Virginia Bayer has made it her mission to keep the legacy of her grandmother, the textile designer Marguerita Mergentime, alive. Mergentime (1894–1941) emerged in the 1930s as a peer of Donald Deskey, Russel Wright, Dorothy Liebes, Gilbert Rohde, and Frederick Kiesler. Mergentime’s apartment, in the Beresford, was the only private interior that Kiesler ever did. It was completed in 1936. “Almost all the furniture was designed by Kiesler,” Bayer says. “In her living room the couches are his as are the lamps and bookcases.” Robert Damora photographed the entire apartment in 1937.
Today, Bayer lives with some of the pieces of furniture Kiesler designed for her grandmother’s apartment.
It wasn’t until 2008, when Bayer was cleaning out her mother’s home after her death, that she discovered a trove of Mergentime’s fabrics folded away at the top of her mother’s bedroom closet. She recognized Jolly Geranium–print tablecloths, pieces from her nautical collection, and the reinterpreted designs from her American Folk Art series, all among the neatly sorted stacks of fabrics in very good condition.
That discovery led to Bayer’s determination to revive interest in the work, which is included in the permanent collections of Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Institution, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum at F.I.T., and the Allentown Art Museum.
Together with Donna Ghelerter and Linda Florio, she published a book, Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas, in 2017, which covers Mergentime’s contribution to the modern American home: Her designs were sold in department stores and featured in every shelter magazine. She was chosen by Deskey, the designer of the interior of Radio City Music Hall, to design the curtains and a carpet for the Grand Lounge level, which are still there today.
Most recently, Form Portfolios, founded in 2016 by Mark Masiello to promote the work of historic and contemporary designers, and to find creative brand partnerships, took on Mergentime’s archive. That resulted in working with Food52, selling a line of napkins and placemats with Mergentime’s prints. Next up, one of Bayer’s dreams is to have her grandmother’s prints on Keds sneakers.
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