Women in Design

Female designers: shattering the glass ceiling, while creating glass masterpieces (among other innovative objects)

Though not often recognized as prominently as their male counterparts, female designers have had a significant impact on the world of design, using their creativity and inventiveness to push boundaries and marry the concepts of beauty and practicality. Read below to learn about some of the inspiring female designers featured in the Museum’s Design Galleries.

Marion Mahony Griffin was one of the first women to graduate with a degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She later worked as a chief designer for Frank Lloyd Wright for 14 years, not only making substantial contributions to Wright’s projects, but also receiving her own commissions.


Marion Mahony Griffin (American, 1871–1962). Window, from the Gerald Mahony Residence, Elkhart, Indiana  1907. Gift of family and friends in memory of Pamela Jacobs Keegan, architect M1984.14

Margarete Heymann-Löbenstein-Marks (known as Grete Marks) attended three semesters at the Bauhaus, the renowned German art, design, and architecture school, before leaving to establish her own ceramic manufactory. There, she created some of her best-known pieces, like the teapot pictured below.


Designed by Margarete Heymann-Löbenstein-Marks (German, 1899–1990), Manufactured by Haël Werkstätten (Marwitz, Germany, 1923–1934), Teapot, ca. 1930. Purchase, by exchange M2011.17.1a,b. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Margaret De Patta developed an interest in metalwork in the mid-1930s, after struggling to find a well-designed wedding ring for her first marriage. Though she became very influential in the American jewelry movement, some of her earliest work includes the flatware pictured below.


Margaret De Patta (American, 1903–1964), Place Setting, 1936. Purchase, with funds from the Edward U. Demmer Foundation M2014.74.1–.4. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Born in Budapest, Eva Zeisel studied ceramics at the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts and apprenticed at a local porcelain factory, later becoming the first woman admitted to the local pottery guild. She is now well-known for her beautifully playful, yet practical, tableware designs, including some in innovative materials like acrylic resin plastic seen below.


Eva Zeisel (American, b. Hungary, 1906–2011), Manufactured by Clover Box and Manufacturing Company (Bronx, New York, active mid-20th century), Cloverleaf Bowl, from the Cloverware series, 1947. Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust M2017.54. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Elsa Tennhardt was one of the earliest female industrial designers in the United States. Working in the 1920s, Tennhardt was clearly influenced by Cubism, as shown by the geometric quality and triangular forms that make up the cocktail set she designed, pictured below. The set was featured in a 1928 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, but it did not credit Tennhardt.


Elsa Tennhardt (American, b. Germany, 1889–1980), Manufactured by E. and J. Bass Company (New York, New York, ca. 1890–1930), Cocktail Set, ca. 1928. Purchase, with funds from Demmer Charitable Trust M2015.69.1a-.8. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Maija Grotell was a Finnish ceramicist who taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1938-1966. Her pottery is simple in form, but often features decorative carvings or colorful, complex glazes on the exterior. One of her vases (pictured below) will be on display in the upcoming exhibition, Scandinavian Design and the United States, 1890-1980, opening May 15, 2020.


Maija Grotell (American, b. Finland, 1899–1973), Vase, ca. 1950. Purchase, with funds from the Edward U. Demmer Foundation, in memory of Cheryl Robertson, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 1979–1981 and 1993–1996 M2013.41. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

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