Automania

Lilly Reich. Folding car seat of tubular steel, with rubber straps (Plan and elevations). 1930s

Pencil on tracing paper, 11 1/4 x 19 5/8" (28.6 x 49.8 cm). Lilly Reich Collection, Mies van der Rohe Archive

Curator, Juliet Kinchin: The burgeoning car culture and manufacturing of the early 20th century was dominated by men, but there were opportunities for women to make some headway into these male-dominated industries, particularly in relation to the interior finishing of cars, in which women were perceived to have an affinity.

Lilly Reich was well-established in the vanguard of German design. This drawing shows this folding car seat from above and from the sides and gives an indication of the ingenious mechanism for folding the chair to ease the access of passengers to the rear of the car. It's a technical working drawing and indicates the use of tubular steel, which was wonderfully light and strong, but also rubber straps for the suspension and comfort of the upholstered seat.

Lilly Reich's car seat could have been covered with the modern upholstery fabric designed by Anni Albers, another German designer associated with the Bauhaus textile workshop. Albers created textural weaves from a combination of different yarns, very hard-wearing yarns, like wiry horse hair, but mixed in with a bobbly chenille for extra comfort. And she also developed a very subtle, yet modern, palette that wouldn't easily show the dirt, another important consideration for a functional car seat upholstery.

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