Charles Pollock, was an essential, but almost secret, player in the midcentury industrial design movement. Born in Michigan, he studied design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and would later go on to work for both Charles Eames and George Nelson. He died yesterday at 83 in a Queens, New York, house fire.
In 1958, while working under Nelson at Herman Miller, Pollock designed the curvaceous and now-iconic Swag Leg Armchair (although Nelson was widely credited for the creation). Most notably, in 1963 he introduced the Pollock Executive Chair through Knoll Studio. It remains office fixture to this day, making high-profile appearances on Mad Men and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Pollack went under the radar in the years following the release of the Executive chair and didn’t resurface until 30 years later, when Bernhardt Design’s president, Jerry Helling, doggedly sought him out. A New York Times article from 2012 chronicles Helling’s motivation to locate the reclusive designer: The Pollock chair, Mr. Helling explained, "Was the first chair that made an impression on me when I came into this industry over 20 years ago.":
‘In the past 10 years there’s been all this talking, reading and filmmaking about our midcentury designers, yet nothing had been said about that chair or Charles Pollock,’ he said.
And when he tried to get more information about Mr. Pollock, he always hit a dead end, which fueled his curiosity.
‘When I started researching, I found 30 Charles Pollocks, then I narrowed it down to three who might be him,’ Mr. Helling said. Armed with a list of addresses, he visited one or two every time he came to New York. When he finally located the right one, he said, ‘I dropped off a letter and package about who I was and said I’d love to meet him, and if he was ever interested, would love to talk about doing something.’
The beauty of the Pollock chair is in its what he called “rim technology.” The leather-clad seat is bound together—technically and aesthetically—by a singular aluminum band. Like the other early pioneers in ergonomic design—such as Bill Stumpf’s Aeron or Niels Diffrient’s Freedom chair, the Pollock Executive considers the human form and the need for comfort. It’s distinguished, however, by a luxuriousness and sophistication in style.
With Helling and Bernhardt Design, Pollock returned to industrial design. He created the CP Lounge Chair after a year of sketching on paper. It’s an armless leather beauty that exudes the same continuity in form as the Executive but with a more relaxed posture. Pollock had an animated way of describing his pieces as both like humans and like luxury vehicles—both apt ways of explaining his ability to design for durability and staying power.
Pollock ranks among an elite few who charted the midcentury course for industrial design. On the legacy of his most famous piece, the designer himself says it best:
Call it a personality. It’s like a woman who is beautiful when she’s 19 and beautiful when she’s 45. She might be older, but she’s still beautiful.
We featured Pollock in our 2012 Design Issue. Read his conversation with designer Jonathan Olivares here.
[Image: Charles Pollock Lounge Chair via NYTimes]