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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week – Gere Kavanaugh

Posted July 02, 2018 4:45 PM by lmno24

Gere Kavanaugh has worked in more realms of designs than most. At 89, her love of color and design hasn’t faded a bit.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1929, she always knew she wanted to be a designer. She studied at the Memphis Academy of Arts at first. It was there that her textile work was noticed by Francis Henry Taylor, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taylor pushed for her to come to Parsons Design School in New York, but she instead chose to go to graduate school at Cranbrook, the interdisciplinary art and design school outside of Detroit. She was only the fifth woman to attend the Design Studio at the school.

"It was a very interesting time to be in Detroit," she said in an interview with LA Weekly. "[Minoru] Yamasaki's office was in Detroit; so was Victor Gruen's. Down the back road was Eero Saarinen's office. After the studios closed, we could go there and sort of hang out and find out what they did during the day."

Source: Metropolis Magazine

After completing her studies there, she designed retail showrooms and interior spaces for General Motors. At GM, she was part of the “Damsels of Design,” an all-female design team that were hired as a group. Kavanaugh recalled the group’s name as a PR stunt, but aside from that she was happy to be there. It was the first prominent all-female design team in American history. The hope was that they could help make automobiles appealing to women. They worked on many features of the cars to make them more aesthetically pleasing and functional. Some features we still use today, such as child-safe doors, lighted makeup mirrors, storage consoles and retractable seat belts.

Victor Gruen, who is known as the creator of the shopping mall, then sought her out to work for him. She was offered a position at his L.A. office and moved West, becoming part of a tight-knit community of artists there.

After a few years, she started her own company, sharing studio space with Frank Gehry in a space in Santa Monica. After a while, they upgraded to a larger space, which became something of a gathering place for the aforementioned tight-knit artist community.

Many of her designs are meant to jazz up a home or living space. She designed ceramics, lights, clocks, textiles and other furniture.

Over the years, she has had her hand in a wide range of projects including for department store magnate Joseph Magnin. She also created a set of urban planning toys called “Mini City” which is now in the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art.

Despite her successes, she has still dealt with the stereotypes and stigmas of being a female designer in a male-dominated field.

“I had a designer friend say ‘I know you can do fabulous designs, Gere, but can you really cook pork chops?’” She recalled in an interview with LA Weekly. “That was the mentality at the time we started out.”

She is still working on new designs to this day. Her colorful floral designs are reminiscent of the traditional patterns that one recalls when thinking of this time period. She is 89 and lives in Los Angeles.

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