The Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund

A Brief History of Pratt Institute Industrial Design

When Charles Pratt, a partner with Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company turned his efforts and financial resources toward education, his goal was to train students regardless of sex, class, color, or ethnicity to create “goods equal to European products” and encourage a love of work. He founded Pratt Institute in 1887, a transdisciplinary art, engineering, mechanics and trades community.

Fifty years later, 22 students (including 13 women) were granted Pratt’s first industrial design certificate degrees. Rowena Reed taught five generations of designers at Pratt from 1938 until she died in 1988. The first Supervisor of the industrial design department, three dimensional design was Donald Dohner who previously taught Industrial Arts in the Pittsburgh public schools, and, the first industrial design class in 1929 at Carnegie Tech. Alexander Kostellow taught painting and sculpture Rowena Reed Kostellow moved from Kansas City to Carnegie Tech, to apply their ideas about abstraction. Dohner moved to Brooklyn in 1935, leaving his position as head of the “visual engineering” studio at Westinghouse. Dohner convinced the Kostellows that the future of design education was not through classical fine arts, but training for industry.

The Kostellows joined him at Pratt in 1938 teaching “composition” and “modeling” and developed the industrial design program whose essential elements are abstract “Design and Structure” foundation, 3D form, plane, line exercises, space problems and working with industry.

Rowena said, “Our goal is the training of designers so familiar with the principals of abstraction, that they automatically think of a visual problem in terms of organized relationships and then feel free to study other aspects of the problem.” She said: “Pure, unadulterated beauty should be the goal of civilization.”

Dohner was the chair until he died in 1944 when Alexander Kostellow took over, until he died in 1954. Rowena became chair in 1962 after Robert Kolli, until she retired in 1966 when Joe Parriot became chair, followed by Yasuhiro “Jerry” Okuda, William Fogler, Giles Aureli, Bruce Hannah, Peter Barna, Debera Johnson, Matt Burger, Steve Diskin, Scott Lundberg, and now Constantin Boym.

The design pedagogy developed at Pratt in the 1930’s spread as the alumni taught their own students establishing industrial design programs all over the world. The first generation of educators from Pratt who started programs include:

  • Marc Harrison at the Rhode Island School of Design
  • James Henkle at the University of Oklahoma
  • Robert Redman at the University of Bridgeport
  • Jay Doblin at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago
  • James Pirkl and Lawrence Feer at Syracuse University
  • Ronald Beckman at Cornell
  • Nelson Van Judah at San Jose State University
  • Read Viemiester and Budd Steinhilber at the Dayton Art Institute
  • Bernard Stockwell at the Columbus College of Art and Design
  • Jayne Van Alstyne at Montana State University
  • Robert W. Veryzer at Purdue University
  • Charles W. Smith at the University of Washington