George Nelson (1908-1986) was an important modernist whose work cut across the fields of interior, industrial and exhibition design. Nelson studied architecture at Yale University in the 1920s, and in the next two decades earned a strong reputation as a writer on design for Architectural Forum, Interiors and Fortune. In 1945 Nelson began a long association with the Herman Miller Furniture Company of Zeeland, Michigan, where as head designer he developed an innovative line of furniture and commissioned new designs from others. His first commission was Isamu Noguchi’s biomorphic glass-topped coffee table, which began production in 1947, the first of many designs that the sculptor would create for Herman Miller in the late Forties. Nelson also was responsible for bringing the designs of Charles Eames to Herman Miller, and he collaborated with R. Buckminster Fuller on a number of projects. Among Nelson’s own creations are classic works of Fifties design, including the bubble lamp, ball clock, marshmallow sofa and the pole-supported wall-storage system.
The Vitra Design Museum at Weil am Rhein in Germany is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nelson’s birth with a retrospective of his work, opening Sept. 13. “Although Nelson was one of the most important American designers and design writers, it’s almost as if we are introducing him in Europe and reintroducing him in the U.S.,” said Jochen Eisenbrand, the exhibition’s curator. “Most people, even those interested in design, may not know much more about him than a few design classics.”