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Guide to the Edward J Wormley papers

Collection Overview

Kellen Design Archives
Wormley, Edward J., 1907-1995
Edward J Wormley papers, circa 1908-1991
19.2 linear ft: 6 boxes, 2 oversize folders, 5 tubes
Designer for the Dunbar Furniture Company for more than three decades, Edward J Wormley (1907-1995) was a major modernist furniture designer and a Parsons School of Design visiting lecturer. His work was recognized in the 1950s by the Museum of Modern Art, which featured Wormley’s designs in its Good Design exhibitions. Wormley taught at Parsons between 1952 and 1970. The Kellen Design Archives' collection spans the years 1908 to 1991, and includes photographs, biographical materials, typescripts for articles and speeches, technical drawings, Dunbar catalogs, and several original sketches.

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Biographical note

Furniture designer and interior decorator, Edward J Wormley, was born to Edith and M. J. Wormley in Oswego, Illinois in 1907. After graduating from high school in 1926, Wormley attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but left school after three terms to begin his professional career at Marshall Fields Design Studios and their quality furniture supplier Berkey & Gay in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1931, when Depression-era cutbacks left Wormley unemployed, he traveled to Europe, where he developed a lifelong love for traveling and self-study.

Upon his return, Wormley was introduced to Homer Neiderhauser, president of the Indiana-based Dunbar Furniture Company, who was looking for a new designer to upgrade the production quality of Dunbar's furniture. Wormley, only 23 years old, was given the position. Eventually he became Dunbar’s sole designer, a partnership that would last for nearly forty years. During World War II, Wormley left Dunbar to hold a government position with the Furniture Unit of the Office of Price Administration. He returned to Dunbar in 1944, this time as an independent consultant, an arrangement that enabled him to move to New York City and establish his own design studio. For the next decade, Wormley designed carpets, textiles, cabinets, and other products for a roster of clients, all the while continuing as head designer for Dunbar. Wormley and Dunbar continued to gain recognition in the design world, and in 1954 Wormley signed exclusively with Dunbar.

Wormley is often cited as one the most influential designers of mid-20th century, modern American furniture. A number of his designs were featured in the 1950, 1951 and 1952 “Good Design” exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, one of several museums to hold Wormley furniture in their collections. A 1961 article in Playboy magazine places Wormley alongside leading designers Charles Eames, George Nelson and Eero Saarinen. The article quotes Wormley on Modernism: “Modernism means freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good." In 1967, after receiving numerous awards and accolades and still at the height of his career, Wormley retired from design and moved to Weston, Connecticut with his partner, Edward Crouse.

Although retired, Wormley continued to lecture and serve as a visiting critic at Parsons School of Design until the late 1960s, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the school in 1984. Wormley and Crouse traveled extensively, their last trip together occurring in 1975, the year of Crouse's death from cancer. Edward J Wormley died in Connecticut on November 3, 1995 at the age of 86.


Selected sources:

Gura, Judith, Chris Kennedy, Larry Weinberg, eds. Edward Wormley: The Other Face of Modernism. North Hampton, MA: DESIGNbase, Lin-Weinberg Gallery, 1997.

Kaufmann, Edgar, Jr. The Dunbar Book of Contemporary Furniture. Berne, IN: Dunbar Corporation, 1956.

Streett, Sara. "Guide to the Edward J Wormley and Edward Crouse papers, 1831-1997 (bulk 1907-1997)." Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 2003. Accessed January 2, 2011, http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/ead/htmldocs/RMM07684.html.


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Scope and Contents of Collection

The Edward J Wormley papers include awards, biographical materials, drawings and sketches, photographic materials, plans, printed materials, and typescripts. The papers are divided into two series based upon whether materials are of a personal or a professional nature, with professional materials comprising a larger percentage of the collection.

The Personal series includes a Wormley family tree, numerous family photographs, a pencil sketch of Wormley by an unidentified artist, and floor plans of his East Ontario Street, Chicago and Campanile [East 52nd Street, New York] apartments. Many of the photographs are annotated, and include pets as well as humans. Two photographs of houses belonging to the Wormley family are also present. Although the earliest photograph dates from approximately 1908, many other family photographs are undated and may be older.

The Professional series is divided between materials produced by or for the Dunbar furniture company and professional materials either created independently of Wormley's affiliation with Dunbar, or of unclear provenance. This latter sub-series includes awards and citations; blueprints and design drawings dating to 1928 when Wormley was employed by Marshall Fields department store as well as plans for furnishings for textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen made in the 1980s; a small number of furniture sketches; two original interior design renderings, one signed by Wormley; photographs of furniture as well as portraits created for publicity purposes; and writings on design. Writings, which predominantly date from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, primarily consist of typed lecture notes, many with editorial markings, and articles for professional and arts-related organizations and publications. Of note are several drafts and notecards for a presentation titled "Let's Explore Inner Space" (1961) in which Wormley applies Freudian theory to the activity of collecting. Other materials include a program for a dinner honoring Ludwig Mies van der Rohe shorty after he immigrated to the United States.

The Dunbar sub-series is primarily comprised of photographs depicting residential and office furniture; bound sales catalogs and publications; portfolios of Dunbar furniture collections; and materials related to Dunbar's publicity activities, including clippings, a portfolio of magazine advertisements, a press release, and sheet music for a 1930 song, "March Dunbar."


