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Biography

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Edward J Wormley (he preferred to omit the period), who worked for Dunbar Furniture from 1931 to 1968, is considered one of the major 20th century designers of American modernist furniture. His partner Edward Crouse was a professor of journalism and drama and the theater director at the University of Georgia, at Athens, 1930-1946. Two published works on Wormley include: The Dunbar Book of Contemporary Furniture (Berne, Indiana: Dunbar Furniture Corporation, 1956), not included here, and Edward Wormley: The Other Face of Modernism (New York: Lin-Weinberg Gallery, 1997), copy in the collection.

Edward J Wormley was born to Edith and Myron J. Wormley on December 31, 1907 in Oswego, IL, moving with his parents to nearby Rochelle, IL at age two. Edward Cass Crouse was born to Annie and Harvey Crouse on October 25, 1908 in Kansas City, MO. After his mother passed away in December 1918, Crouse and his two sisters, Frances and Margaret, were invited to come and live with their uncle and aunt, William and Margaret Landon, in Rochelle, IL. It was in 1919 that the Crouse children moved and that Crouse and Wormley met and became dear friends.

As a child, Crouse played at designing stage sets and putting on small theater productions for his family. Wormley likewise showed an early talent for the work that was to become his career, taking correspondence courses from the New York School of Interior Design while still in high school. Both were involved with theater at Rochelle Township High School, playing Persian boys in a 1923 production of In the Garden of the Shah. Several of the other boys whose names are listed in the programs Crouse saved remained friends of the pair for many years.

Crouse graduated in 1925 and that fall he enrolled in the journalism program at the University of Wisconsin. He sang in the Glee Club and pledged the Delta Upsilon fraternity, writing home to Wormley about his courses and activities. Wormley, meanwhile, graduated in 1926 and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago with money given to him by Nellie Wormley Herren, his father's second cousin. At the end of a three terms, however, Wormley's funds ran out and he was forced to look for work.

He found it at the interior design studio of the Marshall Field & Co. department store, which after two years sent him to the Berkey & Gay Furniture Company, the store's custom furniture supplier. His designs for Berkey & Gay were never produced--and he was in fact laid off after only a year--because the Depression was forcing the company to make cutbacks (it eventually folded). Wormley's former supervisor at Marshall Field then introduced him to Homer Niederhauser, president of Dunbar Furniture Company. In 1931 Wormley accepted a position as Dunbar's furniture designer, an arrangement that proved to be beneficial and lucrative for both Wormley and Dunbar for nearly thirty years. Wormley took up residence in Chicago (the location of one of Dunbar's major exhibition spaces) and designed at least two and sometimes four lines of 20-25 original pieces of furniture for Dunbar per year while still finding time to do independent designing and consulting for other companies including Rand McNally, Lightolier, and Macy's departmnent store.

Crouse graduated from Wisconsin in 1929 and found work as a copy editor at the Racine, WI Times-Call, but soon landed a teaching position at the University of Georgia at Athens. In addition to teaching journalism, Crouse was appointed director of the University Theater and the university's dramatic ensemble, the Thalian-Blackfriars. He staged three productions a year from 1930 until he was called up for military service in World War II.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the relationship between the two men was delicate and amorphous. It's fairly clear that the two were physically involved to some extent by 1927, but Crouse's letters to Wormley from this and subsequent years indicate substantial uncertainty and shame. Crouse repeatedly wrote of his desire to be "Regular" while simultaneously expressing his despair of ever finding a woman he could stand to marry. Crouse dated women and even occasionally lectured Wormley in his correspondence, exhorting him to try harder to overcome his "abnormality." Our knowledge of Wormley's view of the affair is limited to references in Crouse's letters because Crouse apparently did not begin collecting his friend's correspondence until 1930, but it appears that Wormley accepted his attraction to men much earlier than Crouse and with somewhat less difficulty. Despite Crouse's anxieties over "the sex-stuff," the two men professed love for one another, spent nearly all their vacations together, and talked constantly of one day living together permanently. Eventually, Crouse came to terms with his sexuality and despite the fact that neither man expected monogamy of the other or practiced it himself, they enjoyed a steadfast, loving, passionate, and committed relationship for the next four decades.

Throughout their association, Crouse and Wormley greatly enjoyed travelling together. The two men toured Europe, the West Indies, Mexico, and the United States, taking numerous photographs to record their experiences.

By the early 1940s, Wormley was well-known in the furniture business. His designs garnered critical acclaim and sold extremely well: Dunbar Furniture Company had grown up from obscurity largely thanks to his work. In 1939 Crouse was appointed head of the newly-formed drama program at the university, and after taking a year's leave to do graduate coursework in theater at Yale, continued to successfully direct the University Theater and Thalian-Blackfriars. The war, however, brought a temporary change of occupation to both men: in 1942 Wormley accepted a position as head of the furniture division at the Office of Price Administration in Washington, while Crouse put his belongings in storage and headed to Camp Campbell, KY for basic training. Crouse was eventually promoted to the rank of captain, and served as Theatrical Entertainment Director for the U.S. Army base in Greenland from 1943 to 1945.

