We take an overdue look into the life of a prolific mid-century designer who balanced an unapologetic exploration of modernity with her deep connection to centuries old craft traditions.
What makes Clara Porset’s work so broad, so variant, and so universally admired is marked quite simply in the chapters of her life story. She was a vagrant of her time, a person of the world who collected the teachings of each of her adopted homes. Though Cuban by blood, she fled to Mexico as a young girl, educated herself in Paris, in New York, and even at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, only to finally weave all of these experiences into a life rooted back in her native continent. Understanding and honoring the vast and deep Mexican craft tradition became her raison d’etre. And as such, perhaps no other artist understood the usage of native materiality in the ways she seemed to. But, combining this deep appreciation for the traditions of Latin America with a uniquely traveled -- and modern -- perspective gave Clara Porset a voice that handily spans time and place.
To put it short, it is beyond time that we honor Clara Porset for the contributions she herself made to the history of mid-century design. For years, she was overshadowed as the female half of a heterosexual life (and design) partnership. But records and all accounts detail at length the monumental work for which she was responsible. Throughout her career, she designed for incredibly respected people (Barragan, for example) and was the sole contributor to many exhibitions, all the while providing designs under hers and her husband’s name for a series of furniture companies, architects, and interiors firms.
Clara, thank you for your perseverance and your incredible vision. The balance we aim to strike between an unapologetic exploration of modernity and an equally as stubborn insistence on tradition was your very vision. We look to you and we thank you.
All photos are taken from the book Clara Porset’s Design: Creating a Modern Mexico.
Drawing for the furniture Clara entered into the competition Organic Design for Home Furniture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1941
Clara and her chief of production in the workshop, circa 1951-1952