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John Vassos papers, 1915-1989

John Vassos papers, 1915-1989

Vassos, John, 1898-1985

Industrial designer, Painter

Collection Information

Size: 19.3 linear feet

Summary: The John Vassos papers measure 19.3 linear feet and date from 1915 to 1989. The papers include biographical materials; personal and professional correspondence; writings and writing projects; Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) files; Radio Corporation of American (RCA) files; Silvermine Guild of Artists files; general professional and committee files; printed materials; four scrapbooks; photographic materials, including two photo albums; and artwork.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Vassos (1898-1985) was an author, designer, illustrator, and muralist, active in Norwalk, Connecticut.


The John Vassos papers were donated from 1989 to 1990 by Paul Johnes, Vassos' nephew.

Related Materials

A Finding Aid to the John Vassos Papers, 1915-1989, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Anna Rimel
Biographical/Historical note
John Vassos (1898-1985) was an author, designer, illustrator, and muralist, active in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Vassos was born John Vassacopoulos, in Romania to Greek parents, attended Robert College in Turkey, and joined the British Fleet to serve in World War I. He immigrated to Boston in 1919, where he washed windows and studied art and illustration with John Singer Sargent at the Fenway Art School. In 1924, he moved to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League under John Sloan. Vassos began his career as an illustrator for various magazines, in addition to writing, illustrating, and publishing over fourteen books, most notably,
, and
. He worked on many publications with his wife, Ruth Carrier, who often wrote what he then illustrated in the late 1920s through the 1930s.
Employed as an industrial designer at the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), he established their first internal design department in 1933. He contributed a number of RCA product designs, including radios, radio cabinets, and televisions during his time as a consultant and designer. In addition, he designed RCA’s first electronically decorated living room for the New York World’s Fair, “America at Home” pavilion. He remained as an industrial design consultant with RCA through 1964. Vassos went on to work as a consultant designer to create utensils with Remington Dupont, the first Lucite pen for Waterman, and redesigned turnstiles for Perey Manufacturing Company, among many other companies. In addition to product design work, Vassos did interior design work for restaurants and theaters, and painted murals for a number of companies, hotels, and movie theaters.
During World War II, Vassos served in the U. S. Army Air Corps developing camouflage techniques and conducting special operations in Greece while also writing a number of publications, including informational advertisements and flyers, as well as several brief illustrated books warning about carelessness with regards to camouflage and equipment.
In 1938, Vassos founded the American Designers Institute (ADI) and became president again in 1948. He was instrumental in the merger of the major industrial design associations, the Industrial Designers Institute (IDI), Industrial Design Education Association (IDEA), American Society of Industrial Designers (ASID), and the Society of Industrial Designers (SID), into the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), where he was elected the first Chairman of the Board in 1965.
Additionally, he was president of the Silvermine Guild of Artists in Connecticut for ten terms from 1936 to 1955, where he designed the logo and raised significant funds with help from his influence with RCA. Between 1938 and 1940, the Guild held an exhibition titled
Social Statement
s and included works by various members, to which he contributed two oil paintings of his own.
Vassos died in 1985 in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Arrangement note
This collection is arranged as 11 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1915-1975 (0.4 linear feet; Box 1, Box 16, OV20, OV35)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1927-1986 (2.3 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 3: Writings and Writing Projects, circa 1929-1989 (1.0 linear feet; Boxes 3-4, OV20)
Series 4: Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), circa 1938-1976 (2.0 linear feet; Boxes 4-6, Box 16, OV21)
Series 5: Radio Corporation of America (RCA), circa 1930s-1976 (2.1 linear feet; Boxes 6-7, Box 15, OV22-24, OV26)
Series 6: Silvermine Guild of Artists, 1915-1986 (1.9 linear feet; Boxes 7-9, Box 16, OV27-28)
Series 7: General Professional and Committee Files, circa 1920s-1983 (3.8 linear feet; Boxes 9-11, Boxes 15-16, OV26, OV29-39, RD57)
Series 8: Printed Material, circa 1928-circa 1985 (1.6 linear feet; Boxes 11-12, Box 16)
Series 9: Scrapbooks, circa 1940s-1953 (0.8 linear feet: Box 13, Box 17, Box 19)
