Modernist Designers Series / Clara Porset

Our featured designer for February played a strong role in expanding modernist design beyond Europe. After being exiled from her native country, she adopted a new home and forever changed the way it would see design. We had the privilege of seeing her work in person on a recent trip to Mexico City!

If you missed January’s designer, read here.

(   source   )

Clara Porset (1895-1981)
Mexico (born in Cuba)

Clara Porset is credited for revolutionizing modern design in Mexico, though she didn’t start there.

Born in Cuba to a wealthy family, Porset studied at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts, the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, as well as the Sorbonne, the Louvre, and Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

The latter is where she met Josef Albers, the former Bauhaus designer and educator famous for introducing color theory to modern design. Porset’s time with Albers would largely influence the modern forms of her future designs.

In the early 1930s, Porset attempted to return to Cuba to teach and design, but her support of the Cuban resistance led to political exile. She finally landed in Mexico, where she would spend the rest of her career and life.

Totonaca Suite, Low Chair, 1959  (   source   )

Totonaca Suite, Low Chair, 1959 (source)

To her great credit, Porset embraced Mexico’s culture and fused it with her work. She traveled around the country, soaking up its craft traditions, art, and culture. When she designed furniture, she kept the existing forms and edited out the ornate details, creating a simplified, modern take on tradition.

Her most famous designs were her new interpretations of Mexico’s butaque chair, a low, curving lounge chair with history dating back to Spanish rule.

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1940s  (   source   )

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1940s (source)

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1950  (   source   )

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1950 (source)

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1950s  (   source   )

Butaque Lounge Chair, 1950s (source)

Porset won many design awards within Mexico and received recognition from MoMA’s Organic Design for Home Furnishing contest in 1940. Several renowned architects of the age embraced her work as well, including Luis Barragán. Porset worked with Barragán personally to furnish his own home and many of his architectural projects. We’ll be sharing photos of their collaboration on the blog in the future, so stay tuned!

Porset’s lasting contribution to modern design was not only to spread it to Mexico, but also to give it a new flavor, one representative of the Mexican people themselves.

More Modern Designs by Clara Porset

Totonaca Suite, 3-Seat Sofa, 1959  (   source   )

Totonaca Suite, 3-Seat Sofa, 1959 (source)

High Armchairs  (   source   )

High Armchairs (source)

Woven Rush Folding Screen, 1950s  (   source   )

Woven Rush Folding Screen, 1950s (source)

Chairs in mahogany and cotton, 1950s  (   source   )

Chairs in mahogany and cotton, 1950s (source)

DM Nacional Desk, 1950s  (   source   )

DM Nacional Desk, 1950s (source)

Lounge chairs, 1950s  (   source   )

Lounge chairs, 1950s (source)

Keep an eye out for our next featured designer in March…

In the meantime, tell us your favorite modern designer in the comments below!