Kodak’s Brownie Cameras. The Bluebird Radio. Steuben glassware. The designer Walter Dorwin Teague was responsible for all these iconic objects. He even designed the National Cash Register Building, a functioning, seven-story cash register that tallied visitors to the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Teague died in 1960, when his granddaughter, Allison Teague, was 9. Throughout her childhood she had eaten off his Taylor Smith and Taylor dinnerware and gazed at his illustrations in children’s books. But it wasn’t until her mid-forties that she discovered her grandfather had designed these things. Nor did she have any idea just how influential he had been.
Looking back, she can see his influence on her family. “All the choices that were made around me about what to include in life were based on beauty and form,” she says.
This summer, Allison Teague, a reporter for the Commons in Brattleboro and an artist, teams up with architect Dave Sellers’ Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design in Waitsfield to present an exhibit of her grandfather’s work. “Walter Dorwin Teague: His Life, Work & Influence” will feature a variety of objects he designed, along with sketches, photographs and other items.
This Saturday, the museum will host a fundraiser for the exhibit, including a sneak peek at the items to be shown, a talk by Teague, a raffle, refreshments and music by the Bohemian Blues Quartet.
W.D. Teague, who cut his teeth in illustration and advertising in New York City, started his own industrial-design firm in 1926. His first big client: Eastman Kodak. His Bantam Special camera, which had sleek, art-deco stripes, was one of the most popular cameras ever made. Even Teague’s packaging was gorgeous. The Brownie Camera No. 0 came in a yellow box depicting people walking among trees in silhouette, cameras in hand.
Allison’s father, Lewis Teague, was a renowned abstract-expressionist painter. In 1954, after he contracted polio, he moved his family to Vermont because he wanted to be “somewhere where, if he fell, someone would help him up,” says Allison. They settled in Norwich, where Lewis Teague supported his wife and four children with his painting.
In 1969, they moved to the Mad River Valley, where Lewis Teague, who had an architecture background, was intrigued by the inventive work of Sellers’ Prickly Mountain crew.
Allison followed a meandering path back to her grandfather’s legacy. She coached skiing in the Mad River Valley — and trained for the 1972 Olympics — attended art school in Boston and worked odd jobs for many years in Alaska. Finally, in 1993, she decided to return to art school, this time in Homer, Alaska. In class, she found herself studying her own family history. “I realized that my grandfather was this really important designer,” she says. To her, “He was always just grandpa.”
Since moving back to Vermont for good in 2009, Allison has been exploring photography — partly to bear witness to a natural world she fears is disappearing and partly inspired by her discovery of her grandfather’s beautiful cameras.
Some of them will be at the museum this weekend. So will a replica of a Bluebird radio Teague designed, which his granddaughter calls “one of the most beautiful things he ever did.”
Fundraiser for “Walter Dorwin Teague: His Life, Work & Influence,” Saturday, March 31, 4-8 p.m. at the Madsonian Museum in Waitsfield. Donations. Info, 496-2787. madsonian.org