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Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 2 series:

  1. Personal, circa 1908-1991
  2. Professional, 1929-1984

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives January 12, 2011

66 5th Ave./
lobby level/
New York, NY, 10011

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the Kellen Design Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

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Related Materials

Cornell University holds the Edward J Wormley and Edward Crouse Papers, 1831-1997 (bulk 1907-1997). The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Archives holds a large photographic archive amassed by Wormley.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • Dunbar Furniture Company.


  • Catalogs.
  • Clippings (information artifacts).
  • Drawings.
  • Floor plans.
  • Photographs.
  • Sketches.
  • Slides (photographs).
  • Typescripts.

Personal Name(s)

  • Crouse, Edward C.


  • Chairs -- Catalogs.
  • Furniture design -- United States -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • Furniture designers.
  • Furniture -- Catalogs.
  • Interior decoration.
  • Office furniture -- United States -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Personal circa 1908-1991, undated 
Title Box Folder
Family tree, 1987  5 1
Pencil portrait of Wormley, undated  1 1
Title Box Folder
General, circa 1928-1991  1 2

Contact sheets of building exterior may depict Campanile Apartments in New York City.

Childhood, circa 1908-1918  1 3
Apartment in New York City, 1965  k_OSx-4 1
Donations to the Museum of Decorative Arts of Montreal, 1981  1 4
Portraits of Edward Crouse and William Pahlmann, 1930s-1940s  1 5
Wormley family, 1908-1909, 1947, undated  1 6-10
Title Box Folder
Plans for apartments, before 1944 and after 1947 

These plans may represent the building depicted in contact sheets in the Personal series under Photographs: General.

k_OSx-4 2
k_OSx-4 5

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Series II. Professional 1929-1984 
General 1929-1984 
Title Box Folder
Awards and citations, 1965-1982  5 2
Title Box Folder
Awards and citations: Elsie de Wolfe Award and correspondence, 1962  1 11
k_OSx-4 3
Awards and citations: Parsons School of Design honorary doctorate, 1984  5 9
Title Hive Tube
Blueprints and design drawings: Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., 1984-1985  temp 1-5

The work rolled and stored in Hive A comprises five original design plans, as well as blueprint reproductions of these plans, documenting two different designs for a set of matching side and armchairs; and ideas for a set of nesting tables.

Title Box Folder
Blueprints and design drawings: Marshall Fields, 1928 

Earlier works completed as an employee of Marshall Field's.

k_OSxx-2 6
MC C 1 1
Clippings from House Beautiful, 1945 Mar  5 3
Title Box Folder
Furniture sketches, 1961-1964  1 12
k_OSx-4 4
Photographs 1920s-1980s 
Title Box Folder
D.L. James house [Carmel, California], 1955  1 13
Furniture: Prints, undated  1 14
Furniture: Slides, 1924-1968  1 15
Title Box Folder
Furniture: Transparencies and glass plates, undated  1 16
g1 2-4
g2 1-2
Portraits, 1930s, 1955-1957, undated  1 17-19
Wormley with others, undated  1 20
Title Box Folder
Program for Mies van der Rohe dinner, 1938    1 21
Renderings, 1945, 1965, undated  k_OSx-4 6
Statements about Wormley and his work, 1953, 1966  1 22
Writings 1957-1983 
Title Box Folder
Undated  2 1
1957-1962  2 2
1963-1964  2 3
1965-1967  2 4
"Let's Explore Inner Space," 1961  2 5
"Design Strategies for Survival," 1983-1985  2 6
Dunbar 1930-1968 
Title Box Folder
Photographs: Executive offices and showrooms, 1965  2 7-8
Photographs: Furniture, undated  2 9-10
Photographs: Portraits, undated  2 11
Printed materials 1953-1961 
Bound publications 
Dunbar: A Comprehensive Collection of Upholstered and Wood Pieces for All Use, 1941  2 12
Dunbar for Modern, 1951  2 13
The Dunbar Book of Modern Furniture, 1953  2 14
The Dunbar Book of Contemporary Furniture, 1956  2 15
Janus Collection, 1957;  The Dunbar Story, circa 1961  3 1
Sales catalogs 1940s-1960s 
Hampton & Baltimore Group, circa 1940  3 2
Office furniture, circa 1959  5 4-8
Office furniture, circa 1960s  3 3
Residential furniture, circa 1960s  3 4
Today and Tomorrow collection: Catalog, 1960-1961  3 5
Today and Tomorrow Collection: Photographs for House Beautiful, 1960-1961  3 6-7
Numbered series, undated 
400s  3 8
500s  3 9
3000s  3 10
3800s  3 11
4000s  3 12
5000s  3 13
Title Box Folder
1949  6 1-3
1955  4 1
1956  6 4-8
Sofas and chairs  4 2
Benches, tables, and cabinets  4 3
Dining room, bedroom, and index  4 4
Dunbar Compatibles catalog  4 5
Title Box Folder
1968  4 6-7
Publicity 1950s-1960s 
Title Box Folder
Clippings: 1953  4 8-12
Clippings: 1960-1964  4 13
Portfolio of magazine advertisements  4 14
Press release and translation of German article, 1950, 1963  4 15
Sheet music for "March Dunbar," 1930  4 16

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Collection guide Last Updated: 08/30/2012

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