SVA remembers the women behind the modern car

2016 Phil Patton Memorial Lecture: “Women and Cars” conducted by Russell Flinchum. (Courtesy of SVA)

2016 Phil Patton Memorial Lecture: “Women and Cars” by Russell Flinchum. (Courtesy SVA)

The School of Visual Arts (SVA) is hosting a lecture on women designers who influenced the blueprint of the modern automobile. “Women and Cars” explores the historical and stylistic development of the car through the women who took it from its humble beginnings as a horseless carriage to the “objet de luxe of the 1920s.”

Conducted by design writer Russell Flinchum, Associate Professor at the College of Design at North Carolina State University, the lecture is set to honor former SVA faculty member and design critic Phil Patton whose fascination with cars informed a large part of his writing career. Flinch plans to look at the “concours d’elegance” by featuring haute couture clothing alongside equally chic cars. In the post-war period, being seen to have “good taste” was no more evident in the cars of General Motors. Under the “GM System,” design executive Harley Earl created an automobile aesthetic that we’ve come to associate with a certain period in American history.

To many, the 1950s “Damsels in Design” advertisements created by Earl are seen as the starting point for examining women’s contributions to the modern automobile. The “damsels” were nine women designers from Pratt Institute that Earl selected to model with GM cars, and their presence was meant to appeal to women who managed their household’s purchases. By going back in the archives, SVA is exploring a period in time that is reflective of a revolutionary decade in automobile history.

The talk is set to take place Tuesday, March 22 at the SVA Department of Design Research, Writing and Criticism (136 West 21st Street).

Related Stories