Edited by Christopher Long and Aurora McClain
Book and cover design by Peter Duniecki
Cover: “Propeller” chair, c. 1937. Collection Paulette Frankl. Photographer unknown.
Viennese émigré Paul T. Frankl (1886-1958) was one of the pioneers of early modern design in the United States, known for his “Skyscraper” furniture of the 1920s and his work for the Hollywood élite in the 1930s and early 1940s.
Among Frankl’s best-known designs were his stair-stepped “Skyscraper” bookcases, his streamlined “Speed” chairs, and “Propeller” chair, as well as his many original pieces in rattan. Toward the end of his life, he also produced a significant body of mass production pieces for the Johnson Furniture Company.
Frankl was a prolific and influential writer about design, the author of five books, including Form and Re-Form (1930) and Machine-Made Leisure (1932), and admired by his cohorts and his friend Frank Lloyd Wright. When Frankl died of cancer in 1958, he left his nearly complete autobiography. This never-before published work, written at the end of Frankl’s long career, is a vivid account of his early life, his rise in the profession, and his many travels in search ideas and forms. Accompanying Frankl’s text are eighty-five photographs and drawings, many of which have never previously been published. The book also includes an introduction by the noted design scholar Christopher Long and a remembrance written by his daughter Paulette Frankl.
What will now be known as Frankl’s last book is written in a captivating style befitting the personality of a gentle and cultured man who revolutionized and advocated for an American Modernism.
Concurrent to the book’s release was an exhibition curated by Christopher Long and Laura McGuire at the Kiesler Foundation in Vienna.
This is a page turner! Anyone who has read Christopher Long’s essential book Paul T. Frankl and Modern American Design (Yale, 2007) may ask, why this one? Just wait until you have an opportunity to read this easy flowing account, which captures this leading Modernist in his own words. Few changes have been made in Frankl’s original text, generously shared by his daughter Paulette Frankl, but previously unpublished photographs, a brief preface and foreword by Long, memories of her father by his daughter, and an extensive bibliography and index have been added. Paul Frankl’s candid reflections capture his time, with its challenges and flaws. From Vienna, New York, and Los Angeles, Frankl looks back on his experiences, his colleagues and collaborators, and his clients with fresh insights.
– Bennett Johnson, Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine – Spring 2014 Issue
Instrumental for a niche and passionate audience to understand how the love of modern design, in its adolescence, became so widespread in the United States between 1920 and 1950.
– Book Review for Paul T. Frankl Autobiography, Casabella, October 2015
Christopher Long, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, is one of the leading American experts on Viennese Modernism. In 2011, he presented new research about the Loos-House on Michaelerplatz in Vienna. In 2007, Long published the first monograph of the Austrian-American designer Paul Theodor(e) Frankl (1886-1958). For Art Deco lovers in the USA, Frankl is known as the inventor of “Skyscraper” furniture. Since the Viennese exhibit “The Visionaries & The Exiled” of 1995, people also know him in Europe as the key figure of the avant-garde exports from the old continent in the USA. Educated as an architect in Vienna and Berlin, Frankl left for America in 1914 and traveled to Tokyo. After that, he established himself in New York, furnished salons for Helena Rubinstein and founded the Frankl Galleries, where he sold modern design. He celebrated “American” Modernism with skyscraper furniture and wrote important books that explained Modernism. The autobiography is an exciting account of his adventures up to his late works in Los Angeles at the Frankl store on Rodeo Drive.
– Book Reviews, Architecture. Aktuell, December 2013
He designed skyscraper cabinets and furnished the living rooms of Hollywood stars like Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin: Paul T. Frankl (1886-1958) defined American modernist design like no other – but in his native Austria, he remained largely unknown. The Kiesler Foundation in Vienna has now taken on an exhibit curated by the American architecture professor Christopher Long and Kiesler expert Laura Mc Guire, which leads us through Frankl’s early Art Deco designs to his metal and rattan furniture, and later biomorphic shapes and mass productions. Thanks to Frankl’s daughter, Paulette, extensive photographic materials are on display.
– Karen Bofinger, “Man of Our Times,” Architectural Digest November 18, 2013
In the years between the two world wars, many Viennese artists, architects, and designers moved to the United States. Some were on the search for better opportunities, others were fleeing from an impending war. There were also those who had already come earlier, before the First World War. In the case of Paul T. Frankl, it was the pure interest in architecture and art that initially took him to New York, and later to Los Angeles. In his adopted home, Frankl established himself as a furniture designer who was a pioneer for American modernism. East Asian forms and modern lines shaped his style…. The photos shown at the exhibition [at the Kiesler Stiftung] give a very good impression of this. The value of Paul T. Frankl and his formative influence on American modernism is fully explored in this remarkable exhibition and in the autobiography edited by the curator Christopher Long and Aurora McClain.
– Von T. Kahler, “Paul T. Frankl – Avantgardist and pioneer of American modern design,” Aerzte Woche, November 14, 2013
Paul T. Frankl showed Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, and Alfred Hitchcock how to live more elegantly. The Viennese Designer who emigrated to the USA in 1914, was an icon of style for American Modernism. Now, his autobiography which was thought to be lost, has appeared…. The book is exquisitely designed.
– Angelika Hager, “The Taste Maker,” Profil, November 2013
Extended until 1 March: at The Kiesler Foundation of design you can discover Paul T. Frankl, who once worked for Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin and Katherine Hepburn. It’s not a large exhibit, but it is pioneering: because, currently, who knows Paul T. Frankl in his hometown of Vienna? Some of his Austrian colleagues who, like him, migrated to America between the two world wars, are better known in this country: Richard Neutra and Frederick Kiesler. Still, Frankl was, in his day, a star of the design scene in the U.S.
– Peter Stuiber, “Pillar of Vienna,” The Gap Online, January 27, 2014
This autobiography is very much a profound piece of design-history and cultural history written in a remarkable, personal, and often subtle self-conscious style. Frankl was a real cosmopolitan of the truly old-Viennese brand, distilled in the electric mental air and at the marble-polished tables of the coffeehouses like the Café Museum, Café Herrenhof, and Café Central. He was already a prominent figure in the large exhibition “Visionäre und Vertriebene” (Visionaries and Exiles. The Austrian Impact on Modern US-Architecture) shown in 1994/95 in the Kunsthalle Wien at Karlsplatz.
– Otto Kapfinger, author of Architecture in Austria: A Survey of the 20th Century, and Architecture in Vienna
A gem of an historical source, Paul T. Frankl’s autobiography offers an unrivaled, page-turning insight into the rise of American modernism from an insider’s perspective. This unique book provides a wonderfully illustrated and nuanced account of one of America’s most significant twentieth-century designers.
– Alison J. Clarke, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
Christopher Long’s exemplary biography of Paul T. Frankl restored the designer to his rightful place in the pantheon of pioneering American modernists. Now Frankl’s autobiography sheds even more light on the man, other key artists and designers, and most important, Austrian and American culture in the first half of the twentieth century.
– Wendy Kaplan, Los Angeles County Museum of Art