Design Divas: The Women Who Rule Polish Design
default, Design Divas:
The Women Who
Rule Polish Design, Fabric sample, ‘Young Ladies’; designed by Alicja Wyszogrodzka, produced by Zakład Filmdruku IWP; 1958l cotton, print on fabric; photo: Michał Korta/©, Tkanina Panny (kupon na spódnicę), 1958, proj. Alicja Wyszogrodzka, prod. Zakład Filmdruku IWP, bawełna, filmdruk, fot. Michał Korta/© Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie
The Polish design scene is rapidly changing: Polish designers are becoming household names abroad, their exhibitions around the globe are getting rave reviews, and at home, their work with famous brands is making them more visible and recognisable. These changes are possible thanks to many people helping promote Polish design within Poland's borders and worldwide. The majority of them are women. Meet the women who rule Polish design.
1. The pioneers
The trend of women's domination in Polish design is not new – contemporary design experts have role models to look up to. In 1949, Zofia Szydłowska was the first president of the Cepelia Polish Art and Handicraft Foundation. Its goal was to take over the management of the manufacturing process of all national art and handicraft products, but instead, it turned out to be one of the most significant producers of extremely popular everyday objects.
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A year later, Wanda Telakowska took up the position of art director in the newly founded Institute of Industrial Design; before that, she was the head of the Polish Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau. It was thanks to her efforts that the designers now recognised as the most important figures of contemporary Polish design were able to pursue their careers. Amongst them was the first art director of Moda Polska (Polish Fashion Enterprise), Jadwiga Grabowska, who shaped the fashion tastes of (at least a half of) society.
2. Anna Sieradzka
As an art historian and a lecturer at the University of Warsaw, Anna Sieradzka educated many design and handicraft experts, as well as design historians. She has also written many publications about the history of Polish handicrafts. Sieradzka looks at the history of handicrafts in a broad sense, focussing not only on the most beautiful and popular objects but also on elements of everyday life such as clothes or furniture. In her research, design and handicraft are inseparable from the history of culture.
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3. Czesława Frejlich
After graduating from the Faculty of Industrial Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków in 1975, up until the early 1990s, Czesława Frejlich was an active designer, whose designs went into production. Over the course of time, her focus shifted to design education and promotion. As soon as the 1990s, Frejlich curated many exhibitions presenting both contemporary and historical Polish design, such as the popular exhibition Rzeczy Pospolite (Ordinary Things), displayed in the year 2000 at the National Museum in Warsaw. This exhibition was one of the first to recognise the accomplishments of 20th-century Polish design.
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Czesława Frejlich is the author of many catalogues and books on design which have also been published abroad. Since 2001, she has been the editor-in-chief of 2+3D ─ the most influential Polish design magazine, which influenced a whole generation of designers. The book Out of the Ordinary: Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Frejlich, is a great read for those who would like to find out more about Polish design – it includes essays written by 21 writers on 39 prominent Polish designers of the 20th century.
4. Agnieszka Jacobson-Cielecka
Agnieszka Jacobson-Cielecka is the curator of many design exhibitions, a journalist and a member of the programme councils of many Polish and European design festivals. If it were not for her hard work, design awareness in Poland would be at a much lower level. Her work is aimed not only at ‘design insiders’ but also at a broader audience. She introduced Elle Decoration magazine onto the Polish market in 2000.
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As the art director of School of Form at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poznań and co-author of its curriculum, she is shaping the minds of new generations of Polish designers.
5. Bogna Świątkowska
When Bogna Świątkowska was setting up the Foundation of New Culture Bęc Zmiana (today called the Bęc Zmiana Foundation) in 2002, no one expected how huge its influence would be on Polish culture. Besides publishing the Notes.na.6.tygodni (Notebook.for.6.weeks) magazine since 2003 and organising design exhibitions and competitions, as well as numerous artistic projects in public spaces, the foundation also encourages a wider debate about the significance of the city, the urbanisation process and ways of shaping our surroundings.
In 2004, the Bęc Zmiana Foundation installed figures of pink deer designed by Luiza Marklowska and Hanna Kokczyńska on top of the newly built Wisłostrada Tunnel in Warsaw. This surprising initiative contributed greatly to the revitalisation of that part of the city and was a trigger for a series of projects aimed at introducing works of art into the public sphere ─ starting with colourful sculptures of deer and neon lights, and ending with different sorts of concrete structures.
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The activity of Świątkowska’s foundation ranges from widely-commented initiatives in the public sphere to important publications and conferences focussed on modern design practices, the design of public spaces and debates on the quality of public spaces. A recent project supervised by Świątkowska is the Place Warszawy (Warsaw Squares) programme focussed on studying the city’s squares ─ their history, location, problems, advantages and disadvantages. All for the good of the people.
6. Agata Szydłowska
Agata Szydłowska is a historian and design critic, an exhibition curator and the author of numerous publications about design and graphic design. She has worked hard on the development of design knowledge and awareness in Poland, teaching about its different roles and values as well as respect and better understanding of earlier generations’ legacies.
In 2013, she released the book entitled Miliard Rzeczy Dookoła: Agata Szydłowska Rozmawia Z Polskimi Projektantami Graficznymi (A Billion Things All Around: Agata Szydłowska’s Conversations With Polish Graphic Designers). In it, Szydłowska talks about the views, life experience and achievements of respected Polish designers. For many years, she has conducted classes in history and design criticism at several universities. Also, together with Monika Rosińska, she worked on the postgraduate studies programme for the course in ‘History and Design Criticism’ at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. She is also currently the co-host of the Popatrzmy (Let’s Take A Look) podcast.
