Remembering: Evelyn Ackerman

Remembering: Evelyn Ackerman

Published on Friday, November 30, 2012.
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Evelyn Ackerman, early 50s, in her and Jerome's fledgling design studio Jenev. Photo/Bob Buckman.

Anne Cusack

Evelyn Ackerman, a leading California mid-century modern designer, died November 28, 2012, at the age of 88. 

Ackerman was born Evelyn Lipton on January 12, 1924, in Detroit, Michigan. In 1941 she graduated from Central High School and began at the University of Michigan as an art major. Then, in 1942, her father died and her three brothers entered the military. With her mother in need of help, she transferred to Wayne University as a fine arts and art history major. There she was introduced to the German Expressionists, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Klee, and Matisse by an art history professor. After completing her BFA degree with distinction in 1945, Evelyn was offered a scholarship at Wayne to complete her MFA degree in fine arts.

In 1948 Evelyn met Jerome (Jerry) Ackerman at her sister-in-law’s studio, Lucé Lipton Interior Designs, where Evelyn worked part time; they began dating and married on September 12, 1948. Shortly after marrying, Jerry and Evelyn visited his parents, who had moved to Los Angeles. While there, they met and became lifelong friends with Beatrice Wood, Gertrud and Otto Natzler, John Follis, Rex Goode, and Max and Rita Lawrence, who formed Architectural Pottery.

As art students in 1949, Evelyn and Jerry found inspiration for a creative vision that changed their life and career. “For Modern Living,” an exhibition organized by Alexander Girard at the Detroit Institute of Arts, showcased the work of several innovative contemporary designers, including Ray and Charles Eames and George Nelson furniture, Kurt Versen lighting, and V’Soske carpets. This experience turned them on to the idea of careers marrying their training in design and fine arts. 

Drawn by the temperate climate and the lively postwar artistic community, the couple moved to Los Angeles, California in 1952, following the completion of their MFAs at Wayne, to establish themselves as designer-craftsmen. They opened a studio, where they sold Jerry's slip-cast ceramics and a wide variety of limited-production decorative accessories designed by Evelyn, including mosaic plaques and tables, woven and hooked tapestries and rugs, carved wood panels, door pulls, and other hardware. As their talent and business blossomed over the years, so did their commissions and major museum exhibitions. Today, the Ackermans' work, highly acclaimed over the course of their 50-year collaborative partnership, has been rediscovered by both design historians and a new generation of mid-century collectors.

For more on the brilliant life and work of Evelyn Ackerman, please see Joyce Lovelace's article from our June/July 2009 issue of American Craft magazine.