First Chair of IDSA Board is Subject of New Book

Biography Honors the Legacy of John Vassos, FIDSA

Jun 3 2016 - 11:05am

The first biography of IDSA Fellow and the first Chair of IDSA's Board of Directors has debuted. John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life is written by Danielle Shapiro, PhD. The book examines the industrial designer who made history with the spectacular 1939 World’s Fair premiere of the first, mass-produced, television receiver. "This is his legacy,” writes Shapiro. “shaping the way we interact with our media technologies.”

Shapiro signed books on April 7, 2016 at The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, MD and will speak at the New York Public Library at 6pm on June 14.

“I am excited to release my book," she says. "John Vassos, FIDSA, was a brilliant artist; a pioneering industrial designer and educator; and a visionary spokesperson for his profession. John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life examines his five-decade career, and it situates John Vassos among the most influential designers of his generation."

Infused with images of more than 100 works from books, drawings, products and period advertising, Shapiro's book presents "the untold story of a man who rose from anonymity as an advertising artist to become a crucial, post-war designer who shaped the look of modern technology as the Radio Corporation of America (RCA)'s leading designer."

Vassos was born in Romania in 1898 of Greek parentage and moved to New York City in 1918. He was instrumental in the development of "a self-conscious industrial design profession" during the late 1920s and 1930s and into the post-war period. Vassos insisted indsutrial designers should be concerned with the legal status of their profession and in 1944 along with Alexander Kostellow and others, established educational and licensing requirements. Vassos also developed a four-year educational program for industrial design. In 1965, he became a founder of IDSA and the Society's first Board Chair.

Shapiro is an independent scholar who served as senior program officer in the Division of Public Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her awards include a teaching fellowship at Harvard University; a Fulbright; and postdoctoral fellowships at the Archives of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Wolfsonian Museum. Shapiro was a curatorial assistant at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, which spawned her career-long interest in industrial design. She earned her PhD in art history and communications studies at McGill University.

A New York Times review quotes Shapiro as saying she researched the book through a process she describes as "gritty, dirty, messy and exhilirating."  Although Vassos was a prolific industrial designer and artist during the rise of mass broadcast media from the 1920s to the ’80s, many histories of industrial design have left out or played down his accomplishments, adds Shapiro. Read more.