Remembering the Late Charles Pollock, an Unsung Icon of Design

Charles Pollock at age 82, seated in his 2012 CP Lounge Chair for Bernhardt Design
(Courtesy Bernhardt Design)

The industrial design community suffered a great loss early Tuesday morning when design icon Charles Pollock’s studio in residential South Jamaica, Queens, caught fire. Although firefighters were able to extinguish the flames within half an hour, the New York Daily News reports, Pollock died on site. He was 83. Police are currently investigating the cause of the lethal fire, although they do not suspect foul play. 

Pollock will be best remembered as the creator of the 1965 Executive Chair, an office design diligently fine-tuned over the course of five years to meet the exacting standards of Florence Knoll. Its singular aluminum rim was the archstone of its construction, an innovation that offered unprecedented efficiency without complicating its elegance. Despite the Executive Chair’s immediate international success — the Louvre, Smithsonian, and Museum of Modern Art had each shown it — Pollock only completed a handful of other projects before retreating into near-obscurity in the early ’80s, shifting his focus away from design and toward his hobbies of painting, sculpture, and skiing. He returned to the industry only last year at the request of American manufacturer Bernhardt Design, which commissioned the CP Lounge Chair Pollock launched in New York during the 2012 International Contemporary Furniture Festival

“It was an honor to have worked with Charles Pollock, a brilliant designer who I am fortunate to have called a friend,” says Bernhardt Design president Jerry Helling, who had sought out Pollock personally. The Pollock chair was the first product that caught my attention when I came into the design industry 20 years ago. For Bernhardt Design to have been able to work with Charles over the last few years is a great privilege.” Before his death, Pollock had designed two more tables for his Bernhardt collection, and a new bench is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2014.

Unlike many designers at his level of success, Pollock shied away from celebrity, using his work as a means of relief from his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Little is known about his personal life, although Helling recalls him as a “fascinating, kind-hearted man whose work has left an indelible mark on society and will be remembered as one of the great mid-century American designers of our time.” This year, Pollock received the Rowena Reed Kostellow Award from the Pratt Institute, his alma mater. The school is planning a September memorial service in his honor. 

To Charles Pollocks small but influential body of work, click on the slideshow.