborhood where he lived much of his life, Schreckengost brought his warmth and playful, comprehensive intelligence to his work, making designs that were not only beautiful and functional, but fun.
—Henry Adams
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