The Daily Heller: Discovering the Life of Jan Ruhtenberg

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James Sholly is editor and designer of Commercial Article, published by Commercial Artisan, an Indianapolis-based graphic design studio. This compact publication explores and records Indiana's regional design history. The individuals profiled in its pages have each made significant contributions to their fields, but are less well-known than their intensively-documented antecedents and contemporaries. Commercial Article is an attempt to change all that. Successfully, I might add (see here).

"It’s incredible to have stumbled upon a figure like Jan Ruhtenberg," says Sholly, discussing the focus of the current issue. "[He] was on the scene for many of Modernism’s early architectural moments. In the early 1930s he was grouped with Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, as stories of European Modernism made their way to the U.S. And now almost nobody knows about him! Although he only spent his final years in Indianapolis, we still claim him as a Hoosier (the story’s just too good!)."

The biographical analysis covered in the Commercial Article includes the following:

  • Ruhtenberg was a collaborator (and probable lover) of Philip Johnson

  • He was a very early protégé of Mies van der Rohe, and literally took him to the Bauhaus

  • He was a furniture designer for Herman Miller and Svenskt Tenn

  • He was the first European Modernist to teach architecture at a major U.S. university (Columbia)

  • He was the art director (along with Philip Johnson) of MoMA’s Machine Art show and iconic catalog

  • His Colorado Springs practice thrived for many years until a supposed scandal may have ended it all.

All issues of Commercial Article are available for purchase here.