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7. Beata Bochińska
Released in 2016, Beata Bochińska’s book Zacznij Kochać Dizajn (Fall In Love With Design) brings together the history of design along with an encouragement to collect and make use of good quality designer products. Besides being the proud owner of a huge collection of Polish design, Bochińska was also the long-standing director of the Institute of Industrial Design. Moreover, she has written many articles about design and curated many design exhibitions both in Poland and abroad. She teaches a university course in Design Criticism at the University of Warsaw, and a class in New Product Development Management at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics.
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Bochińska invests a lot of energy in promoting the idea of cooperation between designers and industry representatives. To many, this may seem obvious, but in Poland, commercial cooperation is still spreading its wings after years under the communist regime. Thanks to such partnerships, high-quality designs can be produced, which end up not only in galleries and museums but also in our own homes.
8. Małgorzata Szczurek & Magdalena Dębowska
Even though Małgorzata Szczurek and Magdalena Dębowska are not connected specifically with the world of design, they managed to make a colossal contribution to this field. The editor-in-chief and president of the Karakter Publishing House carefully shape their publishing agenda – many of their publications focus on the importance and meaning of design and the design process. It’s important to take note that the publications released by Karakter are, themselves, perfect examples of excellent graphic and book design.
In Karakter’s many publications, design is perceived through various perspectives and understood in a very broad sense. It is commented on by internationally renowned authors and experts such as Walter Gropius or Deyan Sudjic; it is looked at from a more personal perspective (e.g. the two books written by Marcin Wicha); it is discussed in a historical perspective (e.g. Czerwony Monter [The Red Fitter] by Piotr Rypson), as well as through a modern lens (e.g. Nie Ma Się Co Obrażać: Nowa Polska Ilustracja [No Need To Take Offense: Modern Polish Illustration] by Patryk Mogilnicki). Karakter’s books look at ‘large-scale’ design – architecture, as well as ‘smaller-scale’ design – like typography.
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Thanks to the diligence and care put into their books, Małgorzata Szczurek and Magdalena Dębowska initiated a trend of reading about design in Poland.
9. Ewa Solarz
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Ewa Solarz, photo: courtesy of Ewa Solarz
There is a well-known proverb: ‘what youth is used to, age remembers'. It seems that Ewa Solarz took this folk wisdom to heart – all of her projects are made for kids! It is not easy to educate children about the intricacies of design and modern art, and yet it is these children who will grow up to shape our future and our surroundings.
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As an expert in design, Solarz perceives adults and children as equal recipients of this discipline. For her, design is a part of everyday life, which she mentions both on her Dom Z Pomysłem (An Idea For The House) website and at Domplusdom (Houseplushouse) – an online guide devoted to interior design. She also supports significant festivals and serves as a curator of exhibitions for adults and children alike. She has published some incredible books on design for children, most notably D.E.S.I.G.N. and The ABCs Of Polish Design.
10. Ewa Gołębiowska
Ewa Gołębiowska managed to accomplish a mission impossible. In 2005, in a small, suburban town, far away from the capital, he created a thriving design centre, namely the Cieszyn Castle (previously called the Silesia Castle of Art and Enterprise). It is a local government institution of culture that aims to ‘support the development of innovative entrepreneurship by drawing from the potential of design’.
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Yet, Cieszyn Castle’s activities do not revolve solely around promoting design as a business concept or connecting designers and producers. It houses many exhibitions, conferences and workshops, as well as releases books and albums on the art of design, contemporary design and the struggles artists face today. The Castle’s website says:
We believe that design has the power to solve problems and so designers can help us change our surroundings so as to make our lives better. The Castle’s architecture itself proves that it is possible to include physical, social and cultural differences in design.
11. Anna Demska, Anna Frąckiewicz, Anna Maga & Kaja Muszyńska
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Anna Demska, Anna Frąckiewicz, Anna Maga and Kaja Muszyńska, photo: Bartosz Bajerski / MNW and promotional materials
It is just as difficult to appreciate modern art without any basic knowledge about art history as it is to get excited about the modern designer products without recognising the works that came before them. After all, the history of design is a sequence of events and changes. Even though we became used to having easy access to museums which display the works of classical painters and sculptors, the icons of Polish design were often nowhere to be found. Anna Demska, Anna Maga, Kaja Muszyńska and Anna Frąckiewicz (the latter of whom who passed away in 2016) decided to change that.
Thanks to the joint efforts of the four curators, the impressive collections of Polish design exhibits which had lingered in the National Museum in Warsaw's storerooms outside of Warsaw were finally dusted off and brought out into the sunlight. Their hard work paid off – today, one and all can visit the National Museum's new permanent Gallery of Polish Design. In spite of being a quite small space, the gallery contains a plenitude of exhibits that tell the story of the rich history of Polish design.
12. Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka
A historian and design critic, Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka was the first graduate in History of Art at the Jagiellonian University to earn a PhD in design. Today, she lectures on the history and theory of design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, as well as at many other institutions and organisations. She has devoted her time to promoting both contemporary and historic Polish designers and their work.
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As the co-owner of the Vzór company, which aims to bring back the finest achievements of the late 20th-century Polish design for a modern audience, she strongly believes that well-designed products are meant to be used rather than stuck in museums’ storerooms. Łuczak-Surówka encourages people to begin buying and collecting designer products during specially organised charity events. For example, she created an auction called Design For Animals. All the money raised goes to help animals in need.
Originally written in Polish, Mar 2018, translated by AS, Jun 2018
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