Many may be surprised to learn that during decades when America wrestled with its identity in the streets, an African American sat with a pencil and gave shape to the American Dream object by object. Much of what we know treasure as middle-class American icons, the objects that turned a house into a home, were designed by Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison. You might call him the George Washington Carver of industrial design.
If you grew up with a View Master, you grew up with Chuck. If you remember the bonnet portable hair dryer, you remember Chuck. If your family had a console television, there’s a good chance you had one by Chuck. A Life’s Design: The Life and Work of Charles Harrison tells the story behind these and hundreds more items that comprise a body of work honored by the Smithsonian Institution with its National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.
This Black History Month is an opportune time for book clubs, history buffs, collectors, educators, students and aspiring creatives to explore this untold story.
10 Facts of Life to Consider this Black History Month:
1. Sitting Pretty. Madame C. J. Walker is not the only African American business icon in the beauty salon. The chair you sit in, the curling iron you use may have been designed by Chuck Harrison.
2. Black Box. The 1960s were a time of firsts for Blacks on TV, but did you know your first compact or console TV, might have been designed by a Black man?
3. D-I-Y. Do-It-Yourself did not begin with the Hipsters. African Americans have a long tradition of making the objects of everyday life stretching back to their first days in the Americas. Designing more than 100 home sewing machines in 10 years, the great African American industrial designer Charles Harrison carried this tradition forward in his work during the latter 20th Century.. “85 percent of my effort went into designing consumer products to improve people’s everyday quality of life.”
For all 10 Facts to Consider for Black History Month, visit A Life’s Design: The Life and Work of Industrial Designer Charles Harrison.