In this lecture in honor of the late Phil Patton, an internationally-recognized design critic whose fascination with cars formed a substantial part of his written output, Flinchum will trace the history of the stylistic development of the automobile’s exterior alongside contemporaneous developments in the interiors of these creations and the textiles that were essential in converting the horseless carriage into the object de luxe of the 1920s in Europe and America. The concours d’elegance, often featuring couture clothing next to bespoke automobiles, will be one focus of this investigation. Another will be the popularization of “good taste” in the post-war period and the dominance of the “GM System” under Harley Earl, the first top executive for design at any major corporation and the creator in the 1950s of the “Damsels of Design”, who usually constitute the starting point of discussion on how women contributed to the creation of the modern automobile.
Russell Flinchum is associate professor of Graphic Design and Industrial Design and Art+Design in the College of Design at North Carolina State University, where he began teaching in January 2014. Previously, Flinchum was the archivist of the Century Association Archives Foundation. Flinchum was a founding faculty member of the MA in Design Criticism at School of Visual Arts in 2007, where he taught until he left New York in December 2013. In 2001, with Shoji Sadao, he curated the exhibition “Buckminster Fuller/Shoji Sadao” for the Century, which traveled to Milton Academy and Stanford University. In 1990 Flinchum became the first Peter Krueger/Christie’s Fellow at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. In 1992, he was named Guest Curator for the exhibition Henry Dreyfuss: Directing Design. The exhibition, which opened in March 1997, received enthusiastic reviews and a number of important awards, as did the accompanying book, Henry Dreyfuss, Industrial Designer: The Man in the Brown Suit. His most recent book, American Design, was published by The Museum of Modern Art and 5 Continents published in 2008. He recently spoke at SECAC in Pittsburgh in October 2015 in the session “Rust Belt Modernism” on “A City Boy in the Great Midwest: Henry Dreyfuss, Deere & Co., and the Foundations of the Industrial Design Profession in America.”
Image: Limited edition brochure, 1957. Courtesy Ford Motor Co.