About The Artist
The furniture of George Nelson (1908 – 1986) left a lasting impact on the history of 20th century design. Architect, critic, designer and teacher, Nelson worked as the Director of Design for the Michigan-based furniture manufacturer Herman Miller from 1947-1972 and in that time produced and commissioned several iconic pieces of modernist design.
Nelson studied at Yale University, graduating with a degree in architecture in 1928 and a bachelors in fine arts in 1931. He spent time travelling in Europe after graduation, where he discovered the work of many of the continent’s leading architects and designers, including Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. These encounters were to have a lasting impact on Nelson’s design philosophy. He championed modernist design during his tenure at Architectural Forum where he worked as an editor in the 1940s, publishing the work of Charles Eames and Eliot Noyes.
During his stewardship of Herman Miller, Nelson transformed the fortunes of the company, from a producer of conventional furniture to one of the most progressive home furnishings companies in the country. Nelson commissioned prominent designers including Isamu Noguchi and the Eames to create pieces for the company. Nelson opened his New York studio, George Nelson & Associates, in 1955, where he was highly prolific and continued to bring together outstanding designers for Herman Miller, including Michael Graves and Ettore Sottsass. He had a total vision for the company, which encompassed not only its product line but also its graphic identity, as well as its marketing and advertising materials.
As a designer, Nelson adopted an interdisciplinary approach, one which embraced a broader understanding of the social, economic and technological contexts in which design took place. To that end, he suggested that the designer must, "make a radical, conscious break with all values he identifies as antihuman,” in order to respond creatively to people’s needs. He also insisted that the designer understand the impact of their work upon their surroundings, declaring that, "total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything." Nelson firmly believed that the best design resulted from an inclusive understanding of the world around us, rather than operating a highly specialized discipline.
Nelson produced and designed hundreds of objects from benches, desks and chairs to cabinets, lamps, and clocks. Despite this diverse oeuvre, there remains a coherence across his work which is characterised by an elegant, streamlined and luxurious aesthetic. Throughout his career he lectured and traveled widely and he continued to produce numerous articles and texts for design publications and periodicals. Nelson’s stylish pieces for Herman Miller remain enduring design classics to this day, sought after equally by collectors and design historians.
Introduction, George Nelson Foundation. Web. October 6, 2016. George Nelson, hermanmiller.com. Web. October 6, 2016.