Best known for his iconic Executive chair and quintessentially modern in his ethos, Charles Pollock continued to design and create art throughout his lifetime, quietly driving the course of modernism in America.
It starts as a thought, and then becomes an idea, something I might think about for years. When the time is right, I express it on paper, usually as a simple line in space. Finally, it takes shape.
7 Things to Know About Charles Pollock
He attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit with fellow alumni Harry Bertoia and Diana Ross
He served as the art director for Infantry Magazine while stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia
His first job in New York was designing for Donald Deskey
He perfected the technique of swaging (squeezing metal gradually to narrow its diameter) at Pratt and used it in his Swaged Leg series with George Nelson
He designed and introduced the award winning Penelope chair for Castelli in 1982
He released his last design in 2012 at the age of eighty-two, the CP Lounge for Bernahrdt Design
His Pollock chair was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Louvre in Paris
Executive Chair for Knoll
Pollock spent five years perfecting his design for the Executive chair. Working feverishly in a Brooklyn studio (which he rented using his $20-per week allowance from Florence Knoll) Pollock drafted the final design in 1963. The resulting form was a decidedly softer, yet sleek chair that was both elegant and durable. Held together with an aluminum band, the tufted cushion sat neatly in a plastic shell perched atop a simple aluminum base. Reflective of changing workplace attitudes, the Executive chair symbolized the modern office and the modern executive. The chair was a smashing success for Knoll when it was launched in 1965 and it remains in production to this day. Reflecting on his creation, Pollock mused "It’s like a woman who is beautiful when she’s 19 and beautiful when she’s 45. She might be older, but she’s still beautiful."
Charles Pollock 1930–2013
At their first meeting, Charles Pollock made quite an impression on Florence Knoll, literally crashing into her as she stepped off the elevator. She had denied a meeting with the burgeoning designer for some time, and finally relented after reading an article about Pollock in a design magazine. Pollock came prepared with a chair prototype in tow and toppled the company founder in the hallway. Knoll hired him anyway, marking the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.
Pollock was born in Philadelphia in 1930. As a child, his family moved to Detroit and again to Muskegon, Michigan when Pollock was sixteen. He decided to stay in Detroit on his own and worked on the Chrysler assembly line when he was not in school. After graduation, he received a scholarship to the Pratt Institute and shaped furniture designs with wire. His sculptures caught the eye of a visiting lecturer George Nelson, who offered Pollock a job after graduating. Upon his being discharged from the Army, Pollock went to work for Nelson and together they designed the Swaged-Leg chair, an example of which resides in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.
After what could be described as rocky start at Knoll, Pollock set to work designing an office chair in a studio he rented in Brooklyn. The resulting Executive chair, now known as the Pollock chair, featured a single band of aluminum wrapped around the chairs perimeter, securing a tufted leather seat tucked neatly into a plastic shell. The chair was a soaring success for the company remains a quintessential mainstay in the modern office to this day.
Enjoying the royalties from the success of his design, Pollock went under the radar for many years, traveling widely and creating art. In 2012, Pollock was approached by Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design and he jumped at the opportunity for a new challenge. Pollock created the CP lounge chair which won international acclaim, marking his last major project. In August of 2013, Pollock was killed in a fire that swept his studio in Queens leaving behind a vast collection of original artwork, sketches and furniture designs.