Conference

  • Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives
    Jonathan Mekinda and Bess Williamson
    Organizers
  • GRANTEE
    University of Illinois at Chicago-School of Art & Art History
    GRANT YEAR
    2017

Sears, Roebuck & Co., Letterhead, 1907. [Public Doman] via Wikimedia Commons.

Planned as part of the Art Design Chicago program in 2018, Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives will convene scholars from across the region, country, and globe to reexamine well-known figures and events in the city's remarkable tradition of modernist design, as well as consider lesser-known actors, agents, and forces in an expanded history of Chicago design that will explore the full scope of design practices cultivated and developed in the city from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the Kalo Shop and the New Bauhaus to Sears Roebuck & Co and Leo Burnett, this conference aims to spur and collect diverse new scholarship on Chicago design and to engage the full range of methodologies devoted to place-based design history.

Jonathan Mekinda is a historian of architecture and design and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a joint appointment in the School of Art and Art History and the School of Design. His research focuses on the historical development of modern architecture and design, particularly in Italy and the United States. Mekinda has received grants from several organizations, including the Graham Foundation, and his writing can be found in various publications, including Revival: Memories, Identities, Utopias (Courtauld Books Online, 2015). Chicagoisms, which he coedited with Alexander Eisenschmidt, was published by Park Books in 2013, and in 2014, the two curated a related exhibition of the same name at the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to several ongoing projects related to Chicago, Mekinda is currently at work on his book, Building the 'House of Man': Design and the Modern Home in Milan, 1933–1957.

Bess Williamson is assistant professor in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's (SAIC) Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Her research on design responses to disability has appeared in Winterthur Portfolio and American Studies, and is the subject of a book forthcoming from New York University Press. She has received research fellowships from the Smithsonian, the Mellon Foundation, and the Hagley Museum of the history of technology. At SAIC, she teaches design history courses with an emphasis on social connections in design and coordinates the design history curriculum, which encompasses dozens of courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago was founded in 2013 on the principle that history, theory, and practice are intimately entwined endeavors. Our programs ignite intellectual curiosity and creative innovation, and empower students to expand the boundaries of what is possible, making an impact on the world. Art students are encouraged to work across the media-specific disciplines of studio arts, photography, moving image, and new media and actively engage departments across the university as well as the larger cosmopolitan city of Chicago. Art history students critically inquire into the ways in which people have reimagined their worlds by visual and other means through art, architecture, photography, film, performance, and design. Students are prepared in the fundamentals of historical analysis, visual literacy, and theoretical understanding.

Art Design Chicago is a spirited celebration of the unique and vital role Chicago plays as America’s crossroads of art and design, creativity, and commerce. With a scope and ambition befitting Chicago’s grit and can-do determination, Art Design Chicago shares with the world a dynamic convergence of more than 25 exhibitions and hundreds of public programs in 2018. Together, they tell the stories of the artists and designers that defined and continue to propel Chicago’s role as a hub of imagination and impact. Art Design Chicago is an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art, dedicated to helping people in Chicago and around the world experience, understand, and enjoy America’s extraordinary artistic legacy.