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 Norman Melancton Bel Geddes  (1893 - 1958)



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Lived/Active: New York/Illinois/California/Michigan      Known for: industrial and theatre set design, genre, sculpture, writing

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Norman Bel Geddes is primarily known as Norman Melancton Bel Geddes

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Ad Code: 4
Norman Bel Geddes
from Auction House Records.
A Portrait of Thunder Cloud, Blackfoot
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is text from an exhibition review of work by Norman Bel Geddes at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

"I Have Seen the Future:?Norman Bel Geddes Designs America"
September 11, 2012 – January 6, 2013

When you drive on an interstate highway, attend a multimedia Broadway show, or watch a football game in an all-weather stadium, you owe a debt of gratitude to Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958). Bel Geddes was both a visionary and a pragmatist who had a significant role in shaping not only modern America but also the nation's image of itself as leading the way into the future. Bel Geddes was a polymath who had no academic or professional training in the activities he mastered—designing stage sets, costumes, and lighting; creating theater buildings, offices, nightclubs, and houses; and authoring prescient books and articles.

Bel Geddes believed that art, as well as architecture and design, could make people's lives psychologically and emotionally richer. He influenced the behavior of American consumers and helped make industrial and theater design into modern businesses. Believing that communication was key to shaping the modern world, Bel Geddes popularized his vision of the future through drawings, models, and photographs. Of his utopian predictions, Bel Geddes's best-known project was the Futurama exhibit in the General Motors "Highways and Horizons" pavilion at the 1939–1940 New York World's Fair. It was an immense model of America, circa 1960, seen by 27,500 visitors daily who exited with a pin proclaiming "I Have Seen the Future."

I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America explores the life and career of this complex and influential man and is organized into five thematic sections.

Setting the Stage: 1916–1927

In the initial phase of his professional career, Bel Geddes focused on theater design and theater spaces. Bel Geddes adapted for the American stage the principles of the so-called New Stagecraft movement in Europe, which aimed to free the theater from the strictures of bourgeois realism and to create settings for a new generation of playwrights who were exploring psychological and emotional depth in their work.

Industrious Design: 1927–1937

Eager to move beyond theater and broaden his influence over American society, Bel Geddes branched out in new directions in the late 1920s, adapting his flair for theater to architecture and interior design, pioneering the new field of industrial design, and popularizing streamlining as a design concept with his book Horizons (1932).

A Bigger World: 1937–1945

In the late 1930s Bel Geddes sought to reshape the entire American landscape. When Bel Geddes was asked to create an ad campaign for a new form of gasoline, he envisioned a Shell Oil "City of Tomorrow." With this project, pitchman Bel Geddes became urban visionary, focusing on decentralization as key to the improved city.

Futurama: 1939–1940

Bel Geddes's Futurama installation at the 1939–1940 New York World's Fair, dedicated to "building the world of tomorrow," was one of the fair's most popular attractions. This feat of imagination captured the national consciousness and highlighted Bel Geddes's talents as a modeler, futurist, and urban planner.

Total Living: 1945–1958

No longer at the epicenter of American industrial design after World War II, Bel Geddes nonetheless remained a visionary who was involved in virtually every field that defined Cold War America, from television to suburbia to urban renewal.

The exhibition was organized by Donald Albrecht, an independent curator and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of the City of New York, with assistance from Cathy Henderson and Helen Baer at the Harry Ransom Center.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Norman Melancton Bel Geddes (April 27, 1893 – May 8, 1958) was an American theatrical and industrial designer who focused on aerodynamics.

Bel Geddes was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, Michigan, and raised in New Philadelphia, Ohio, the son of Flora Luelle (née Yingling) and Clifton Terry Geddes, a stockbroker. When he married Helen Belle Schneider in 1916, they incorporated their names to Bel Geddes. Their daughter was actress Barbara Bel Geddes.

He began his career with set designs for Aline Barnsdall's Los Angeles Little Theater in the 1916-1917 season, then in 1918 as the scene designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He designed and directed various theatrical works, from Arabesque and The Five O'Clock Girl on Broadway to an ice show entitled It Happened on Ice produced by Sonja Henie. He created set designs for the film Feet of Clay (1924), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, designed costumes for Max Reinhardt, and created the sets for the Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End (1935).

Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, and designed a wide range of commercial products, from cocktail shakers to commemorative medallions to radio cabinets. His designs extended to unrealized futuristic concepts: a teardrop-shaped automobile, and an Art Deco House of Tomorrow. In 1929, he designed "Airliner Number 4," a 9-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars.

Bel Geddes's book Horizons (1932) had a significant impact: "By popularizing streamlining when only a few engineers were considering its functional use, he made possible the design style of the thirties."[6] He wrote forward-looking articles for popular American periodicals.

Bel Geddes designed the General Motors Pavilion, known as Futurama, for the 1939 New York World's Fair. For that famous and enormously influential installation, Bel Geddes exploited his earlier work in the same vein: he had designed a "Metropolis City of 1960" in 1936.

Bel Geddes's book Magic Motorways (1940) promoted advances in highway design and transportation, foreshadowing the Interstate Highway System ("there should be no more reason for a motorist who is passing through a city to slow down than there is for an airplane which is passing over it"). His autobiography, Miracle in the Evening, was published posthumously in 1960.

Norman, written by Gerry Beckley of the band America and performed by Jeff Larson on his 2002 album Fragile Sunrise, is an homage to Bel Geddes.

The case for the Mark I computer was designed by Norman Bel Geddes. IBM's Thomas Watson presented it to Harvard. At the time, some saw it as a waste of resources, since computing power was in high demand during this part of World War II and those funds could have been used to build additional equipment.

The United States Postal Service celebrated the First-Day-Of-Issue for a commemorative U.S. postage stamp honoring Bel Geddes as a "Pioneer Of American Industrial Design" on June 29, 2011 at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC.


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