Kane County History: Geneva Company Made Huge Contribution to Art Deco

Kane County History: Geneva Company Made Huge Contribution to Art Deco

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Terry Emma, director of the Geneva History Museum. All photos are courtesy of the History Museum.

Murray Moxley (left), vice president of the Howell Company, and Wolfgang Hoffmann (right), seated in The Little Traveler courtyard in 1936.

Furniture is an everyday staple in our lives. While not necessary to its function, style plays a large role in our selection of it.

This metal side table is one example of the exquisite Art Deco design manufactured by the W. H. Howell Company in Geneva.

Furniture is an expression of ourselves in the intimate spaces of our home and a form of art in itself.

Function and form collided in the early 20th century with Art Deco, a decorative aesthetic focused on a streamlined design. Originating in early 1920s France, Art Deco reached its zenith of popularity in the United States in the late 1920s.

Furniture in the Art Deco style was known for bold patterns, opulent adornments, and sleek geometric designs. Pieces were mass produced using materials such as aluminum, iron, stainless steel and chrome alongside inexpensive plastics.

One of the many sad irons produced by the Howell Company.

Many beautiful Art Deco furniture pieces were created by the W. H. Howell Company, started in 1866 in Geneva as Howell Foundry by William H. Howell. He built the company’s building on the west side of Fox River, but after outgrowing the site, it moved to the old Piano Factory in St. Charles.

One of the most influential Art Deco designers, Wolfgang Hoffmann (1900-1969), worked at the W.H. Howell Company in Geneva from 1934 to 1942.

A chair and ash tray from the W. H. Howell Company in Geneva.

A definitive feature in Hoffmann’s designs was tubular or flat chromium-plated steel which he incorporated into chairs desks and tables to provide a fluid and graceful appearance.

While Art Deco eventually faded out of fashion after the start of World War II its influence is still visible in modern-day furniture, visual arts, and architecture.

Oct. 8: Geneva’s Connection to 1933 World’s Fair

Join us at the Geneva History Museum’s Brown Bag program at noon Tuesday, Oct. 8, with the Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s Marketing and Education Coordinator Stuart Henn, for an in-depth look at Geneva’s connection to the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.

To register for this event, please visit www.genevahistorymuseum.org or call 630-232-4951.

  • FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Group photograph of several employees of the Howell Company outside of one of the buildings at North River Street in Geneva.

Read The Kane County History Series!