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Monday, May 12, 2014

Yasha Heifetz and the legitimizing of modern lamps

When Marcel Breuer designed and furnished a house for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he intentionally left out lamps. In an interview in November of 1949, he said that he could not find a well-designed modern lamp...and that, anyway, lamps were unnecessary. "The light is more important than the lamp," he said.

In February of 1950, lamp designer Yasha Heifetz (not to be confused with Jascha Heifetz, the violinist) countered that built-in lighting was "flat and static," and he set out to prove the value of a good lamp. With the MoMA, in 1950 he co-sponsored a national lamp design contest, hoping to change the opinions of Breuer and other modernist purists about domestic lighting.

Over 600 competitors entered, submitting almost 3,000 designs. Heifetz, Breuer, the museum's director René d’Harnoncourt, the museum's director of the department of architecture and design Philip Johnson, lighting designer Richard Kelly and others acted as jurors.

Some of the competitors were Richard Schultz from Knoll, as well as Frank Greenhaus and Kevin Roche, both of whom worked for Eero Saarinen, along with Alexey Brodovitch, art director for Harper's Bazaar. Fifteen winners were announced in 1951, and Heifetz immediately began producing ten of the winning designs. Breuer was won over and started ordering lamps for his clients. The modern lamp had gained legitimacy.

The Heifetz Manufacturing Company of New York started in 1938. Their primary product was table lamps, but they also made ashtrays, wood and metal sculptural items and some furniture. Over the twenty-five years that Heifetz was in business, he estimated that the company produced approximately 4,000 pieces and that he designed about half of them, the most popular of which had abstract bases made of ceramic, wood or metal. Some depicted the stylized human form, while others depicted animals or were kidney and melon-shaped.


Brass abstract lamp

Lamp with brass leaves, wooden base and fiberglass shade

Cerused birch torso lamps

Freeform oak lamps with fiberglass shades

Abstract French oak lamps

Limed oak leaf lamps

Male and female figures lamp

Floor lamp by A. W. and Marion Geller
for the 1950 MoMA lamp design competition


  1. The first one reminds me of the Kaizer's helmet and the last quite musical -- a cymbol. The last one looks quite simple yet futuristic and musical.

    1. I hadn't thought about the musical reference in the last lamp, but you're has a lot of "cymbal-ism." (Couldn't resist the bad pun.)

  2. Dear Dana, the last lamp is so beautiful. So sorry, for not commenting a lot the last weeks. I was a little bit busy ;-)

    1. So glad to see you back in blogland, Ria. I'm glad you found something in this post that made you smile. I certainly smiled when I read yours yesterday. Can't wait to see your white floors!

  3. Cool lamps. I wonder if the last pic is a real cymbal or not. What if the owner needs to strike it to switch the lamp on. (:

  4. who was this YASHA person? i've always thought people simply plunked jascha's name in front of the heifetz (for obvious reasons). yes, i find a mention of yasha heifetz in an old MOMA press release, but otherwise, there's nothing about this "prolific" (was he/she?) designer.

    1. Didn't this post furnish answers to quite a few of your questions? :)