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Southern Roots of Mid-Century Modern at the Gregg Museum

For the next three months, the Gregg Museum on NC State’s campus will host the Southern Roots of Mid-Century Modern exhibit. Featuring examples of modern design in furniture, art, architecture, and clothing, visiting the exhibit is a bit like stepping back in time a few decades.

Form, Function, Modernism

Modern design is often summed up with the phrase “Form follows function”. This is but a small part from Louis Sullivan’s essay, The tall office building artistically considered:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.

This was often interpreted to mean that the design of an object was secondary the ability of the object to perform its intended function.

This is more easily visible in architecture than in other disciplines such as fashion,  industrial or product design, but the minimalist aesthetic is often prevalent in these as well.

Model for Catalano's paraboloid roof house

Raleigh and the Modern Movement

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen some of the many examples of Raleigh’s legacy of modern architecture. On display are original blueprints, digital exhibits, and 3D models from architects at NC State’s School of Design.

Model for the livestock judging pavilion on the NC State Fairgrounds

Many of the works featured (esp. in architecture) are from local designers considered pioneers in their field. A few featured artists are Joe Cox, Matthew Nowicki, Milton Small, George Matsumoto, and Eduardo Catalano, to name a few.

The Influence and Perception of the South

Much of Raleigh’s development in the field of modern design is a direct result of Henry Kamphoefner (above), the first Dean of the new School of Design at North Carolina State College. He was instrumental in recruiting professors that were talented and distinguished in their field.

Most tourist outsiders, having been fed on the propaganda of Williamsburg, Tryon’s Palace, and the New Orleans French Quarter, have written off the culture of the Southeast as inferior to their own provinces. … Williamsburg is now, however, coming into proper focus in the South as an authentic documentation of the South’s architectural heritage, and the enlightened Southerner is ready to use the lessons of Williamsburg to continue and build onto the building culture of our time.

–Henry Kamphoefner, 1960

The National Park Service has labeled Raleigh as a “proving ground for modernist architectural innovation” and the exhibit explores how Raleigh earned this reputation.

Talley Student Center, home of the Gregg Museum

Quite fittingly, the Southern Roots of Mid-Century Modern exhibit is in the Gregg Museum, located in modernist Talley Student Center on NC State’s Campus. The Talley Student Center was designed by Milton Small, who served a brief stint as professor of architecture at NC State and later went on to design many of the buildings on campus and around Raleigh.

There is no charge for admission and the museum is open from noon until 8PM on weekdays, and 2PM until 8pm on weekends. It’s located at 2610 Cates Avenue.

Further Reading:


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