Happy Birthday The Silver Lady: Belle Kogan (1902-2000)

Belle-Kogan-1955Born on June 26th in Ilyashevka, Russia, Belle Kogan emigrated to the US with her family in 1906. She studied mechanical drawing, then taught it soon after graduating high school. She saved money to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but had to drop out in 1920 to work in her father’s jewelry store. He wanted her to get married, but she told him: “Well, I’m going to have a career, goodbye . . . I am never going to get married and I’m never going to have children. I had a family all my life I helped raise. I helped you in business. I want a life of my own.” *

And she did. In 1929, Quaker Silver Company in Attleboro, Massachusetts, hired her to design pewter and silver items. They even paid her tuition to take a course at New York University in the summer of that year.

In 1931 Kogan opened her first studio in New York City: Belle Kogan and Associates (BKA). She was one of the first industrial designers — and one of the first female industrial designers — in America to experiment with plastics designing Bakelite jewelry, celluloid vanity items and clocks.

Remarkably, by 1935, she had an impressive client list, including Warren Telecon Company, Celluloid Corporation, Bakelite Corpotation, Federal Glass Company, Red Wing Potteries, Bausch & Lomb, Dow Chemical, Haviland China, Zippo… By 1939 she had a staff of three women designers. It wasn’t easy. She faced a lot of opposition in a male-dominated field. In a 1939 interview she stated that, “Manufacturers were quite antagonistic when a woman came around proposing new ideas – they didn’t think a woman knew enough about the mechanical aspects of the situation. I had to prove I had a practical mind.” **

She wrote numerous articles on silver for trade journals and designed for a number of silver companies — Tiffany & Company, Towle and Samuel Kirk & Sons.

Belle Kogan SP meat dish Reed and Barton

Silver Plated Meat Dish, 1936, Reed & Barton
Offered by Heritage Auctions, Dallas, Texas, on June 13, 2012

But probably her most important work was done for Reed & Barton designing in 1936 the ultimate modernist style: Streamline Modern.

belle kogan meat dish 1936 reed and barton dallas museum of art

Silver Plated Double Vegetable Dish, 1936, Reed & Barton
Dallas Museum of Art, The Jewel Stern American Silver Collection

She was a founding member of the New York chapter of the American Design Institute (IDI). In 1970, she closed her New York office and moved to Israel under contract with KV Design setting up a studio offering comprehensive design services.

In 1972 she left the studio to work as a consultant.

* (see Pat Kirkham’s book, Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference; and Modernism in American Silver by Jewel Stern)