In collaboration with the Stewart Program for Modern Design, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
(MMFA) presents

A History of Women in Design

until May 28, 2023

This major exhibition celebrates the instrumental role women have played in the world of design through a rich corpus of art works and objects dating from the mid-19th century onwards. Parall(elles) highlights the remarkable work and contributions of those who worked in fields outside of mainstream industrial design – which historically has been inaccessible to most the majority of women – as well as those who made contributions but received little credit until recently. Lastly, it examines the reasons why women are underrepresented in the history of this discipline and encourages an expanded understanding of what constitutes design.


View of the exhibition Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design.
Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

The term “design,” as it is most commonly used today, refers more specifically to industrial design – to the mass-produced, professionally designed object – thus excluding the work of the majority of women designers throughout history. For this reason, Parall(elles) presents viewers with a wide-ranging definition of “design” that extends from artisanal craftwork to industrial design and includes ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, furniture, consumer products, graphics, fashion and interior design. The exhibition aims to present viewers with an alternative reading of design history – a parallel history – that serves to impress the exceptional influence of women designers on mainstream consciousness.

Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design highlights the breadth and complexity of these works by situating them against the backdrop of social, political and personal issues that shaped their experiences across time. The exhibition traces the development of educational and professional opportunities available to women, the evolution of the status of crafts and the impact that women’s rights movements had on their practices. It also considers the intersectionality of gender, identity, race, culture and class to provide a deeper understanding of the varied roles and achievements of women.


View of the exhibition Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design.
Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

“This exhibition reveals that the vital role these North American women creators have played in the history of design has been perpetually minimized or excluded from the dominant narrative. By shining a light on the gendered nature of design practice, it enables us to draw parallels between certain societal-level prejudices and the course of design history. The exhibition aims to broaden and enrich the complex narrative of women and this branch of art, by reappraising the historical work through a modern-day lens and fostering a deeper understanding of contemporary contributions,” explains Jennifer Laurent, curator of the exhibition.

“By calling into question the hierarchy between craft, art and industrial design, Parall(elles) celebrates the extraordinary contributions of women to the history of design and material culture. This project stems from the MMFA’s desire to shed new light on accomplishments of women who have been overlooked or under-recognized for their achievements. In the spirit of Parall(elles), we are proud to have called on a team of talented women to realize the exhibition’s design, graphics and accompanying catalogue,” adds Mary-Dailey Desmarais, Chief Curator of the MMFA.

A fresh take on North American design of the past 150 years

Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design - cocktail set

Elsa Tennhardt (1899-1980), cocktail set, about 1928, produced by E. and J. Bass Company, New York. Milwaukee Art Museum, purchase, with funds from Demmer Charitable Trust. Photo John R. Glembin

The exhibition brings together close to 250 art works and objects designed by over 200 creators from Quebec, Canada and the United States. One third of the objects presented come from the MMFA’s design collection, among the largest of its kind in North America. Parall(elles) also boasts numerous works on loan from the Stewart Program for Modern Design, private collections, and some thirty Canadian and American museums.

Peacock table lamp

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), designed by Clara Driscoll (1861-1944), Peacock table lamp, about 1905, made by Tiffany Studios, New York. MMFA, purchase, Claire Gohier Fund, gift of Gérald-Henri Vuillien and Christophe Pilaire in honour of being granted Canadian permanent resident status, Ruth Jackson Bequest, gift of the International Friends of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and gift of Joan and Martin Goldfarb. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Among the exhibited creations, visitors will discover remarkable vases that were inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement, the Peacock table lamp – a veritable jewel of design from the early 20th century inspired by a drawing by Clara Driscoll for Tiffany –, a tubular chrome-plated steel desk by Montrealer Jeannette Meunier Biéler that is a rare example of the influence of Bauhaus on Canadian design, the sculptural Museum coffee service by American-Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel, and an assortment of jewellery and evening gowns that attest to the breakthrough of women into the fashion and jewellery-making industries during the interwar period.

Fred Flintstone, Flash Gordon and Marie Antoinette coffee service with Blue Loop with Headdress decoration

Dorothy Hafner (born in 1952), Fred Flintstone, Flash Gordon and Marie Antoinette coffee service with Blue Loop with Headdress decoration, 1984 (example of 1988). MMFA, Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. Photo Annie Fafard

The public will also have the chance to admire the unique prototype Fancy Free Corvette, designed by Ruth Glennie for General Motors in 1958, as well as many modern objects and furniture items, including original editions of such pieces as the iconic LCW chair by Charles and Ray Eames and the Spindle wall clock (1957- 1958) by Lucia DeRespinis for George Nelson Associates. The fluidity of movement between the realms of art, craft and design, which manifested in the creations women as of the 1970s, will notably be reflected in the Tar Beach 2 quilt by Faith Ringgold, the coffee service Fred Flintstone, Flash Gordon and Marie Antoinette by Dorothy Hafner and the dynamic geometrically styled vases of Roseline Delisle.

Parall(elles) also highlights local, present-day creativity through works by Quebec and Canadian artists and designers such as Lani Adeoye, Marie-Hélène Beaulieu, Maryse Chartrand, Ying Gao and Natasha Thorpe. Furthermore, many of the exhibited contemporary creations speak to the shift towards sustainable development, slow design, additive manufacturing, new technologies – from robotics to 3D printing – and object-making as a form of high art that have characterized design production in the past twenty years.

For opening hours and ticket prices visit:

Related Posts