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Custom Mural for the Irwin Union Bank & Trust Company
In 1973, architect Kevin Roche designed a bank building addition to Eero Saarinen’s landmark Irwin Union Bank & Trust Company in Columbus, Indiana. J. Irwin Miller, chairman and CEO of Cummins, Inc. commissioned Alexander Girard to create a series of murals for each of the new building’s three floors. This example features sixty-eight panels covered in fabrics Girard designed for Herman Miller. Proceeds from this sale will be donated to Indiana area non-profits for reinvestment in Education, Environment and Social Justice/Equality of Opportunity, the three global priority areas for Cummins.
Born in 1907 in New York to an American mother and French-Italian father, Alexander Girard and his family soon moved to Italy where he was raised in a Florentine villa surrounded by art and antiques. As a boy he filled notebooks with creative design sketches displaying an early attention to detail and interest in other cultures even imaging his own country with regional flags and unique symbolism. Inspiration from international folk art became a staple of his artistic legacy as he amassed thousands of artifacts from around the world. Girard studied architecture in Rome, London and New York as his influential and celebrated career began.
Girard designed and directed the groundbreaking show For Modern Living at the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts in 1949, a predecessor to the Good Design shows hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York which he eventually participated in and juried. While living in Michigan in 1952, he was hired by friend and collaborator Charles Eames at Herman Miller eventually establishing the company’s textile division as Director of Design until 1973. In addition to his collections of fabric and wallpaper, his “Environment Enrichment Panels” promoted humanization of the corporate workplace and in 1967 he released the “Girard Group” collection of furniture.
Girard applied vibrant color combinations, sensibility for arranging bold patterns, and passion for playful decoration to his work in textiles, interiors, furniture, graphics, communication and corporate design among many other disciplines. Throughout his career he lent his design to private commissions such as the high modernist Irwin Miller House in Columbus, Indiana with architect Eero Saarinen in 1957, the opulent Latin-American-themed restaurant interior of La Fonda del Sol that opened in 1960 inside the New York Time & Life Building, and a corporate redesign of all visual aspects of Braniff International Airways in 1965.
He challenged the modern aesthetic which rejected decoration and instead created a unique balance of craftsmanship and industry, expression and function, past and present. Known for his positive approach and thoughtful manner he elegantly melded different time periods and cultural backgrounds to create a distinct visual language.
Alexander Girard resided in Santa Fe, New Mexico until he died in 1993. His unique aesthetic vision and legacy is honored permanently by the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art’s Girard Wing and recently by a major retrospective from the archives at the Vitra Design Museum, Germany in 2016.