Harry Mansell: an unsung English modern designer

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“Bend It Like Breuer,” an exhibition of historical bent-ply masterworks places a special focus on Marcel Breuer’s chair designs in honor of the Bauhaus centennial. We are pleased to highlight a lesser known designer, Harry Mansell, who was a key figure in executing Breuer’s designs for Isokon.

“Harry Mansell is an unsung hero of English modern design.” says our Director of Museum Relations, James Zemaitis, who curated the exhibition. “He was responsible for making the initial prototypes of Marcel Breuer’s Long Chair for Isokon, and once production began in earnest, it was Mansell who made the frames for Breuer’s furniture designs in their London workshop, joining them with the bent ply shells ordered from the Venesta factories in Estonia.” Zemaitis states, elucidating the designer’s experience.

Mansell’s 1937 sideboard in laminated walnut with a molded birch top and handles is an important part of the exhibition. “The present sideboard model, the only design in Isokon’s catalogue credited to Mansell, shows off his craftsmanship. The design marries the bent-ply top of Breuer’s Isokon dining table with an Art Deco style laminated walnut case. The doors open to reveal a wine rack and silverware drawers, with strips of single-ply birch lining the interior.” Zemaitis describes his curatorial choice, “It’s stylish yet slightly eccentric, the type of sideboard you might see in Bertie Wooster’s 1930s London apartment.”

Our Director of Archives and Publications, Michelle Jackson-Beckett, explains the important role Mansell played in the history of furniture design, “This sleek sideboard exudes real warmth through birch and walnut plywood, and it speaks to an Art Deco aesthetic that mixes a sense of quirk with quality craftsmanship. Harry Mansell is under-appreciated in his work as a furniture maker– without him we wouldn’t have some of the most celebrated Isokon plywood furniture icons designed by Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, and Jack Pritchard.”

The exhibition is on view on the lower level of 64 White Street through Saturday 9 March.