When the war ended, Wormley moved to New York City and opened a private firm, Edward Wormley and Associates, retaining Dunbar as his major client. This enabled him to undertake large-scale remodeling and redesign projects for private clients while continuing to produce critically lauded and commercially successful furniture designs for Dunbar, including the 1957 Janus line, which comprised 70 items. He lectured widely and in 1955 began teaching at the Parsons School of Design. Upon his discharge from active duty in January 1946, Crouse returned to the University of Georgia; but in the same year he sought and obtained a position in the drama department of Syracuse University. Soon displeased with Syracuse, he left within a year and went to work for Wormley. Sketches in the collection demonstrate Crouse's talent as a designer and draftsperson, and he remained with Edward Wormley and Associates until his retirement.

When Crouse came to work for Wormley, the couple realized their lifelong goal of living together, moving into a country house in Weston, CT and adopting a series of pet corgis. In 1968, both Crouse and Wormley retired permanently to Weston, living quietly and traveling together until Crouse's death from cancer in 1975.

After Crouse died, Wormley became somewhat more reclusive, though he still saw some friends and continued to travel. By the time of Wormley's death in 1995, his name was no longer quite so well-known (partly due to the fact that Dunbar folded in 1993), but a 1997 exhibition of Wormley's work and the detailed accompanying catalog (a copy of which can be found in the collection) was an important step in reintroducing Wormley and his work to the design community. A small number of Wormley's most famous designs, including the Teardrop Chair, Listen-to-me Chaise, and Tete-a-tete Sofa, are currently being rereleased by a new company, DUNBAR Furniture, cementing Wormley's place in modernist design history.

CHRONOLOGY

1907 Wormley is born December 31 in Oswego, IL
1908 Crouse is born October 25 in Kansas City, MO
1909 Wormley moves with family to Rochelle, IL
1918 Crouse's mother dies on December 10.
1919 Crouse and his sisters move to Rochelle, IL to live with aunt and uncle Margaret and William P. Landon
1923-24 Wormley takes correspondence courses from New York School of Interior Design
1925 Crouse graduates from Rochelle Township High School and enters the University of Wisconsin
1926 Wormley graduates from Rochelle Township High School
1926 Wormley enters the Art Institute of Chicago, leaving after three terms because of lack of funds
1928-30 Wormley works for the design studio of Marshall Field & Co. department store, Chicago, IL
1929 Crouse graduates from the University of Wisconsin with a B.A. in journalism and goes to work for the Racine, WI Times-Call
1930 Crouse is hired as a journalism instructor by the University of Georgia, Athens. He is appointed director of the University Theater Thalian-Blackfriars
1930-31 Wormley works for Berkey & Gay, Grand Rapids, MI
1931 Wormley travels to Europe for the first time
1931 Wormley is hired to design furniture for Dunbar Furniture Company
1932 Crouse's aunt Margaret dies
1934 Crouse's uncle William dies
1939 Wormley designs the "Mr. and Mrs." chests
1939 Crouse is appointed head of a newly-formed drama department at Georgia, but takes a year off to do graduate coursework in theater at Yale University
1940 Crouse returns to the University of Georgia
1942 Wormley takes a leave of absence from Dunbar to head furniture unit of Office of Price Administration, Washington, D.C.
1942 Crouse is called up for military service, training at Camp Campbell, KY
1943 Crouse enters active duty, serving as Theatrical Entertainment Director for Greenland Base Command
1944 Wormley opens his own design firm, based in New York City, retaining Dunbar as his major client
1945 Crouse is relieved from active duty and returns to the University of Georgia
1946 Crouse takes a position in the drama department of Syracuse University; Crouse's father Harvey dies
1947 Wormley designs the Riemerschmid chair
1947 Crouse resigns from Syracuse and moves to New York to work for Wormley
1948 Wormley designs the "Listen-to-Me" chaise
1950 Crouse and Wormley travel to the West Indies
1953 Crouse receives his honorable discharge; Crouse and Wormley visit Mexico
1954 Wormley designs the "Mr. and Mrs." chairs
1955 Wormley begins teaching at Parsons School of Design
1956-57 Wormley designs the Janus group, incorporating Tiffany tiles
1959 Wormley designs the "Tete-a-tete" sofa
1961 Wormley's mother Edith dies
1962 Wormley is given the Elsie de Wolfe Award
1963 Wormley registers his firm as "Edward Wormley & Associates"
1964 Crouse and Wormley travel to Europe
1968 Wormley and Crouse retire to Weston, CT
1971 Crouse and Wormley spend the summer in Europe
1975 Wormley and Crouse spend February and March traveling in Europe
1975 Crouse dies on November 25
1983 Wormley travels to India, Japan, and South Korea
1993 Dunbar, having struggled under several new owners, declares bankruptcy and its assets are sold at auction
1995 Wormley dies on November 3
1997 Edward Wormley: The Other Face of Modernism is published to accompany an exhibition of Wormley's work
2002 DUNBAR Furniture, LLC is formed, having acquired the intellectual property of Dunbar Furniture Company; DUNBAR begins reviving select Wormley designs

For a more detailed chronology of Wormley's design work, awards, and exhibitions, please see Edward Wormley: The Other Face of Modernism.