The products we design are going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated, or in some way used by people individually or en masse. If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed. If, on the other hand, people are made safer, more comfortable, more efficient—or just plain happier—the industrial designer has succeeded.

Henry Dreyfuss

The 20th Century Limited

Designs from America's Favorite Train

The 20th Century Limited was a luxurious, premier passenger train that ran between New York and Chicago from 1902 to 1967, in a record time of just twenty hours. It is often regarded as one of the greatest trains to have existed and the idiom of "red carpet" originates from the red carpet that led passengers into the train.

In 1938, the esteemed industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (famous for creating iconic designs for companies such as Bell System, American Airlines, John Deere and Polaroid) was commissioned to design several trains for the route in the ultramodern Art Deco, streamlined style. In addition to designing the interiors, which were simple, refined and in a sophisticated palette of blue and gray, Dreyfuss designed the trains to be more lightweight, cutting the travel time down to sixteen hours. Dreyfuss also designed every minute detail of the luxurious cars, from the matchboxes to the dinner plates.

Interior of the observation car on the 20th Century Limited

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the 20th Century Limited's high-profile was sustained by the many famous figures that frequented the route, including politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, high-society families like the Fields and the Wrigleys and countless actors, such as Bette Davis, Kim Novak and Bob Hope. Perhaps most notably, the train was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film, North by Northwest featuring Cary Grant. The present light fixtures, striking in their elegant, understated design, can be seen in a still from the film below.

The Liliane Stewart Collection

by David A. Hanks, Curator, Stewart Program for Modern Design

Liliane Stewart

The roots of the collection began in 1979, when Montreal philanthropists and collectors Liliane and David Macdonald Stewart founded the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts and the Stewart Collection. Liliane Stewart, the primary force behind the effort, initially concentrated on mid-century design—a focus unique among North American museums at the time. Over the years, the collecting focus grew to include designs from 1900 to the present. Liliane Stewart’s philosophy was to seek out work by acclaimed international designers while remaining open to work by lesser-known practitioners. Early on, she recognized the importance of relationships with designers, dealers, curators and collectors as sources of information, expertise, and new work. Through her collecting, Liliane Stewart often discovered young designers whose names have since become household words. 

Following David Stewart’s death in 1984, Liliane Stewart continued to collect, amassing a sizeable trove of the world’s finest examples of design, from mass produced, industrial products to unique crafted objects, limited editions and prototypes. Over the years, she developed a collaborative relationship with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and in 1991 commissioned Frank Gehry to create dedicated exhibition galleries for the Stewart Collection in the MMFA. In 2000—by which time the Collection numbered more than five thousand objects—she donated it to the MMFA, which termed it “one of the most valuable gifts ever received by a Canadian museum.” 

Liliane Stewart continued to collect after donating her original collection to the MMFA. She founded the Stewart Program for Modern Design, which has acquired more than 600 objects since 2000. Although Liliane Stewart died in 2014, the Stewart Program for Modern Design continues to carry out her mission of using the collection—through exhibitions, publications, and films—to educate the public about design and its role in contemporary society. 

As the Stewart Program collection grew and the collection was refined, it became evident that deaccessioning would be necessary. The process of refining the collection to plan for future projects has led to the present sale at Rago/Wright, which offers important designs from the Stewart Program collection. Included are duplicates of designs in the collection along with sets from which only a single example was retained. Also included in the sale are pieces of modern furniture that were acquired in the 1980s and 90s for use in the original offices of the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts.

The Art of Giving

Watch an excerpt from the 2012 documentary film The Art of Giving/L’art de donner surrounding Lilane Stewart's extraordinary life as a collector and donor of the arts.