San Bernardino Museum Highlights Works of African American Architect, Female Designer


    For most Americans, where you live and how you decorate are major concerns. A house is typically the biggest expense for the majority of families, with furniture coming in third on the list of costly investments. In the U.S., the place where we hang our hat — and what we hang it on — is of the highest importance because it says a lot about who we are. However, we don’t often give a whole lot of thought to the people who designed the structures we live in or embellishments we pick to give them style and character.

    The San Bernardino County Museum is doing something to change that by giving more visibility to a pair who were pioneers in their given fields. This February, the museum invited guests to take their coats off and stay awhile as they appreciated the work of architect Paul Revere Williams and textile designer Maria Kipp.

    “Visions of Southern California: The Midcentury Modern Designs of Paul Revere Williams and Maria Kipp” highlights the contributions these individuals made to the way Americans lived in the 1950s and 60s.

    Paul Revere Williams, an architect, worked on close to 3,000 projects across the California region during his career. Most notably, Williams is chiefly responsible for the LAX Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport, but he also worked on the Arrowhead Springs Hotel and designed countless houses in San Bernardino and Ontario.

    Williams was the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects and was awarded the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, posthumously, in 2017. He dealt with racism throughout his career; he even learned to write upside down so he could work with clients who didn’t want to sit next to him in meetings.

    Williams often worked with textile designer Maria Kipp on projects. She, too, was a trailblazer, opening up her first textile design shop, following her immigration from Germany and subsequent divorce. She was one of the first designers to produce hand-woven textiles in the U.S. for decorators and architects.

    The pair’s career spans were nearly identical and both concentrated their efforts in the Los Angeles area but continued to work throughout Southern California.

    The exhibit itself contains photographs and biographical information, but arguably the best component is the midcentury living room space. While the average sofa has a lifespan of only seven to 15 years, these designs show that the style of the day can easily translate into the modern era. On the coffee table sits a book featuring Williams’ designs, and on the retro television, visitors can see a 1956 interview with Frank Sinatra as he tours a Japanese-modern home that was designed by the architect.

    The “Visions” exhibit remains on display until August and is included in the museum’s admission. Those who work at the museum are optimistic that this will inspire others to learn more about these two innovators and the contributions they made to the American home.

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