Series 10: Photographic Materials, 1919-circa 1989 (1.7 linear feet; Boxes 13-14, Box 16, Box 18, OV40-41, Lantern Slide Boxes 58-59)
Series 11: Artwork, circa 1930s-circa 1970s (1.7 linear feet; Box 14, Box 18, OV25, OV42-56)
Scope and Contents note
The papers of designer, writer, illustrator, and muralist John Vassos measure 19.3 linear feet and date from 1915 to 1989. The papers include biographical materials, personal and professional correspondence, writings and writing project files, Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) files, Radio Corporation of American (RCA) files, Silvermine Guild of Artists files, general professional and committee files, printed materials, four scrapbooks, photographic materials, and artwork.
Biographical materials include various biographies and resumes, passports for Ruth and John Vassos and other vital documents, one unidentified interview transcript with Vassos, property boundaries, leases, and scattered financial materials among other material. Correspondence is primarily professional in nature and is with colleagues, industrial design organizations in which Vassos’ was involved, organizations and individuals with which Vassos’ may have done consulting work, and others. Personal correspondence includes exchanges with a few WWII military colleagues and friends, and several files of personal correspondence between Ruth and John Vassos during his deployment in WWII.
John Vassos was a prolific writer and illustrated and wrote a number of articles, books, essays, and play scripts. Writings and writing projects include handwritten and typed drafts of book manuscripts, including Vassos’ autobiography; sketched mock-ups with illustrations and layouts for articles and books; publishing contracts and correspondence; and writings by others. Notable published books include
, and
Vassos’ involvement in the founding and eventual merging of major U. S. industrial design organizations is documented within the IDSA files, which include materials on ADI, IDI, ASID, SID, and IDEA.
Vassos' thirty-plus year career as a consultant designer with RCA is documented through various materials, including contract agreements, correspondence, design plans and sketches, expense reports, project proposals, and various other materials. And as the president and an active member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists, Vassos kept extensive files on Guild activities, including building proposals and sketches, logo designs, exhibitions, school plans and lesson structures, photographs, and printed materials.
Vassos’ involvement with numerous other professional organizations and committees as a consultant designer, illustrator, member, and muralist, is documented through general professional and committee files. Vassos’ designed appliances, bicycles, flatware, knives, pens, radios, rifles, television sets, and turnstiles, in addition to painting murals, designing several buildings, and doing interior design work for theaters. Companies include: General Electric Company; M. Hohner, Inc.; the India Industries World Trade Fair; International Society for Arts and Decoration; Kuljian Corporation; Packard Motor Car Company; Perey Manufacturing Company; Prudential Lines, Inc.; Remington Arms Company, Inc.; Remington Dupont; and Savage Arms Corporation, to name a few.
The collection also includes printed materials; three clippings scrapbooks on the Silvermine Guild and School, and one scrapbook assembled by a Greek student, George Second; and photographic items: approximately 97 glass lantern slides, various negatives, color slides, and photographs of John Vassos and others, as well as images of products and designs, and two photo albums of industrial design work.
Artwork includes extensive figure and illustration sketches in pen, pencil, charcoal, watercolor, and other media; two paintings by Vassos; mural design drawings and sketches; sketches of products and designs; and several sketches and a collection of silkscreen prints by other artists, including Dorothy Byard and Bernard Sanders.
The John Vassos papers were donated from 1989 to 1990 by Paul Johnes, Vassos' nephew.
Related Archival Materials note
John Vassos' papers are also at Syracuse University.
Processing Information note
Multiple accessions were merged, processed, and a finding aid prepared by Anna Rimel in 2016 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The Archives of American Art has implemented accelerated processing when possible to increase information about and access to more of our collections. For this collection, accelerated processing included arrangement to the series, subseries and folder levels, adhering to the creator’s original arrangement as much as possible. Generally, folder contents were simply verified with the original folder titles, but items within folders were not arranged further. All materials were rehoused in archival folders and boxes for long-term stability, but staples and other fasteners have not all been removed.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

How to Cite This Collection

John Vassos papers, 1915-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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