January 21, 2014

Remembering Maya Romanoff, Design Icon

Maya Romanoff, the man behind the ingenuity and beauty at Maya Romanoff Corporation, passed away on January 15 at the age of 72 with his family and friends by his side. The funeral was held on January 17 at Chicago Jewish Funerals near his home in Skokie, Illinois. As founder and chief creative officer of his namesake company, Romanoff was an industry icon whose presence will be missed across generations.

“Maya made all of our lives bigger for having known him,” said Laura Romanoff, the niece of Maya and the company’s VP of sales and marketing, during the eulogy. “He saw something where others saw nothing. Maya saw life through a kaleidoscope and helped us all see the world from his big, beautiful, funky perspective.”

Born Richard Romanoff in 1941, Romanoff has been called a “true original,” from the moniker he used in the 1970’s, Multifarious Maya, to the company he founded in 1969 after discovering a tie-dyed t-shirt at Woodstock. His designs—rooted in the simple premise of dyed fabric, leather and silk—are now found in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. His large-scale installations of hand-dyed fabric once draped Chicago’s Sun-Times Building—all the way from the seventh-floor terrace to the Chicago River—and Irving and Joan Harris commissioned him to create the shimmering main stage curtain at the Harris Theater of Music and Dance at Millennium Park. Among countless honors, he was awarded the 1994 IFDA Trailblazer Award and the 2010 Aid to Artisans Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’m sure I speak for the entire design community that we all deeply mourn the loss of an undisputed icon,” says Cindy Allen, editor in chief of Interior Design. “Best described by his exquisite wall covering, Maya has bedazzled us for decades, and his masterful artistry—and unforgettable spirit—will carry on with his beloved wife, Joyce, and family, for years to come.”

Legendary weaver Jack Lenor Larsen helped Maya move seamlessly from enveloping fabric environments to wallcoverings. In 1988, Joyce Lehrer joined the company, and a decade later Maya and Joyce married. At the age of 49, Maya was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, yet he never stopped pushing his company to create and to grow. Joyce Romanoff became president of Maya Romanoff in 2002, and her children and his niece assumed leadership roles in the company. Joyce amplified Maya’s vision, helping him to create an internationally renowned company with products found in homes, palaces, hotels, stores and museums worldwide. This month, the first biography on Maya Romanoff is launching at City Files Press.

“Maya Romanoff’s vision as artist and designer encompassed over half a century of creativity and innovation,” says David Revere McFadden, chief curator emeritus, Museum of Arts and Design, New York. “His elegant wallcoverings, often using the most unexpected of materials such as glass beads and embroidery, were achieved through a seamless integration of art and craftsmanship. Maya lives on in the beauty he created, and he will be remembered with special fondness by all who were fortunate enough to know him.”

In Maya’s own words, “My aim has always been to create materials that will inspire people again and again. Joyce and I have worked doggedly for decades to ensure Maya Romanoff materials are the most innovative, highest quality and most beautiful of any in the world. In doing so, we’ve not only created a strong company, but a strong company culture, bringing in the next generation of our family to lead into the future.”

Upon receiving the Visionary Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, Maya said, “This award signifies the beauty of our heritage and our legacy—I am deeply thankful.” The same can be said of the design community’s overwhelming response to Maya’s passing: it is a true tribute to his legacy.

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