“Unlocking Art Deco with Joseph Urban,” a Curatorial Short by Amy Dehan and Jennifer Lee

On February 7th, Amy Dehan, a curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and Columbia’s Jennifer Lee presented on their work restoring a magnificent bedroom designed by eminent Art Deco architect and designer Joseph Urban. Born in Vienna, Urban began his career as a theatrical set designer, working on productions for the Vienna Royal Opera, Champs Élysées, and Covent Garden. In 1911, he moved to the United States to become the art director of the Boston Opera Company. He went on to design for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Ziegfeld follies, and for film director William Randolph Hurst. During the 1910s and ’20s wealthy clients would commission Urban to design the interiors of their homes. Urban also worked on the 1933 World Expo in Chicago and designed the New School Building on 14th Street in New York City.

In 1929, the wealthy Chicago Wormser family commissioned Urban to design a bedroom for their 17-year-old daughter Elaine in the family’s new penthouse in the Drake Tower. Urban created a whimsical modern bedroom that captured Elaine’s stage in life, poised between girlhood and womanhood. Full of sumptuous textures, rich greens, florals, and sleek geometric patterns, Elaine’s bedroom captures Urban’s modernist sensibility and talent for telling a story through design.

A complete reproduction of the bedroom, with a mix of original and recreated furnishings, will be on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum from July 8th-October 2nd 2022. Recreating the room at the Cincinnati Art Museum involved extensive research in the Joseph Urban papers, which are housed at Columbia University.