In the middle decades of the twentieth century, Harvey Probber’s name was as widely recognized as those of designers like Charles Eames and George Nelson, yet it is scarcely as familiar today. This may be in part because he was even better known as a prominent manufacturer, but there are other reasons: his furniture was made in relatively limited quantities, he was self-taught as a designer, and he was considerably younger than his contemporaries and competitors.
But there was much more to his story. In addition to his dual roles as designer and manufacturer, Probber was responsible for a design innovation so familiar that its original source has been forgotten: in the 1940s, he conceived and introduced the first design for modular seating. He also gave several now-famous young artists their first exposure, discovered and introduced major European designers and technical innovations to the American market, and after retiring, served as an industry spokesperson and international consultant.
Making Connections: Harvey Probber Furniture, 1945 – 1985 will shed new light on the many aspects of this multi-faceted man, who began his career at an age when most young men would still be in school, and, while designing and producing furniture, pursued a parallel profession as a cabaret singer. He was not only an imaginative designer and successful businessman, but a skilled draftsman, and a competent amateur cartoonist.
Celebrating the diverse connections as integral to his story, this exhibition will paint a broader picture of a man whose influence on design, and on the furniture industry, has never been fully appreciated. It will feature period examples of his best-known furniture pieces, including his groundbreaking modular seating units and distinctive seating and storage furniture in rich woods and luxurious fabrics, along with original sketches and renderings, vintage photographs, catalogs, and ephemera from the Harvey Probber Design Archive.
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