Adrian Pearsall: Advancing the Atomic Age
Recent years have seen a heightened interest in the life and works of Adrian Pearsall, a seemingly little-known mid-century modern furniture designer, enthusiastic yachtsman and philanthropist. Pearsall’s catalogue of work is extensive, and as he allowed time for custom work that was shipped worldwide, constructing a complete list of all of his truly inspired designs is almost impossible.
Pearsall was born September 18, 1925, in Trumansburg, NY, and was raised by his step-mother Emma Booth Pearsall from the age of five. In true wartime love story fashion, a 17 year old Pearsall first met his future wife, Dorie, in 1942 aboard a train from Ithaca, NY, to Wilkes-Barre while en route to serve in the US Navy. Pearsall promised Dorie there and then that they would be together following the war and come October 1950, they were married in Forty Fort.
Pearsall graduated from the University of Illinois in 1950 with a degree in architectural engineering. In 1952, Pearsall founded Craft Associates with the help of Dorie and his brother, Richard.
Early production began in the basement of Pearsall’s mother-in-law’s duplex, which was divided into two homes. On one side lived Grace Kanarr, Dorie Pearsall’s mother, and on the other, Pearsall, his wife Dorie and their newborn son, Jim.
Pearsall spent every possible hour crafting the earliest pieces of wrought iron furniture while Dorie prepared purchase orders, invoices and scheduled appointments and trips to Philadelphia and New York department store buyers. Behind the scenes, Richard handled the finances.
In the 50s and 60s, Craft Associates was one of Wilkes-Barre’s top employers. Pearsall’s daring designs brought high-style to the masses and he is credited with the creation of long and low gondola sofas, free-form walnut and glass tables, and the popularisation of the venerable bean bag chair.
Pearsall’s influences included Vladimir Kagan, Nakashima and Knoll. He then added a confident flair of his own by utilising fabrics, materials, bold shapes and colour combinations that had never before been seen in the mass market. Craft Associates went on to become one of America’s most prominent furniture designers during the mid-century ‘atomic age’.
Pearsall poured his talents into fully designing his family’s new home in Pennsylvania in 1962. Outfitted with every modern convenience then available, including an indoor pool, floor to ceiling glass, custom fire places and multiple courtyards, the 10,000 square foot ranch is today considered a masterpiece of the ‘atomic age’.
In 1968, Craft Associates was sold to the Lane Company. Pearsall went on to launch Comfort Designs in the 1970s with business partner, John Graham. Pearsall gradually left the furniture business but his passion for preservation and meticulous craftsmanship led him to the hobby of classic yacht restoration, where he is credited with rescuing and personally restoring several treasured vessels.
As an industry testament to his achievements, Pearsall was nominated for induction into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2008.
On Tuesday, September 6, 2011, Adrian Mount Pearsall passed away, aged 85, survived by his wife of 61 years and an extended family who nurture his design legacy to this day.
Adrian Pearsall, Craft Associates, chair and ottoman - sold by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ ($1,500) http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/6637035
Sofa, attributed to Adrian Pearsall - sold by mid-centuryonline.com
Adrian Pearsall, Craft Associates, sofa with sculpted walnut base - sold by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ ($300) http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/6160081
Adrian Pearsall, Craft Associates, sculpted walnut and glass coffee table - sold by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ ($700) http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/8855548
Adrian Pearsall, Craft Associates, pair of sculpted walnut and upholstered lounge chairs - sold by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ ($3,750) http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/8382254
Adrian Pearsall, Craft Associates, sculpted walnut and wool rocking chair - sold by Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ ($1,100) http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/8506774