Swanson, Pipsan Saarinen (1905–1979)

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Swanson, Pipsan Saarinen (1905–1979)

Finnish-American interior, glassware and textile designer. Name variations: Pipsan Saarinen; Pipsan Saarinen-Swanson; Eva Lisa Saarinen Swanson. Born Eva Lisa Saarinen on March 3, 1905, in Finland; died in October 1979 in Michigan; daughter of architect Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950) and sculptor Loja (Gesellius) Saarinen (1879–1968); sister of architect Eero Saarinen (1910–1961); sister-in-law of Aline B. Saarinen (1914–1972); married Robert Swanson (an architect).

Pipsan Saarinen was born in 1905 into an influential family of artists and architects. Her father Eliel Saarinen was the foremost architect of his generation in Finland; her mother Loja Saarinen was a sculptor. Eero Saarinen, her only sibling, was to become one of the most important architects of the 20th century, known for his innovative work in Europe and the United States, including the CBS building in New York City (known as "Black Rock") and the St. Louis Arch (the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial).

Pipsan moved to the United States with her family in 1923, after studying weaving and other crafts in Helsinki. Her father designed the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and moved his family there in 1925. The work of the academy became focal in their lives. Eliel Saarinen was president of the academy until 1948, and Pipsan taught there until 1935. By this time married to architect Robert Swanson (who would briefly go into partnership with both her father and brother), Pipsan left Cranbrook in order to head the interior design department at her husband's office.

A designer in the tradition of Scandinavian modernism, Pipsan brought a cutting-edge contemporary sensibility to the traditional craft elements of her work, emphasizing clean lines and simplicity. She specialized in furniture, textile and glassware design, and also served as a color consultant to various companies, including Barwick Mills, Goodall Fabrics, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. Many of Pipsan Swanson's designs were exhibited, and she won numerous awards for excellence.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York