German-born artist Winold Reiss was enamored by America’s diversity when he arrived here in 1913, at the age of 27, and this interest shows in his work, including his intimate portraits of of Harlem Renaissance leaders and Blackfoot American Indians: vibrant, deco-infused images that eschewed caricature in favor of universal humanity. “To understand life, we cannot have prejudice,” Reiss said.
An optimist through and through, Reiss hoped his art could reshape society at large, leading people toward a more inclusive, more progressive mindset. Reiss believed that by picturing the honor, beauty, and dignity of all peoples, his art could help break down racial prejudices and testify to what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called the ‘unity of all creation,’” explains the Reiss Partnership, stewards of his work. And it’s this approach that secured Reiss’ legacy as one of the greatest portraitists of the early twentieth century. He died in 1953.
But in addition to his humanistic portraits, the multi-talented creator also designed murals for hot spots like the Apollo Theater, the Hotel St. George, and a massive 14-panel series for Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, and he excelled at interior design, too: Reiss laid out all of New York’s hipper-than-hip Longchamps restaurants in the 1930s, as well as Max Lyman’s joint in Los Angeles.
Some of these art deco-laden conceptions are included below, as are a number of Reiss’ rarely seen wallpaper designs and even a few of his more sociopolitical pieces. They may not have changed the world, but they sure are purdy.
(And for more in the Found in the LOC series, click HERE.)