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 Donald Deskey  (1894 - 1989)

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Lived/Active: New York/Minnesota      Known for: art deco interior designer

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Ad Code: 4
Donald Deskey
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A designer and painter, Donald Deskey was born in Blue Earth, Minnesota and established a career in New York City where he became especially known for his sumptuous, elaborate art-deco interior design of Radio City Music Hall in the late 1920s.  One of his earliest supporters in New York was Edith Halpert, owner of the first American art gallery dedicated to sales of modernist artists.  A major influence on his style was his visit in 1925 to Paris to the Exposition Internatonale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.  This event, which featured modern, streamlined design, was key to the future direction of his career.

Having been chosen by the Rockefeller Center architects for Radio City, Deskey was in charge of the overall design including the furnishings.  One of the unique features he introduced was the wallpaper in the mens' lounge, which was titled Nicotine and was printed in tobacco brown on aluminum foil paper.

Described as dapper "with his spats, clipped mustache, and hair so slick and flat it shone like patent leather", (Pollock, 151) he had a career that continued into the 1950s.  He was also a fine-art painter who did hard-edge abstraction.

From 1927, he was the president of Donald Deskey Associates, Industrial Design Consultants.  His clients included Saks and Company, for whom he did window designs; and various exhibitors at the New York World's Fair.  His first home commission was with Adam Gimbel, president of Sak's, for whom he designed a futuristic apartment with copper ceilings, cork walls and stainless steel in the hallways.  He was highly influential in establishing United States dominance in the field of international design after World War II. 

Signature furniture designs of Deskey's included pieces with tubular steel frames and sinuous steel chairs that were symbols of modern living.  A New York critic, seeing Deskey chairs at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery in Greenwich Village in 1917 wrote:  "the chairs look a little like the letter U lying down on its side, runnng along the floor and curving up to form the front. . . .They are comfortable, but whether they are really beautiful as chairs is a question." (Pollock, 117)  Forming a company called Deskey-Vollmer, he oversaw the design of mass-produced furniture including aluminum lamps and other items inspired by Art Deco and made of 'newfangled' material such as Flexwood, Bakelite and Formica.

Donald Deskey studied at the University of California, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and in Paris at the Academy Grande Chaumiere.

Among his references is an article in Antiques magazine, May 1987: "The Screens and Screen Designs of Donald Deskey" by Michael Komanecky.

Sources include:
Dan Klein, "All Color Book of Art Deco"
Treadway Toomey Galleries, Oak Park, Illinois
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Lindsay Pollock, The Girl With the Gallery

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Donald Deskey is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Art Deco

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