Helen Dryden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Helen Dryden (1887–1981) was an American artist and successful industrial designer in the 1920s and '30s. She was reportedly described by the New York Times[1] as being the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, though she lived in comparative poverty in later years.


She was born in Baltimore and moved to Philadelphia when she was seven years old to attend Eden Hall. During her early childhood years Dryden showed unusual artistic ability, designing and selling clothes for paper dolls. Eventually she sold a set of her paper dolls and dresses to a newspaper for use in its fashion section. This in turn led to a position as illustrator for Anne Rittenhouse's fashion articles in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and The Philadelphia Press.

Dryden was largely self-trained, describing her works as "a combination of things I like, in the way I want to do them." Her artistic education consisted of 4 years of training in landscape painting under Hugh Breckinridge and one summer school session at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Deciding that she had no real interest in landscape painting, Dryden focused her complete attention on fashion design and illustration.


Fashion illustration[edit]

After moving to New York in 1909, Helen Dryden spent a year trying to interest fashion magazines in her drawings. None, however, showed any interest in her work and many were harsh with criticism. Dryden was particularly disappointed in her rejection by Vogue. Less than a year later, however, Condé Nast assumed management of Vogue and set out to make changes. Upon seeing Miss Dryden's drawings, they directed the fashion editor to contact her immediately. Soon Helen had a Vogue contract that led to a 13-year collaboration (1909–1922) in which she produced many Vogue fashion illustrations and covers.

Costume design[edit]

In addition to her prolific career as an illustrator, in 1914 Dryden launched a successful career as a costume designer. She designed the scenery and some of the costumes for the musical comedy Watch Your Step, followed by designs for several other stage plays including Clair de Lune, the fanciful drama based loosely on a Victor Hugo romance. Although the play starred Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, Helen Dryden's costume designs were generally given equal credit for the play's success.[citation needed]

Industrial design[edit]

Following the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Dryden turned her attention to industrial design, producing a number of designs for tableware, lamps, etc., on behalf of the Revere Corp.[citation needed] She had a highly paid job with the Dura Company until the stock market crash of 1929, at which point she was replaced by George W. Walker.[2] It seems Dryden never fully recovered from this blow. According to Christopher Gray, "The 1925 census recorded her living at 9 East 10th Street with her 25-year-old Philippine-born cook and butler, Ricardo Lampitok. But by 1956 Dryden was living in a $10-a-week hotel room paid for by the city's Welfare Department; at the time, she referred nostalgically to her '$200-a-month' 10th Street apartment".[3]

It was her work on the interior of the 1936 Studebaker Dictator and President that established Helen Dryden as an important twentieth-century industrial designer. Although her work was developed under the watchful eyes of the renowned automotive designer Raymond Loewy[4] :p.247 Studebaker ads proclaimed, "It's styled by Helen Dryden." [5]


  1. ^ Gray C. ". . .Greenwich Village became an artists' colony, it attracted people like Helen Dryden, who was described in The New York Times in 1956 as once having been the highest-paid female artist in the country.—in New York Architecture Images (1996)
  2. ^ Walker G. W. ". . . Helen Dryden was a great artist from New York. She was an interiorist, and did a lot of wood interiors, and so Dura was paying her $35,000 a year, and that was a lot of money for Dura Company, and then when the cut down came with everybody being fired, she was thrown out. That's when I went in and said, "I'll do it for $200 a month." —from Reminiscences of George W. Walker Interview, Automotive Design Oral History, Accession 1673, Benson Ford Research Center, University of Michigan (1985)
  3. ^ Gray C. New York Architecture Images (1996)
  4. ^ Hendry, Maurice M. Studebaker: One can do a lot of remembering in South Bend. New Albany: Automobile Quarterly. pp. 228–275. Vol X, 3rd Q, 1972. 
  5. ^ 1936 Studebaker advertisement

External links[edit]