American textile designer Marion Dorn (1896–1964) is best known for creating wall hangings, carpeting, and rugs, but she is also known to have created wallpaper, graphics, and illustrations. She made significant contributions to modern British interior design, especially with her “sculpted” carpets. She worked on some of the most well-known interiors of the day, including those at the Savoy Hotel, Claridges, the Orion, and the Queen Mary. She produced moquette fabric designs for London Transport passenger vehicles in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Born in Menlo Park, California, Dorn was one of five children born to Diodemus Socrates Dorn, a lawyer, and Camille Johnson. She attended Stanford University from 1912 to 1916, receiving a bachelor of arts in graphic arts. She relocated to San Francisco, where she and her former art teacher, Henry Varnum Poor, shared a studio in Russian Hill. From July 1919 to October 1923, they were married.
She participated in Women’s Wear textile design competitions organized by M. D. C Crawford from 1916-1920, along with other artists and designers Ruth Reeves, Ilonka Karasz, and Marguerite Zorach.
The year 1919 saw the relocation of Poor and Dorn to New York City, where Dorn rose to prominence as a batik designer. She first met the poster artist Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890–1954), in Paris in 1923, and from late 1923 to July 1940, they lived together in London. After getting married in 1950, they remained in New York until his passing in 1954.
Dorn’s career took off in the early 1920s after she relocated to London; at the time, she was printing on silk, linen, and velvet and making batik textiles. In 1920, her work was included in the Met Museum’s exhibition “American Industrial Art”. In May 1925, Vogue magazine featured five of her batiks, giving her exposure and showcasing her creativity.
A life-changing trip to Paris
She travelled to Paris with Ruth Reeves on a historic trip in 1923, where she met fashion designers like Raoul Dufy. After this trip, she moved away from graphics and illustrations and fell in love with textile design. She also met the love of her life, poster designer Edward McKnight Kauffer, in Paris, which was significant to her. Later that year, she fled with Kauffer to London, abandoning his wife and child to be with Dorn.
By 1925, many London speciality shops carried her textiles, and because her creations were regarded as “modern textiles,” they were also displayed in London galleries and museums.
She established Marion Dorn LTD. in 1934 and began receiving commissions from significant clients, including the opulent hotels The Berkeley of London and The London Savoy.
In 1936, the London Passenger Transport Board hired Dorn to create moquette fabrics for automobile use. Four designs resulted as a result of this: “Chesham” in 1936; “Colindale” and “Canonbury” in 1937; and “Caledonian” in 1942. Until the 1960s, the designs were still in use on the London Underground.
She was dubbed “The Architect of Floors” in praise of her influential modern carpet designs. She raised the status of rugs with her modern designs; she is best known for her sculpted carpets and for using batik techniques on rugs. (Willson, 2020)
For her contribution to textile design, she was awarded an honorary fellowship by the British Society of Industrial Artists in 1957.
Influence in America
Between 1923 and 1940, Dorn and Kauffer shared a home in London; they only relocated to New York at the outbreak of World War II at the request of the American Embassy. She remained in New York after their 1950 wedding until his passing in 1954. She collaborated with a number of companies in New York, including the wallpaper manufacturer Basset and Vollum, the textile manufacturers A. H. Lee, Goodall Fabrics, Jofa Inc., Mitchell-David, F. Schumacher & Co., and Silkar Studios, as well as the exporter of her fabrics to the United Kingdom through Warners, Greeff Fabrics Inc. (1956–1964), the wallpaper manufacturer Katenbach and Warren (c.1947–59), and the hand (1949–1962). Her friendship with Edward Fields allowed her to work on significant New York City structures like the Waldorf Astoria. The carpet for the White House’s diplomatic reception room was her final commission. She relocated to Morocco after retiring, calling Tangiers her home until her passing in 1964. (Willson, 2020)
She retired to Tangier, Morocco, in 1962, where she died on January 28, 1964.
From 1927 to 1939, Dorn’s work was exhibited in many influential European exhibitions as well as exports and exhibitions in the United States, including the following:
- Arthur Tooth Gallery, London (1929), Exhibition of Rugs by Marion Dorn and Edward McKnight Kauffer
- Dorland Hall, London (1933 and 1934),
- Burlington House, London (1935), Exhibition of British Art in Industry
- The Universal Exhibition (World’s Fair), Paris (1937)
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1937), Rugs and Carpets: An International Exhibition
- Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), San Francisco (1939), maintained exposure in the United States for her work in her absence.
Sample of Works
Anscombe, I. (1985). A woman’s touch: Women in design from 1860 to the present day. Penguin Books. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://archive.org/details/womanstouchwomen0000ansc/page/146/mode/2up?q=%22marion+Dorn%22.
Bury, H. (1981). A choice of design: 1850-1980 ; fabrics by Warner and Sons Limited. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/choiceofdesign180000bury/page/58/mode/2up?q=%22marion+Dorn%22.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL
Day, S., & Mikaeloff, Y. (2015). Carpets of the art deco era. Thames et Hudson. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://amzn.to/3dSjM0u.
Marion Dorn, Back in the USA | Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum#. (2022, March 18). Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.cooperhewitt.org/2022/03/17/marion-dorn-back-in-the-usa/
Marion Dorn – Wikipedia. (2014, October 21). Marion Dorn – Wikipedia. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Dorn
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