When H. Kirk Brown III and his wife Jill A. Wiltse began to explore the world of British midcentury design and collect the work of Robin and Lucienne Day, they stumbled upon the creations of another lesser-known and yet equally important designer named Jacqueline Groag. What caught their attention beyond her intricate patterns were the drawings that were included revealing an unexpected peak inside her design process.
“You can't afford to collect Matisse or Picasso these days as a small collector so we were looking for other areas that are beautiful, where the work is beautiful and unusual, but would form an important collection. That was how we found Jacqueline,” says Brown.
Groag made her mark in pattern design following World War II. She was born in Prague in 1903, and trained at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna in the 1920s under Josef Hoffman and Frank Cisek. She produced textile designs for Parisian fashion houses and the Wiener Werkstatte. She and her husband Jacques, a successful interior designer and architect, moved to London in 1939 where Jacqueline ’s career took off. During more than 20 years as a freelancer, her work could be seen in carpets, greeting cards, laminates, plastics, textiles, wallpapers, and wrapping papers, while her husband’s work never found the same footing in the UK.
The Denver couple have more than 600 textiles designed by British women and men, including nearly 30 of Groag’s work and about 40 of her drawings. They will bring their collection, Pattern Play: The Contemporary Designs of Jacqueline Groag for viewing at the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center starting with a members-only event on May 11. The exhibition officially opens May 12 and continues through Nov. 20.
Brown spoke further with Palm Springs Life about the couples connection to Palm Springs and the art museum, the fascination with Groag and why her work is an important must-see.
You’ve shown your collection in Denver and Phoenix. Why was Palm Springs a logical stop?
We've been coming to Palm Springs for almost 20 years from Denver. We came when Modernism Week was a weekend, this was probably 2003 or 2004. We took Robert Imber's PS Modern tours a couple of times over the next subsequent years, and so ultimately as a result of that, we started Design Onscreen, which produces documentary films only on architecture and design. We've been architect and design aficionados for a long time. We were one of the founders of the Architecture and Design Museum.
And we’ve known Adam Lerner (who was appointed executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2021) from when he was director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Adam knows Darrin Alfred (curator of architecture and design at the Denver museum), who recommended our collection to him.
What attracted you to collecting in this area?
We started collecting midcentury design, first American and then we had seen a catalog on British midcentury design, and we went to London a couple of times and we tracked down the catalog dealers. It's called Target Gallery in London. So we started collecting Robin Day and Lucienne Day, a married couple who were both trained at the Royal College of Art. She was a textile designer and he was a furniture designer and they lived until their 90s. We met both of them actually before they died.
One thing led to another, again, it was never really a planned collection. One year,one there, and then finally we started asking ourselves, “Well, who are these people? We realized, doing research, how important they were for postwar design in Britain. Then we started collecting with a vengeance.
What does your Jacqueline Groag collection include?
We have dresses not designed by her, but the fabric is designed by her. She did laminate for table tops so we have some furniture of the laminate tops designed by her. Most of the textiles we have of hers is mostly furnishing textiles for curtains and bedspreads. It is an important collection in and of itself. It's a sub collection within our other collections. That's how it happened. People will see new things in there since that show in Denver and Phoenix.
I read her designs were used for wallpaper and even Hallmark cards.
I have never found a piece of her wallpaper, unfortunately. If I could find some I'd own it. That stuff doesn't last. A lot of these textiles you can't find much anymore because people took them for granted and used them, they faded or whatever, and then threw them out, just changed with the times.
What do you hope people take away from seeing your collection?
That wow, here are some people we never even heard of, that never heard of her, and they're important in their own right. Make people aware that there were other people who worked and did design that were really important designers in their own right, but were eclipsed by history. They faded off into the sunset. People don't know about them.
What books would you recommend to read up more on Jacqueline?
Jacqueline Groad: Textile Designer, which should be available at the Architecture and Design Center, and DoppleHouse Press’ book, Jacques and Jacqueline Groag, Architect and Designer: Two Hidden Figures of the Viennese Modern Movement.
What would you like to see happen with your collections?
My wife and I are both in our 70s without any kids and we’re reaching the point of what are we going to do with all this stuff? We want to find a good home for them. We don't want to sell it piecemeal. We've had interest from parties to buy this piece or that piece, but we don't want to do that.
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