Jack Lenor Larsen, textile designer and founder of Long Island’s LongHouse Reserve, dies at 93


Jack Lenor Larsen, textile designer and founder of Long Island’s LongHouse Reserve, dies at 93

Jack Lenor Larsen (1927-2020) (Courtesy LongHouse Reserve)

Jack Lenor Larsen, the internationally renowned textile designer, weaver, author, basket collector par excellence, and all-around champion of traditional and contemporary craftsmanship has died at the age of 93 of natural causes. In a tweet reacting to his death, New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum said that Larsen will be remembered as “one of the most prolific and innovative textile craftspeople of the 20th century.” Among his many awards and accolades, Larsen received a Directors Award from the Cooper Hewitt in 2015.

As reported by Women’s Wear Daily, Larsen passed away at the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York. The sylvan 16-acre compound features both Larsen’s private residence, a 13,000-square-foot structure inspired by a 7th-century Shinto shrine in Japan, and a sprawling nature preserve and public sculpture garden featuring the works of Sol LeWitt, Yoko Ono, Buckminster Fuller, Willem de Kooning, and others. Completed in 1992, the LongHouse was designed by Larsen in collaboration with architect Charles Forberg.

A Seattle native of Nordic descent who spent his teenage years on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula in the city of Bremerton, Larsen attended the School of Architecture at the University of Washington and later Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art. As noted by the New York Times, the dramatic landscape of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the region’s Asian influences, had a profound impact on his work.

jack lenor larsen and dale chihuly
Jack Lenor Larsen pictured with fellow native Washingtonian, Dale Chihuly. (Courtesy LongHouse Reserve)

A vastly influential presence in the design world, Larsen rose to prominence in the mid-20th century through his own New York City-based company Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., which he founded in 1952. During that era, Larsen’s pointedly multicultural textiles, which incorporated natural materials and ages-old global patterns and techniques gleaned by Larsen during his extensive travels, reached a status of near-ubiquity thanks to his prolific work with a range of architects, airlines, fashion houses, and furniture-makers including Knoll.

More recently, Larsen partnered with performance textile manufacturer Sunbrella to debut a new line dubbed the Larsen Performance Collection.

Today, Larsen’s textiles can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre, where, per the New York Times, Larsen was the subject of a one-man retrospective in 1981. In its obituary, the Times noted that Larsen’s textiles can also be found at architecturally significant homes such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in rural Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and at Eero Saarinen’s Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. Both are open for public tours as house-museums.

a home set against a tranquil landscape
Jack Lenor Larsen’s LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York. (Americasroof/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Reads an announcement of Larsen’s passing on the LongHouse Reserve website:

Jack accepted his mortality years ago. He created a foundation to ensure that LongHouse will live in perpetuity. He appointed trustees and committee chairs to make certain that LongHouse will survive and thrive. He created structures for the garden, for art, for education, for philanthropy, and for day-to-day management. Staff and volunteers, docents and interns, are all in place and continue to work tirelessly to advance the future of LongHouse. This is our gift to Jack. That was his gift to us.

Jack’s credo guided him and will guide us as we go forward. We will think, in his words, “not of what is maximum, but rather, of what is optimum.” That said, our goal is his…‘to stay relevant rather than reverent.’

Being in Jack’s presence was a privilege—a gift beyond measure. He was a creative and aesthetic genius, attuned to the world in ways that would prove revolutionary. He invented a new kind of public garden, always changing the landscape as his fertile ideas drove inspiration and experimentation. He was engaged with the world around him and looked to the future…always…never accepting mediocrity. Jack turned the ordinary and the commonplace into the extraordinary and unique.

Larsen is survived by his longtime partner, Peter Olsen. Plans for a memorial are forthcoming according to WWD.