When Alexander Girard and his wife, Susan, moved to Santa Fe in 1953, they finally had room to properly display their massive collection of folk art. Mexican Day of the Dead papier mâché dolls, Japanese wooden kokeshi dolls, Hopi beadwork dolls, Eskimo miniature dolls dressed in sealskin parkas and every other kind of doll from every corner of the planet had served as inspiration to Girard’s career. As a textile designer for Herman Miller, furniture and industrial designer and what is now known as a “total concept brand identity designer” for restaurants, an airline, private homes, corporate offices and museum installations, Girard worked from the magic of colour, graphics and expressive, anthropomorphic forms to spark joy in his signature worlds.
Today, Alexander and Susan’s collection of more than 100,000 objects is on permanent display at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, next to a travelling exhibit of Girard’s design work. Here are a few ideas:
“I am a reasonable and sane functionalist tempered by irrational frivolity,” said Girard, injecting mid-century, Bauhausian austerity with decorative flourish and playfulness. While his designs were graphically sound and borrowed from the simplicity of children’s and folk art, he understood the sophistication and power of theme, multiples, variety, space and unexpected colour.
Girard embodied the German aesthetic of gesamtkunstwerk — building an artwork as a universal, all-embracing body, often making use of multiple art forms. Richard Wagner did it with literature, opera, dance and orchestra. In 1960, Girard injected a vibe into every aspect of his design for the Latin American-themed Manhattan restaurant La Fonda Del Sol, from the interior architecture and space planning to the typeface and matchboxes. He even designed a waiter’s poncho. The result at the time was groundbreaking: a cohesive, respectful and researched take on a cultural source.
As a kid, Girard had designed on paper detailed, imaginary worlds, leading to his discovery of how function and form could be demonstrably expressive and bring unapologetic, decorative pleasure to its user. In 1953, he collaborated with architect Eero Saarinen to design the interior of a midcentury house in Columbus, Indiana for industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife, Xenia. A feast of textiles and colour, this Girard-world featured, among other delights, a sunken, upholstered conversation pit abundantly colour-blocked with Girard-designed throw pillows.
“Every new project presents some version of basic order. In it, the ingredients for the exercise of fantasy and magic may usually be found,” said Girard. “My greatest enjoyment and satisfaction in the solution of any project is uncovering the latent fantasy and magic in it and convincing my client to join in this process.”
PS: “Art is only art if it is synonymous with living.” (Alexander Girard)
Esoterica: “The hope of good design lies in those designers who believe in what they do and will only do what they believe,” said Girard. Born in New York, raised in Florence and sent to boarding school in England, he collected folk art, toys, textiles, pottery figurines and artifacts, all of which informed an aesthetic of a highly livable fantasy. “Contrary to hearsay,” said Girard, “it is possible to make a living that way.”
The exhibition Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe continues at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe until October 27th, 2019, when it will move to the Palm Springs Art Museum and open November 23rd, 2019.
“Infinite are man’s expressions of beauty and love; open your eyes your ears and your heart to them and you will unite the peoples of the world.” (Alexander Girard)
Learn the secrets of landscape and cityscapes from master UK painter Andrew Gifford, color mixes, techniques of layering and glazing different brushes and palette knives to priming and grounding boards. He will demonstrate how to paint from an early sketch to the final piece in the many stunning locals of the region = all while you live in a genuine castle and eat like royalty.