Marion Dorn is a “must know” textile and rug designer.
She also happened to lead a fascinating life. Marion Dorn ran away with her soulmate, graphic designer Edward McKnight Kauffer, to London in 1923. Dorn and Kauffer (who left his wife and daughter to be with Dorn) lived in London until the outbreak of the war in 1940. It was during her time in London that Marion Dorn established herself as one of the most important textile and rug designers of the early 20th century.
Dorn’s commissions while in London were prestigious. She designed the rug in Syrie Maugham’s infamous “white room,” legendary designer Frances Elkins was a fan, leading hotels like London’s Claridges and The Savoy tapped her for floor coverings and she did the upholstery for the London Tube.
Oh, and one of her rug designs is in a palace.
Although Dorn is best known for her rugs and textiles, she also designed wallpapers, graphics and illustrations.
Marion Dorn’s work is characterized by bold strong lines. Many of her designs are abstract or geometric, but nature also was a muse. When not geometric, her work frequently features shells, birds and foliage.
Sometimes Dorn collaborated with Kauffer, like this book of carpet designs published in 1928. Kauffer ultimately designed less than 2 dozen rugs, choosing to make his name in poster design, while Dorn would go on to design hundreds.
Born in California, Marion Dorn studied graphics at Stanford University. In 1923 she took a landmark trip to Paris with American textile designer Ruth Reeves where she met such influential designers as Raoul Dufy. This trip seemed to presage her move away from graphics to textiles. It also was where she first met Kauffer, who was visiting Paris at the same time. How romantic!
When Marion Dorn first arrived in London, she designed illustrations and batiks. Her work began to draw attention. In 1925, five of her batiks were featured in Vogue, which helped increase her popularity and reputation. Soon her textiles could be found in London speciality stores, and, because they were considered “modern textiles,” they also were shown in galleries and museums.
Marion Dorn was featured in The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art (an annual compilation of the best in architecture, interior design and the design of furniture, lighting, glassware, textiles, metalwork and ceramics) and she exhibited at the International Exhibition of Arts and Crafts, Leipzig, in 1927. This led to a number of important rug commissions for leading decorators, hotels and even ocean liners, like the Queen Mary.
Dorn formed her own company in Britain in 1934, Marion Dorn Ltd. In 1940, Dorn and Kauffer returned to the US but neither enjoyed the same prestige that they had in London. While her design ‘heyday” clearly took place while she was abroad, Marion Dorn went on to design for Schumacher and Greeffe Fabrics, among others, after she returned to the US. I think the fabrics she designed in the 1940s still look fresh today.
She retired to Tangiers, Morocco, where she died in 1964.