Celebrating Charles Harrison: Innovator and Designer

Sawyer Model of the View-Master. Courtesy of "Hyperallergic."

Credited with the revamping of the iconic View-Master, Charles Harrison (BFA 1954) was a celebrated designer and the first Black executive hired to work for Sears, Roebuck and Company. "As a designer and, ultimately, the head of Sears's design lab, Harrison was a shaper of products," reports the Chicago Reader. Harrison passed away on November 29, 2018, and was credited with the improvement of more than 750 products for Sears alone including the cordless shaver, the riding lawn mower, and the first plastic garbage bin with wheels. In 2008 Harrison became the first African American to receive the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s Lifetime Achievement National Design Award. Between 2016 and 2017, New York City's Museum of Modern Art added Harrison’s 1959 View-Master to their collection. Although it’s not mentioned in mainstream texts and collections, Harrison’s design brought the product outside of its conventionally professional setting to become a pop culture object. He made it, “available in a range of colors and designs that revolutionized its market appeal, taking it from a niche instrument for specialists and enthusiasts to a design that was cheap, accessible, and used by adults and children alike,” reports Hyperallergic. According to The Independent Harrison said what ultimately motivated him to design so many things throughout his career was, “the challenge of improving something, and making people smile” and “making life better for people—for humanity." Harrison’s design work is currently on display as part of African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce, and the Politics of Race at the Chicago Cultural Center through March 3, 2019.