The World of Henry Glass: Mid-Century Modernist

Swingline Wardrobe
Pastel and pencil on tracing paper, 1950
14 x 11 inches

1958 Chair Graphite on tracing paper, 1958
11 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches

Swingline Desk and Armchair
Pastel and colored pencil on tracing paper, 1949
16 x 13 inches

January 9, 2004 – April 10, 2004

In August, 2003, Henry P. Glass, America’s greatest living industrial designer, died at 92. So vast is his legacy of innovation designing furniture, buildings and nearly countless consumer products, he is to be featured in a major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005.

Fleeing Vienna with his wife in 1938, he came to New York to design under Gilbert Rodhe and Russel Wright, moving to Chicago two years later.

Kling Lobby Portfolio of 48 drawings
Graphite on tissue, 1946
18 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches
Detail of Salesroom for Eastern Knitters
Gouache with collage on paper
20 x 30 inches

As an architect, he designed showrooms, design studios and hotels. As a product designer fascinated by ergonomics, his ingenious chairs place him in a class by himself. But it was his unsurpassed drafting skills that made his design drawings and remarkable presentation renderings unique in the world of commercial art.

ArchiTech has acquired the entire estate of the legendary Henry Glass, and presents a survey of his amazing career showcasing spectacular drawings, models and prototypes from his sixty-five years as one of the world’s most innovative industrial designers. As Chicago’s only gallery of architectural art, having showcased original drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Alfonso Iannelli, it is only fitting that ArchiTech add Henry Glass to this select company of great artists.

Swingline Toy Chest
Graphite and colored pencil on Paper, 1951
16 x 13 inches
Hotel Flamboyant Typical Cottage
Graphite on Paper, 1949
21 x 42 inches

Notes on the Exhibition:

Henry died in the summer of 2003. I’d gotten to know him and his family well over the last few years. Henry loved our phone chats and his and Elly’s visits when they came downtown and he’d sell me drawings from his archive whenever I had enough cash. The Kling Studios set of 48 was my first purchase. Henry had never wanted to part with them as it was his favorite of all the architectural projects he’d accomplished. When the Art Institute acquired most of his earliest work, he let them have only prints of the Kling drawings. But he sold the originals to me.

Over time, I’d managed to buy over a hundred drawings from his earliest furniture designs in 1939, from his 40s hotel and commercial building designs to some of the last chairs he did in 2002. Most were from the 40s and 50s...his best ones, I think.

Furniture design sketches
Graphite on Paper, 1953
20 x 24 inches

The plan had been to mount a career survey with them in Fall of 2005, but the news of his death accelerated things. The newspapers had called me for quotable memories for his obituary and I found myself saying the exhibition would be upcoming. When his family called me in to assess the contents of his studio, their primary aim was to somehow preserve his legacy and help me promote his work. Henry had always appreciated the context I placed him in with regard to my collection. Seeing his old drawings on the same walls that held Burnham’s, Sullivan’s, and Wright’s was a thrill for him.

The World of Henry Glass was a play on the old Peter Sellers movie, The World of Henry Orient. I knew no one younger than me would get it, but I thought it captured the idea that Henry, like all great designers and architects, saw the world around them as it would be if only they could call the shots.

Most of the works I planned to show I already owned, but some of the design drawings in Henry’s studio archives were just too good not to have, as well. His family also let me include models and one-of-a-kind prototypes to place in front of the design drawings and renderings.

The big frames I needed for the Hotel Flamboyant drawings came in too late for the opening date so the gallery was only half done when we had the reception for the family. Still, they were thrilled to see everything else framed, showcased and lighted. Elly, especially, was excited to see her husband’s legacy so luxuriously presented. In Austria in the late 1930s, her maneuvers had released Henry out of detention by the Nazis. For decades she’d acted as his greatest cheerleader and always let him get in the last word. They’d rarely been apart until his death. Now, she was tearfully seeing his career unspool on my walls under the black lettering I’d just applied: Henry P. Glass: 1911 – 2003.