December 23, 2020

Renowned Textile Designer Jack Lenor Larsen Dies at 93

Jack Lenor Larsen, the visionary weaver and Interior Design Hall of Fame member, passed away December 22 at his home in East Hampton, New York. He died of natural causes at age 93 with Peter Olsen, his companion of 30 years, by his side. Larsen not only left an indelible mark on mid-century modernism through his textiles but was also ever curious about how art and design impacted the world. His knowledge and influence extended to the realms of education and culture, and his legacy will continue to live on at LongHouse Reserve, his home and 16-acre not-for-profit nature reserve and sculpture park in East Hampton.

“If you’ve ever received one of Jack’s beautiful handwritten notes, consider yourself very lucky,” Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen says. “A master of design, his life was an ever-changing canvas fusing all the disciplines of interiors and architecture, art, fashion, landscape design—and his letters reflected that expertise. On handmade Japanese paper, he would send kernels of insight and wisdom about the magazine that made me feel he not only got it, but moreover, he got me!”

Jack Lenor Larsen pictured above. “[Eliel] Saarinen made this chair for his wife’s studio at Cranbrook. I remember seeing two of them in the sitting room of the director’s house in 1950 when I was a graduate student,” Larsen once said, referencing the designer’s M2L 1929 Blue birch chair. Photography by Paul Godwin.

Born in Seattle, Larsen actually studied architecture at the University of Washington. But it was weaving that truly engaged him, leading him to pursue an MFA at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He then moved east to New York and established Jack Lenor Larsen Inc. in 1953. Among notable early clients were Marcel Breuer, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gordon Bunshaft, who commissioned Larsen to weave gilded linen curtains for Lever House, as well as Marilyn Monroe, Braniff and Pan Am airlines, and Louis Kahn, whom he taught to weave. In 1997, he sold Larsen Inc. to Cowtan & Tout, where he remained a consultant. From the ’50’s and through as recent as 2019, Larsen was known for sourcing the finest natural yarns, honoring weaving traditions of Asian, African, and Indigenous cultures, and leading aesthetic innovations in the field. He received honorary doctorates from Parsons, RISD, and the Royal College of Art and a National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum; his pieces reside in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the V&A.  

Like Larsen’s storied career, LongHouse’s labyrinth of design troves mirror the rich experiences behind the man who curated them. Since 1991, when LongHouse Reserve was established as a nonprofit, the house and gardens have served as a showcase for his extensive collections, including pieces by Willem de Kooning, Bryan Hunt, Sol LeWitt, Grace Knowlton, Yoko Ono, and Toshiko Takaezu, as it will continue to do going forward. “For a long time now, I have been a maker—often of the less usual and with some success,” Larsen recently wrote. “While mid-century furniture endures, my cloths are in shreds, their successful exhibits long forgotten. LongHouse, on the other hand, transcends each year more splendidly.” With his passing, the ownership of the house and Larsen’s personal collection are being transferred to the LongHouse Reserve Foundation, which will carry out his vision and turn his home into a museum.

A full retrospective of Jack Lenor Larsen will appear in the February print issue of Interior Design magazine. A memorial service will be announced in the near future. Contributions can be made to the Jack Lenor Larsen Endowment Fund, which supports the maintenance of and programming at LongHouse Reserve.

Onward, circa 2000, with its bands of Thai silk handwoven on a linen warp. Photography courtesy of the New York School of Interior Design.

Swan Song, a 1994 handwoven silk-linen. Photography courtesy of the New York School of Interior Design.

“Roots of Modern,” an exhibition of non-European arts and crafts, on view in the public gallery of LongHouse in East Hampton, New York. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Lilies flourish in the pond behind LongHouse. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller inspired Fly’s Eye Dome, John Kuhtik’s fiberglass version. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The Larsen Performance Collection for Sunbrella. Photography courtesy of Cowtan & Tout, Inc.

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