The American designers who were ignored

“Charles himself really did say that it was an equal partnership and alliance,” says Desmarais. And one would like to think Ray’s involvement is now fully recognised, but as late as 2006 The New York Times Magazine was referring to the couple as “The Eames brothers”.

The 1960s and 70s saw second-wave feminists embrace pattern and decoration as a feminist strategy. This included Wendy Maruyama, one of the first women to enrol in a Master of Fine Arts Furniture Making Programme in the US. Maruyama, known for her innovative wooden furniture, has said of her early work that it was “about being empowered in what is traditionally a male-dominated field”.

“She introduced colour when furniture makers were still in this ‘reverence for wood’ period,” says Falino. “The guys were all about the wood and the grain, and she challenged that. She also inserted a kind of jauntiness and attitude into her process. Her work has a great physicality, a more sculptural presence. She achieved what the guys couldn’t. They were following the herd and she refused to do that.”

Maruyama, now in her 70s, is still going strong. “Her work more recently has engaged with broader issues relating to the environment and the treatment of animals. She’s certainly someone who has a very strong engagement through her practice,” says Desmarais.

Let’s hope that exhibitions such as Parall(elles) will bring greater recognition to all these phenomenal women. But Desmarais notes that although more attention has been given to designers such as Driscoll in recent years, “much more work remains to be done to bring the achievements of these women to light.”

And Falino says there is still work to be done around the position of contemporary female designers. Although many are now reaching the tops of their professions, “we all know, women are still not being paid the same as men. There is still a resentment you can find if you’re trying to make your way in a field like architecture which has a preponderance of men,” she says.

“In 125 years, if you think of the span of the show, we’ve come a long way. But do we have further to go? Absolutely.”

Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design is at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until 28 May 2023.

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