Rowena Reed Kostellow, FIDSA

Rowena Reed Kostellow, FIDSA
(1900-1988)

Regarded as one of the founders of American industrial design education, US sculptor, designer and Professor. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 6, 1900, she pursued a Bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and later studied sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute.  After marrying Alexander Kostellow on September 26, 1921, they moved to New York City where she studied sculpting under the direction of Alexander Archipenko

She and Kostellow believed “art education was purely subjective…there was no order, no organization, no continuity, nothing you could build on.” They thought that it was possible to define a rational structure of visual relationships, and that the objective principles of order and organization on which that structure rested could be applied to all forms of visual expression – it wasn’t dependent on the content or distracted by personal taste. They created visual exercises — like exercises in music — that develop sensitivity and skills to make beautiful forms. 

In 1929, the duo moved to Pittsburgh to teach at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where they co-founded, with Donald Dohner the Institute's first industrial design education course.  In 1938, Reed and her husband were invited to Pratt to help found Pratt's industrial design education course. Her husband stated that their teaching approach on Industrial design “drew on modern scientific methods that supported self-expression as well as design for industry".

The original Pratt vision was organized in a triangular fashion: Dohner designer, handling the practical instruction, Alexander Kostellow expressing his philosophies of organic visuals, and Rowena Reed Kostellow sculptor, expounding on the physical disciplines of organizing shapes and materials into a coherent three-dimensional whole. Their new design process focused on mass production and mass markets required multidisciplinary approach, iterative process, visual design, user centered and design thinking. They developed a curriculum based on learning abstract relationships with application in real products and environments that began in Foundation and ended at graduation. Their program combined teaching sculptural form with real life projects sponsored by industry.

Rowena Reed’s unshakable conviction that “foundation” studies aimed at exploring abstract visual relationships that are essential to creating and appreciating art and design. She focused her own attention and considerable gifts on exploring these relationships in the three-dimensional realm, creating the standard three-dimensional exercises. She spent her life developing and refining a methodology for teaching what she called the ”structure of visual relationships”, with three-dimensional exercises of form, plane, and line, convexity, and concavity and space problems. The rigorist formalist principle-based visual relationships of dominant, sub-dominant and subordinate composition, the curriculum started with simple pieces: 3 rectilinear forms, 2 colors, black and white compositions, then moved to more complex curvilinear forms, dynamic compositions, color gradation and color transparency. Projects that are abstract like Bach’s piano exercises so students can practice them over and over. As a result of her accomplishments in industrial design, she was named Chair of the program in 1962 until 1966, she continued to teach until 1987. 

Reed Kostellow eventually died on September 17, 1988, at the age of 88. Her students created the Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund at Pratt in her memory. rowenafund.org